Callely twice offered 'special case' expenses assistance

 

OIREACHTAS OFFICIALS twice offered to make a “special case” for Senator Ivor Callely’s expenses to the Minister for Finance, a committee investigating complaints against Mr Callely has heard.

Derek Dignam from the Oireachtas members’ services unit, who appeared before the committee on members’ interests of Seanad Éireann yesterday, said Mr Callely did not take up the offer.

Mr Callely was called before the committee last Friday to explain his €81,015 travel expenses and why he claimed for the 370km journey between Leinster House and his property in Kilcrohane, west Cork, instead of from his residence in Clontarf, Dublin, over a two-year period.

Mr Callely said his home in west Cork was initially intended as a holiday home, but that ceased to be the case as a result of personal circumstances. However, he began to spend more time in Clontarf towards the end of 2008 and 2009.

He did not claim for the last four months of 2008 and the last three of 2009, believing this to be a fair way of dealing with an “anomaly” in the expenses regime then in place, “which was inflexible for those who may find themselves in a normal place of residence separate from their family home”.

Mr Dignam, under questioning from Fine Gael Senator Frances Fitzgerald, said Mr Callely would have had an opportunity to inform the Oireachtas authorities of a change of address at the end of 2008 and the end of 2009.

Mr Dignam agreed it was unusual for members to submit “nil” returns, but said: “There’s no harm to it”. He had spoken to staff about the issue but could not find anybody who had advised Mr Callely to do this. “It was his choice.” He added: “We did offer twice to put a special case to the Minister for Finance for him . . . he didn’t take our offer.” Mr Dignam said his office had made the offer “just to be of assistance to the member”.

Mr Dignam said Mr Callely referred in a letter to having spoken to the Minister, Brian Lenihan, but “not to our offer”. Mr Dignam said communications his office received from Mr Callely related to inquiries about changing his expenses option from “overnight and travel” to a “daily allowance”, which would have reduced the amount received, rather than to changing his address. The office had “absolutely no discretion in terms of changing options”, Mr Dignam said.

He said Mr Callely had claimed €21,000 in 2007, €32,000 in 2008 and €27,000 in 2009. His “nil” claims for seven months across 2008 and 2009 would have been worth approximately €23,000.

Mr Dignam said he had noticed, while doing some analytical work on the new expenses system, that Mr Callely was “in the bracket of rural members”. Mr Dignam said Mr Callely’s file was reviewed because he thought if he noticed this an auditor might also notice it.

The committee is chaired by Seanad Cathaoirleach Pat Moylan. Its other members are Dan Boyle (Green Party), Senators Camillus Glynn and Denis O’Donovan (Fianna Fáil), Alex White (Labour) and Senator Joe O’Toole (Ind). Mr Callely was not present yesterday.