Healy-Rae 'not behind' calls

 

Independent Kerry South TD Michael Healy-Rae has said he does not know who voted for him to win a reality TV contest more than 3,600 times from a telephone in Leinster House.

Mr Healy-Rae, who won the RTÉ show Celebrities Go Wild in 2007, said he was not responsible for the premium rate phones calls, which cost more than €2,600 and were paid for by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service.

“Taxpayer money should not be used for that purpose,” said Mr Healy-Rae, who was a county councillor at the time of the broadcast.

“But the Oireachtas say they can not tell me whether the calls came from one phone or 101 phones…I had no communication with the outside world for that week," he told The Irish Times.

An Oireachtas spokesman confirmed that, in 2007, “a spike in calls to a 1513 number was brought to our attention by our telecoms service provider and as a result all calls to that number were subsequently blocked”.

He said 3,636 calls to 1513 717107 were made from the Oireachtas phone system. "Each of those calls incurred a charge of 60 cents, plus VAT, giving a total of €2,639,” he said. “That charge was paid to the telecom service provider by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service in accordance with our contractual obligations.”

He added that members of the Oireachtas were entitled to make free telephone calls from Leinster House and that there was no system in place for linking individual calls with individual members.

“We do not record or log members' calls and have no way of stating whether any member was responsible for making or mandating particular calls,” he added.

Mr Healy-Rae’s father, Jackie Healy-Rae, was a TD at the time of the programme. However, Michael Healy-Rae said his father was an excellent politician who would not have had time to vote on the outcome of a reality TV show.

“He was involved in a very tight voting arrangement at the time,” he said. “What I would have been doing for that week would have been the least of his concerns.”

Jackie Healy-Rae e-mailed every Senator and TD in the Oireachtas a few days before the final vote on the TV show, canvassing their support for his son. A few days later, he stepped up the campaign, this time targeting all Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael staff. "I am asking for your support for my son Michael Healy-Rae who is at present taking part in the 2007 RTÉ People in Need Telethon. This is the last night and Michael has gone through all the challenges so far, now the end is in sight. Michael is one of the three remaining contestants and he has a real chance to win this. I am asking each and everyone to vote for Michael today,” his e-mail read. "Please text 'Wild Michael' . . ."

An attempt to contact Jackie Healy-Rae this morning was not successful. Details of the phonecalls were first reported today's edition of the Irish Daily Mail.

Celebrities Go Wild raised tens of thousands of euro for the People in Need charity drive in 2007, which RTÉ said generated a total of €7.5 million.

Former Olympic swimmer Michelle De Bruin, the late model Katy French, singer Mickey Joe Harte and television presenter Daithi Ó Sé were among the contestants on Celebrities Go Wild, which followed a similar format to I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

This evening, Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett said using telephones in Leinster House to make calls to a commercial voting line is “an outrageous abuse of facilities”.

Mr Barrett called for the money to be repaid in full immediately and said the details of the matter will be addressed in the next meeting of the Committee on Procedures and Privileges.