Andrew Lynch: The Healy-Raes should pay the phone bill ... but we should ask who's out to get them?
It sounds like the plotline from a classic Father Ted script. A local politician nicknamed Dolly the Sheep, thanks to the fact that he's a perfect clone of his TD father, wins a dire reality television show with the help of thousands of phone calls made from Leinster House.
For anyone fed up of seeing politicians go wild with public money, however, it's no laughing matter -- which is why Michael Healy-Rae would be well advised to get his chequebook out.
The 'Dial M for Michael' scandal may be little more than a welcome distraction from our economic woes, but it still raises two intriguing questions.
First, why are the details of those 3,636 phone calls only emerging now, almost four years after they were made? It appears that the Healy-Raes have at least one powerful enemy, somebody who is well acquainted with their most private affairs -- and presumably ready to drag out any more skeletons they can find in the Kerrymen's closet.
Second, why did the Healy-Raes not have the cop-on to pay for the calls in 2007?
While father and son have both strenuously denied any involvement in the calls, Michael Healy-Rae, who wasn't a TD at the time, did benefit in the sense that he won the competition.
Even if they did not personally make the calls, they now bear the brunt of the public's anger.
The sum involved, €2,639 is a tiny amount of money to the family whose ability to ride the Leinster House gravy train left their colleagues gasping in awe.
In his first year of retirement alone, Jackie was due to receive €197,000.
A pretty trivial abuse of public money now has the potential to damage their reputations.
Already, the Dail has announced two separate inquiries into the matter, a classic example of overkill that suggests our politicians really do have too much time on their hands.
Although Michael is protesting that the calls might have been made from more than one phone, the notion that 3,636 residents of Kildare Street simultaneously decided to back him is really pushing it -- and you don't have to be Columbo to realise that the list of suspects is a pretty short one.
Above all, the 'Dial Eireann' scandal should be an eye-opener for anyone who thinks of Jackie and Michael as loveable eejits who at least add a bit of colour to Irish politics.
Last year, the business TV channel Bloomberg described Jackie Healy-Rae as "Ireland's sugar daddy".
Until Dolly the Sheep hands over the money, he will have to get used to being known as the new Ring of Kerry -- and a cap-in-hand apology would not exactly go amiss.
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