It’s the story that has got the whole of Ireland talking – who made the calls to a premium rate television phone line that has turned the Irish parliament from Dail Eireann to Dial Eireann?
The government has promised an investigation into the revelation that 3,636 phone calls were made from the one phone in the chambers to support the then Kerry councilor Michael Healy Rae in a reality TV show in 2007.
The Premium Rate calls in October 2007 helped Healy-Rae win the "Celebrities Go Wild" charity show on the national broadcaster RTE – but at a cost of almost $4,000 to the Irish taxpayer.
Members of the Irish parliament and senate are entitled to free calls to any number at home or abroad but Healy-Rae and his father Jackie, a sitting member of the parliament at the time, have denied all knowledge of the calls.
Retired politician Jackie – whose seat was son by Michael in the recent election – also declined to reply when previously contacted by parliamentary officials about the calls.
The Healy-Raes have said they should not be responsible for refunding any of the costs as they were not involved in making the calls which cannot be traced.
Leader of the parliament Sean Barrett has called for the $4,000 to be refunded to the taxpayer and promised the calls will be investigated by a parliamentary committee.
Barrett said: “The use of phones in the parliament to cast tele-votes is a misuse of the resources provided to members for their public duties.
“I condemn the use of a telephone in Leinster House for such purposes. The misuse of resources provided to members for their public duties for the aim of voting in a television competition is an outrageous abuse of facilities.
“I am calling for the money to be repaid in full immediately. I also will ensure that the details of this matter are addressed in full at the next meeting of the Committee on Procedures and Privileges.”
Now 80 and retired after the last election, the former Independent deputy Jackie Healy-Rae has insisted he knows nothing about the calls.
“I vehemently deny I made them,” he stated. “This controversy is a big hullabaloo over nothing. I know nothing in the world about it and that’s the honest truth.
“My sons and I would have supported a number of people in their bid to become senators, so there would have been support for Michael from within Leinster House.
“Apart from that I have no clue in the wild empty word. It’s a big hullabaloo over nothing. As Michael himself said, it’s not that someone stole the money. It all went to charity.”
Son Michael warned anyone making accusations against the Healy-Rae family to be prepared to back them up.
“By Jesus, he (Jackie) was not behind it and if anyone is brave enough to make accusations, let them go ahead, but they have to be prepared to substantiate them,” said Michael.
Officials at the Irish parliament have admitted that they were alerted to the huge number of calls made from the one phone to the premium rate line over a number of days during the TV show.
A statement from the Oireachtas said: “While TDs’ calls are not logged, it is the practice that our service providers will draw our attention to when there are significant departures from normal call patterns coming from the main Leinster House number.
“The 2007 case is the only time that a service provider reported a spike in calls of this nature.
Having been reported, the calls were blocked within an hour as it was clear that they were to a commercial voting line and clearly not related to any parliamentary activity.”
It was established by officials at the time that the number in question was a number to vote for Michael Healy-Rae. They wrote to then-TD Jackie Healy-Rae making him aware of the circumstances of the calls and seeking his comments.
“No response was received,” added the statement. “As the calls could not be attributed to any particular person, there was no basis to pursue the matter further and no further action could be taken.”
National broadcaster RTE, responsible for the show won by Healy-Rae, denied the calls had any bearing on the outcome of the vote.
“Records show that Michael Healy-Rae maintained a consistently strong position throughout the week-long vote event, with more than twice the number of votes cast for the second-placed contestant on each occasion,” a statement from the broadcaster said.
“The number of votes reported to have been cast from Leinster House would not have made a material difference to the outcome of the competition.”
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