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Saturday 23 September 2017

Two-home saga is worst scrape yet for gaffe-prone Callely

When Ivor Callely was just three years old, his mother took him on the bus into Dublin city centre. Just before they reached their stop, a woman approached them and claimed that she was a fortune teller.

She then pointed at the innocent toddler and declared with absolute certainty, "That boy will be President one day!"

At the age of 52, there's still plenty of time for Ivor's dream to come true. Right now, however, it looks about as likely as Ireland winning the Eurovision for the next 10 years in a row.

The accident-prone senator they call 'the Engine' has just landed himself in his most awkward scrape yet -- and unless he comes up with a good explanation quickly, it has the potential to finish him off for good.

Visible

For more than 20 years now, Callely has been one of the most visible politicians in Dublin North Central. He was the first TD to open a full-time constituency office there, even managing to outdo the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey. He also designed a 'mobile information unit', which he would tow behind his car every Saturday morning to selected outposts in the area.

It will come as some surprise to residents of the area, then, to learn that the Engine has apparently relocated to the more peaceful surroundings of West Cork.

Since he was appointed to the Seanad in 2007, the colourful former minister has been claiming travel expenses from the idyllic-sounding Sheep's Head in Peninsula in Bantry, 370km from Dublin. All that petrol obviously doesn't come cheap, since he has apparently managed to rack up costs of €81,015 in less than three years.

If Ivor has decided to up sticks and embrace the joys of country life, all this would be perfectly above board. However, his constituency office is still in operation, he is known to attend FF meetings in the area, he did a leaflet drop earlier this year and he is widely expected to run for his old seat in the next general election.

Just to add to the confusion, his website boasts, "I am also continuing my work in the constituency", and the Houses of the Oireachtas still lists his official address as Lansdale House in Clontarf.

It would appear that Ivor's colleagues are as puzzled as anyone else, since the Oireachtas has written to him several times in an attempt to clarify the issue.

At one point he confirmed that "my personal situation has changed since June 2007" and insisted that his "current principal residence" was Cork.

Last November, however, he changed his address back to Dublin and more recently he has returned €3,987 by cheque because he said the new Oireachtas allowance system does not accommodate his two-home situation.

All of this suggests that Senator Callely has some explaining to do, particularly since his record is already littered with so many gaffes and controversies.

He famously had to resign as a junior minister in 2005 after it emerged that a well-known construction firm had painted his house for free.

He also became embroiled in a row with the Standards in Public Office Commission when a recycling company declared that it had donated €2,500 to him but only €1,500 showed up in his accounts (he subsequently passed the other €1,000 to FF HQ).

Milking

Last July, gardai questioned Senator Callely after his yacht reportedly collided with a couple of other vessels in Baltimore. Although he was able to sort out that little matter, it subsequently emerged that he had helped the law with their enquiries while wearing a kimono -- an image that many of his Seanad colleagues are still doing their best to forget.

In Britain, a high-profile Cabinet minister has just resigned for the comparatively minor sin of renting a property from his gay lover. Over here, the perception still persists that politicians are milking the Leinster House expenses system for every red cent they can get.

The onus is now on Ivor Callely to prove that this is all one big misunderstanding -- and if he can't, the new tax on second homes will be the least of his worries.

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