Senator Ivor Callely

 

PUBLIC CONFIDENCE in the political system has taken a battering and the electorate is sick to death of the misbehaviour, ineptitude and complacency of some Oireachtas members. Higher standards of conduct are required and party leaders and the justice system have a duty to ensure that unethical behaviour is severely punished. A culture of nods and winks and cute-hoor politics should be consigned to the past.

The latest controversy concerning the Oireachtas has come, yet again, from Senator Ivor Callely, who was nominated to that position by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Following unjustified claims for more than €80,000 in Seanad travel expenses over a two-year period comes a report that he submitted invoices for equipment costing almost €3,000 from a company that had ceased trading. The Garda Síochána should be asked to investigate these matters.

Last month, Britain’s most senior judges ruled that MPs and members of the House of Lords could not invoke parliamentary privilege to protect themselves from criminal charges that they had abused their expenses. As a result, six parliamentarians will be hauled before the courts for making false claims. Conceivably, they could end up in jail.

When Mr Callely’s claim for travel expenses from his holiday home in West Cork was first discussed before the Senate, Senator Eugene Regan of Fine Gael proposed the matter should be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and asked the pertinent question: Do the laws passed by the Oireachtas apply only to “other people” or to everyone generally? We now know that, in Britain, they apply to everyone. Here, the jury is still out and the verdict remains uncertain. In a functioning democracy, this situation must be confronted.

In the absence of a response from Mr Callely to the latest allegations, Fianna Fáil had little option but to suspend his membership of the organisation. It did so “without prejudice” yesterday, pending completion of an internal party investigation. But this is not enough.

The Seanad Committee on Members’ Interests found Mr Callely had intentionally misrepresented his normal place of residence in order to maximise travel expenses. It suspended him without pay for 20 days and called on him to regularise his affairs. The findings were “strenuously rejected” by Mr Callely.

The outcome did not suggest an appetite for radical reform. Involving the Garda and the DPP would help to reassure the public that the law applies to everyone.