SHAUN CONNOLLY: From fornication to Phonegate, TD could be reaching the end of the line

Michelle Mulherin with friend and campaigner Danson Kole.

Her views on “fornication” propelled Michelle Mulherin into international headlines. Now, her international phonecalls have left the Mayo TD open to a taxpayer backlash, suggests Shaun Connolly.

The Fine Gaeler last troubled public consciousness back in April 2012 when she made this startling announcement in the Dáil: “Fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies.”

The comments provoked global ridicule, with one US headline declaring “Irish Lawmaker Pinpoints Sex As Cause Of Babies”, but nobody is smiling over the latest controversy to engage her — Phonegate.

An RTÉ freedom of information request last week revealed that an Oireachtas member had made scores of calls to a mobile in Kenya, landing the taxpayer with a bill of €2,000 in the process.

With Oireachtas rules stating calls are confidential, no TD saw fit to come forward and end the Dáil M for Mystery saga that raged across Leinster House.

Then a Sunday newspaper revealed that Ms Mulherin was the only member signed in at the Dáil for all the days the calls were made, and the Mayowoman came out all guns blazing — only to shoot herself in the foot in the process.

A car-crash radio performance saw the backbencher swerve and sway her way through a labyrinthine story as she tried to present herself as some sort of defender of democracy, not someone who had just been caught running up a huge phone bill at the taxpayers’ expense with calls to a friend in Kenya.

Ms Mulhern was at pains to insist none of the calls were personal, that she was merely conversing with a “third party”, a private citizen who had been defamed by a newspaper.

After some deft probing from interviewer Sean O’Rourke, we learned the “third party” was indeed the TD’s pal Danson Kole, who had campaigned for her.

Helpfully, Ms Mulherin said she would have no problem refunding the expense if the situation becomes a problem — even though she insists they were all made in line with her role as a TD.

However, she did not explain why, if the calls related to a newspaper article about Mr Kole published in April 2014, the calls had started the previous autumn.

Ms Mulhern then expressed her fear that the incident could mean TDs’ confidentiality had “gone by the wayside”, and asked whether whistleblowers contacting TDs could be in danger of being traced.

The irony of a whistleblower being exposed by a freedom of information request did not seem to arise.

It was that very confidentiality that meant we did not know of Ms Mulherin’s involvement in the €2,000 phone bill until journalists did some sleuthing, as the Oireachtas has very strict rules that mean records of which members made which calls are not kept.

And while Ms Mulherin is therefore right to say no Oireachtas officials contacted her over the phonecalls, Leinster House authorities appeared concerned enough about the turn of events to contact the owner of the mobile phone in Kenya himself to see what was going on.

Ms Mulhern told us she effectively has no personal life because she had dedicated herself to politics.

Always unlikely to retain her seat, the controversies, from fornication to Phonegate, make it even more likely than ever that the voters of Mayo will give her back her personal life at the next general election.

READ MORE: Mulherin must pay €2k bill, say TDs


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