Callely was a man blinded by his dazzling self-belief

From the moment he landed in Leinster House as a backbench TD, he adopted the swagger of success

Ivor Callely: A pathetic closing chapter for the man who dreamed ridiculously big, but behaved like a small-time political shyster. Photograph: David Sleator

Ivor Callely: A pathetic closing chapter for the man who dreamed ridiculously big, but behaved like a small-time political shyster. Photograph: David Sleator

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 01:00

Ivor Callely was convinced he would become taoiseach one day. Yesterday, he was sent to jail for fiddling his expenses.

A pathetic closing chapter for the man who dreamed ridiculously big, but behaved like a small-time political shyster.

Blinded by self-belief and an overweening sense of his own brilliance, Ivor Callely had a relentless ambition stood in marked contrast to his ability.

But he could never see this, because nobody ever took Ivor as seriously as he took himself.

Early on, this marked him out as a vaguely comical figure in a world where he craved high office and public respect.

Callely had great notions about himself.

From the moment he landed in Leinster House as a backbench TD, he adopted the swagger of success: big house, big car, big suit, big talk.

Make no mistake, he was destined to be taoiseach.

He knew from the time he was a toddler, when a fortune teller told his mother he was going to be president. Ivor would say it to amused interviewers with great sincerity.

He would, of course, first rise to the challenges of a senior ministry or two. His talents would be recognised. He saw himself as “a visionary”. Bet he never saw Mountjoy coming when he was predicting this great future

But seeing Callely depart the Courts of Criminal Justice in a prison van yesterday morning wasn’t a huge surprise to those who have observed his calamitous career over the last couple of decades.

In Fianna Fáil’s pantheon of political wide-boys, Ivor was a star. It seemed almost inevitable he would come to a bad end.

In the heel of the hunt, it was bogus invoices for mobile phones that got him. Tacky and stupid and prepared in such a cack-handed way that it showed he couldn’t even fiddle his expenses properly.

And when the police confronted him with the readied-up documents, Callely tried to pin the blame on a dead man.

Breach of trust

When Judge Mary Ellen Ring sent the former junior minister and senator down for five months, it wasn’t the piffling four grand he diddled from the State that did for Ivor, but rather the “significant breach of trust” that had been placed in him as a public representative.

This case has been going on for years, but Callely didn’t admit his guilt until he was in court in March. He maintained his innocence up until then, lying to the Garda and to the Standards in Public Office Commission in the process.

When he did come clean, noted the judge, the defendant didn’t give the court any explanation for his actions apart from “an excuse of entitlement to the monies.”

But then, Ivor has always had a bit of a weakness in the “entitlement” department. Who can forget his battle over what constituted his principal primary residence – the large redbrick in Dublin’s Clontarf he calls home or the holiday bolthole in west Cork he put down as his principal address so he could claim mileage for the round trips up and down to the Seanad?

It was a “unique anomaly” he argued to a committee of his peers, while positing the argument that it might be possible to have “two normal places of residences” for expense purposes.

You wouldn’t catch him out that easily. “The early bird, they always say, gets the name for rising early,” he said of himself, with pride.

Ivor was known for his brash personality, his flashy chalk-stripe suits and loud ties. A small man, who always drove a big car, usually a Merc, the kind of one used back in the day to ferry ministers around.

‘Great aroma’

He once said the person he most admired in life, after his mother, was Mother Teresa. “She has a great aroma,” he declared, presumably referring to the late nun’s aura.

He was publicity mad. He built the appearance of his annual Christmas card into a media event, with a different cringetastic tableau involving his family every year.

His last one was never sent because Bertie gave him the boot after it emerged that a building company which did work for the Eastern Health Board – Ivor was chairman at time – had painted his house for free. It would have featured Ivor and family and two Santa Clauses posing in the Dublin Port Tunnel, which was being constructed at the time.

The same house, it was said, was filled with photos of the man who would be taoiseach, along with paintings of him. It was like he was modelling himself on Charles Haughey, while simultaneously fighting tooth and nail with the Haughey machine in his Dublin North Central constituency.

When the sentence was passed down yesterday, there was little reaction from the former minister. He looked briefly to his left, as if seeking somebody out, but his view was blocked by prison officers.

The brash over-confident Callely was gone. In his stead, a gaunt, haunted looking man. There was no big excitement in the courtroom – Ivor has been a busted flush for a long time.

But it sends out a strong message to our political elite – or at least to those who see themselves as untouchables.

Ivor, meanwhile, has a new principal primary residence.

And he’ll be out by Christmas. The card should be interesting.