Embattled Senator Ivor Callely has been portrayed as a pariah who ripped off the State over controversial expenses claims, his lawyer claimed today.
As he moved to sue the Seanad Committee examining his travel costs, the High Court was told the politician has not had a day’s peace since a group of cross-party senators found he made suspect claims.
Barrister Michael O’Higgins is challenging the Seanad Select Committee on Members’ Interest findings and Mr Callely’s subsequent 20-day suspension.
The court heard the senator, who had a constituency office in north Dublin, suffered enormous damage when a committee ruled he had deliberately misrepresented his normal place of residence as being his west Cork holiday home.
“The findings against Senator Callely portrayed him as a pariah, having ripped off the State of €80,000, a chancer, a rogue, a thoroughly despicable person,” said Mr O’Higgins.
“He has literally not had a day’s peace since that finding.”
Senator Callely, whose political base was Clontarf, north Dublin, has been embroiled in a damning scandal over travel expenses and other questionable invoices for several months.
He claimed €80,000 for travel from his holiday home in Kilcrohane, west Cork, and was subsequently suspended from the upper house.
The Seanad Committee had found he deliberately misrepresented his normal place of residence as being the holiday home, rather than his house in Dublin, in order to make the claims.
Mr O’Higgins told Mr Justice Sean Ryan he planned to challenge the committee’s findings on three counts.
He claimed the committee confused the definition of Mr Callely’s “normal place of residence” and that one member of the committee, Senator Joe O’Toole, had simply refused outright to apply the definition.
Mr O’Higgins said Mr O’Toole had also accused Mr Callely of having an elaborate scheme to avoid paying capital gains tax on his Cork home, which would have been worth €250,000 to the Revenue.
The barrister said that, under a definition of normal residence supplied to Mr Callely by the Department of Finance, his normal place of residence did not necessarily have to be a permanent, principal abode, but had to be a premises that was used for a lengthy period.
“The case I make is he is entitled, purely and simply, to have the matter dealt with by definition,” added Mr O’Higgins.
Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin said she was taken aback at the lawsuit.
“I’m surprised that an Oireachtas member would go to the court, and in dealing with this particular problem with Deputy Callely, I would have thought the Oireachtas was the place to deal with it,” she said.
The scandal-hit former junior minister resigned from Fianna Fáil last month when he claimed he had been denied fair procedures in an internal investigation.
Elsewhere, he has been ordered to explain why he filed four mobile phone invoices from a defunct company which ran to €2,900.
It is understood the Seanad committee has also received another formal complaint about Mr Callely’s failure to declare his interest in at least seven properties to Oireachtas authorities.
Mr O’Higgins alleged there had been a drip feed of allegations to the media, which felt they had the right to write about Senator Callely, safe in the knowledge they had the previous finding against him.
The barrister maintained his client had twice tried to change his expenses claim to accurately reflect his travel arrangements when he started spending more time in Dublin ahead of the second Lisbon Referendum – but had been informed it was not possible to change the data during the course of a year.
Senior Counsel Gerry Hogan, for the committee, was given permission to address the court during the ex parte application.
He requested the challenge be heard before the Seanad resumes at the end of the month, at which time he would argue whether the courts has jurisdiction over a Seanad decision.
Mr Hogan told the court it would be unsatisfactory if Senator Callely was granted permission to challenge the committee as his suspension and pending inquiries would be on hold until the outcome of the case.
The case was later adjourned and will be mentioned before the President of the High Court on September 28, with a view to a full hearing being held on October 4.