Former junior minister Ivor Callely has been jailed for five months for fraudulently claiming mobile expenses at Leinster House while he was a senator.
The case was adjourned last week to allow counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions to make submissions on whether Callely’s position as a senior politician at the time of the fraud is an aggravating factor in the case.
Judge Mary Ellen Ring today ruled that Callely’s position at the time is an aggravating factor and said that a prison term is demanded by the public interest. She imposed five months on each count to run concurrently.
In submissions made this morning before sentencing, prosecuting counsel Dominic McGinn SC told said it is the DPP’s view that cases involving a “breach of trust” by politicians in the UK tended to attract “relatively modest custodial sentences.” Counsel referred specifically to press reports of four MPs who were jailed for expenses fraud in recent years.
However Mr McGinn added that it should be noted that the UK have “a very rigid sentencing guidance structure”, unlike Ireland.
Callely’s counsel, Michael O’Higgins SC, made reference to the case of former minister Fianna Fáil Ray Burke who was jailed for six months for tax offences in 2005. Counsel said Burke’s offences are not comparable to Callely’s as they involved the tax code, which is directly decided by legislators.
Mr O’Higgins said the mobile phone expenses scheme is different as it is not a statutory scheme. He presented a letter from the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee stating this.
Mr O’Higgins also referred to the case of Michael Fahy, a Galway county councillor who was jailed in 2007 for theft and fraud offences involving public funds, and the case of Fred Forsey Jnr, a former deputy mayor of Dungarvan who was sentenced to six years in 2012 for accepting corrupt payments. Counsel said that Fahy’s prison term was set aside by the court after a retrial and that the Forsey case was not comparable to Callely’s.
Mr O’Higgins said that there is no case law in this country to suggest being a politician is an aggravating factor. He submitted that Callely is remorseful and is aware that he has let his down constituents his Dublin.
Mr O’Higgins added that there is a long tradition in Ireland of using prison “as a last port of call, not as a first port of call.”
Callely (56), of St Lawrence’s Road, Clontarf, pleaded guilty to four counts of using invoices believing them to be false instruments between November 2007 and December 2009 at Leinster House, Kildare Street while he was a member of the Seanad.
The court heard he used invoices from defunct businesses to claim expenses under an Oireachtas scheme which allows members to claim €750 for mobile phones every 18 months.
After Callely became aware of the scheme in August 2007, shortly after being appointed a Senator, he began submitting for expenses at 18 months intervals. He also submitted retrospective invoices from his time as a TD.
He fraudulently claimed a total of €4,207.45 using six invoices. The court heard that during his garda interview in 2012, Callely suggested a former business partner, who was deceased by that time, was responsible for the fake claims.
The fraud came to light when a journalist requested details of some of these expenses using a Freedom of Information Act request.
This prompted Callely to withdraw the claims and repay some of the expenses. Gardaí then began investigating and discovered a series of anomalies in the invoices including the fact that two of the business were no longer trading at the time.
Callely who was a member of Fianna Fáil, served as Minister of State in the health and transport departments between 2002 and 2005 and was later appointed to the Seanad where he remained until 2011.