Callely’s short-lived and ignominious political career

He had ambition and worked relentlessly at the nitty gritty of politics

 Former  junior minister of State Ivor Calley (centre) with members of his legal team outside Dublin Circuit Court yesterday.   Photograph: Collins Courts

Former junior minister of State Ivor Calley (centre) with members of his legal team outside Dublin Circuit Court yesterday. Photograph: Collins Courts

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 01:00

Ivor Callely’s political life was long over before he was sentenced to five months in prison for submitting false expenses claims.

Callely was never a significant political figure although for a period in the 1990s he was regarded as one of the up and coming politicians in Fianna Fáil. However, he never made it to Cabinet and his career as a junior minister was short-lived and ignominious.

From the beginning Callely’s style was brash. He wore loud pinstripe suits and displayed the trappings of wealth including a large house in Clontarf, a holiday home in west Cork, a big car and a motorboat.

He did display courage in taking on the Haughey political machine in Dublin North Central and he provoked the ire of the Boss on a number of occasions during the 1980s and 1990s. Callely had ambition and energy and worked relentlessly at the nitty gritty of politics but colleagues in Fianna Fáil and opponents outside it never regarded him as a politician of susbstance.

Ambition

In 2005 his declared ambition was that he wanted to be taoiseach but that was never taken seriously by party colleagues who regarded him as overambitious and prone to breaking the rules to get what he wanted.

Born in Dublin in 1958, Callely was educated in St Paul’s in Raheny and Fairview College from where he graduated with a diploma in business studies and worked as a representative for a pharmaceutical company.

His political breakthrough came in 1985 when he was elected to Dublin City Council. He followed that by winning election to the Dáil in 1989 when Fianna Fáil won three seats out of four in the constituency. Callely developed a reputation as a ferocious constituency worker and was noted for gimmicks such as a caravan with which he toured the constituency with the legend “Ivor Callely is here to meet you” painted on its side.

While his vote-getting ability and energy led some to speculate about him as a ministerial prospect he got embroiled in a series of controversies that raised questions about his fitness for office.

His wife, Jennifer, won the franchise to run the hairdressing salon in the new Beaumont Hospital in 1987 at a time when Callely was chair of the Eastern Health Board.

His fundraising events were also raising eyebrows. In 2005 the €70,000 he raised at a golf classic in the K Club, half of all donations declared that year by the 166 TDs in the Dáil.

After 13 years in the Dáil he was finally promoted by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who made him a junior minister in 2002, initially with responsibility for the elderly in the Department of Health.

Prominent image

Later when he moved to Transport he was referred to the Standards in Public Office Commission for putting a prominent image of himself on Operation Freeflow billboards.

The end of his ministerial career in December came after only three years. His first difficulty was when two of his staff resigned because of difficulties with his style. When it came to light that he offered to buy his personal assistant a car to stay in the job, an annoyed Ahern told him that he was on his last chance.

Within days, a new controversy broke. A major construction company, John Paul, arranged for Callely’s home in Clontarf to be painted for free in the early 1990s.

Callely was forced to resign and his political career went downhill. He lost his Dáil seat in 2007 and to make matters worse he failed to win election to the Seanad. It was a big surprise when he was named as one of Ahern’s 11 nominations to the Upper House.

Later, it emerged that he had been claiming travelling expenses from his holiday home in west Cork rather than his Clontarf residence to and from Leinster House to attend the Seanad. A Seanad committee censured him and suspended him for 20 days.

Callely challenged the decision in the High Court and it ruled that the committee had acted outside its powers by making a “political judgement” that breached Mr Callely’s right to natural justice and fair procedures. It was a short-lived victory because not long afterwards the controversy about his mobile phone expenses broke and the inexorable process that led to yesterday’s court decision got under way.