herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

Ivor the Engine finally
runs out of steam...

shamed: Ivor Callely saw himself as a future Taoiseach - but ended up prison

Picture the scene. You are three years old and travelling with your mother on a bus into Dublin city centre. A fortune teller approaches, points a finger at you and declares, "One day that boy will be President of Ireland".

Most of us would either forget about such an incident straight away or turn it into some kind of joke. Ivor Callely's reaction was very different.

The former Fianna Fail junior minister not only loved telling anyone who would listen about the clairvoyant's prediction - he apparently expected them to take it seriously.

In a way, this tells you everything you need to know about the man who has just been sentenced to five months in prison for making false mobile phone expenses claims while he was a Senator.

Callely is obviously a greedy chancer who should never have been a member of the national parliament.

He is also, however, a gormless idiot - and arguably deserves to be pitied as much as hated.

Sadly, few people either inside or outside Leinster House will shed any tears over Callely's final downfall.

Even in a profession that tends to attract massive egos, his brash and arrogant style made him exceptionally unpopular with colleagues.

He was also the archetypal parish-pump politician, who carefully guarded his home patch in Clontarf but seemed to have no real principles apart from furthering his own career.

Callely has always stood out from the crowd. His pinstripe suits and pink shirts reflected his self-image as a man of destiny, although some thought they were really a cry for help.

He was the first person to set up a full-time constituency office in Dublin North Central, something that not even the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey had managed.

He got himself a caravan, or 'mobile information unit' and towed it behind his car to selected outposts in the area on Saturday mornings.

He sent American-style Christmas cards featuring family photos to his constituents, some of them so tasteless that they became collectors' items.

HIGHEST

For a while, all this self-promotion paid off handsomely. In the 1997 general election Callely secured the country's fifth highest vote. He did even better at the 1999 local elections and got more votes than any other candidate in Ireland.

As the years went by, however, it became clear that successive Fianna Fail leaders did not exactly share Ivor's high opinion of himself.

Although he first entered the Dail in 1989, it was not until 2002 that Bertie Ahern finally gave him a junior ministry.

This did not hurt Callely's self-belief one iota and he began telling interviewers that he saw himself as a future Taoiseach.

In fact, the only thing Ivor was really good at was embarrassing himself.

He made a controversial statement about the need to boot out illegal immigrants that had a distinctly nasty tone.

At the Department of Health, he had responsibility for older people.

After moving to Transport, he landed himself in hot water again - by using his own photo in a series of adverts to promote the Dublin traffic control system Operation Freeflow.

In 2005, Callely really hit the slippery slope. It was revealed that one of the country's biggest construction companies had painted his house for free.

Ivor eventually resigned, but dragged it out so long that the affair overshadowed Brian Cowen's budget - and the finance minister's private response was unprintable.

Around this time, Callely's bizarre staffing problems also came under the spotlight.

Not only did his office have an unusually high turnover of people, he had actually offered to buy one disgruntled adviser a car.

This may not have been against the rules, exactly, but it all contributed to the feeling that there was something weird about the guy.

Humiliated and disgraced, Callely duly lost his seat in the 2007 general election. Then Bertie Ahern made one of the strangest decisions of his career.

He appointed Ivor to the Seanad, possibly in the deluded belief that Callely had learned some kind of lesson.

Instead, the most mind-boggling scandals were yet to come. In 2010 it emerged that Ivor had claimed over €80,000 in travel expenses from his second home on the Sheep's Head Peninsula in West Cork, 370 km away.

This was more than a little puzzling, since his Clontarf office was still in operation and his website boasted: "I am also continuing my work in the constituency."

FRADULENT

When the Seanad suspended Callely for 20 days without pay, he succeeded in having their decision overturned by the High Court.

This was just a Pyrrhic victory (and was later overturned by the Supreme Court), since his fraudulent mobile phone invoices had already been discovered.

As we now know, he used fake invoices worth €4,207 from a company that had ceased trading in 1994 - proof positive that the man was stupid as well as dishonest.

During his trial, one of Callely's character witnesses told the court: "I hardly recognised him in the hall today, your honour, because he is a different man." It would certainly be nice to think so.

For almost a decade now, Ivor Callely has been the perfect symbol of a corrupt political system that Ireland urgently needs to leave behind.

As for the fortune teller who told him he would be President, we can only hope that she refused to accept any payment.

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