Monday 24 September 2018

Healy-Rae to pay TV show phone bill

Michael Healy-Rae will pay the "Ring of Kerry" telephone bill run up at Leinster House which helped secure his victory on a reality TV show.

The second generation Kerry Independent TD denied the refund was a pre-emptive strike to halt an inquiry into the controversial 2,639 euro premium-rate calls.

Mr Healy-Rae insisted neither he nor his father Jackie were behind the high speed dialling that secured the win in RTE's Celebrities Go Wild programme.

"I'm a good, honest, hard working politician," Mr Healy-Rae said.

"I want to be allowed to continue with that job and I cannot if this is hanging out there, and if people are going to be saying, 'well will the money be paid or won't the money be paid?'

"I don't owe the money, but there's nobody else going to come along as far as I can see and say they're going to pay it."

The Kerry politician came under pressure to refund the taxpayer with Dail Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett threatening to raise the matter with a parliamentary watchdog.

Mr Healy-Rae was a Kerry county councillor and mayor when he took part in the RTE show in 2007, broadcast in aid of People in Need.

Eight celebrities, including the late model Katy French, were forced to shun modern living for a week-long trek through Connemara.

Some 3,636 calls were made from Leinster House to a premium rate 1513 number, leaving the Oireachtas to foot the bill.

Mr Healy-Rae claims he has been told they came from several landlines in Leinster House and not just one phone.

"Every person who made those phone calls, I'm paying for every one of their phone calls now," the Kerry South TD said.

"I'm the only person in Ireland that's paying for other people's phone bills."

The Oireachtas said telecoms experts cannot identify the phone or phones where the calls were made but it is understood they have not advised Mr Healy-Rae that calls came from multiple sources.

It is believed the calls came from a landline or landlines belonging to a TD or Senator, or more than one, as restrictions are placed on staff and media communications from Leinster House.

The Independent TD said he had spoken with members of the Oireachtas who had given him support, but he declined to say how many or who they were.

Mr Barrett said he still intends to discuss the matter with the Committee on Procedures and Privileges despite Mr Healy-Rae offering to pay.

Part of its remit is to consider and report on the privileges attached to TDs and Senators. It conducts its hearings in private and is due to meet next week.

"I have no problem in the world with any investigation. Out of all the people in the country, the one person who couldn't have done this is myself," the Kerry South TD said.

"If things are going to be investigated the whole use of phones in the Houses of the Oireachtas should be looked into and checked.

"Because again, other people did whatever they did and they should answer for it."

His father Jackie, who did not contest the last election, had sent out an email at the time of the programme asking for support for his son.

Mr Healy-Rae was in the spotlight earlier this month after it was revealed he had been appointed to the board of the Citizens Information Board as part of a deal struck with his father by the previous Government.

Asked if the latest revelations were part of a smear campaign, he said: "You wouldn't have to be Einstein to work out that there's a little bit of something going on."

The Houses of the Oireachtas said when it became aware of a spike in phone connections to a premium-rate 1513 number it subsequently blocked any further calls within a hour.

Officials wrote to Mr Healy Rae Snr but received no reply. Michael said his father had no recollection of being contacted

Earlier Taoiseach Enda Kenny called for the phone bill to be paid.

"It might be funny if it weren't as serious as it is. Celebrities do go wild.

"This money should be paid back, full stop. It shouldn't have happened."

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