'Petty jailing of Ivor Callely smacks of tokenism'
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'Petty jailing of Ivor Callely smacks of tokenism'

THE jailing of former junior Minister and Senator Ivor Callely for five months, after all that has happened in our Republic, is not in any way the gesture some seem to see it as.

The Irish Times said it ‘sends out a strong message to our political elite’. Does it? I would suggest it sends out a message alright but not quite the message the Irish Times seems to believe.

This is no great accounting, this is no coming to terms with power. Ivor Callely was never any great political shakes and by the time he was being led down to jail he was by far and away a busted flush.

Ivor Callely’s jailing doesn’t send out a message to the great and good that they are not untouchable for it is a long day since Callely could ever have dreamt of being part of the great or the good.

Now this column has long argued that there is no accountability in Ireland where power is concerned. The business and political elites who ran the Irish economy into the ground have emerged from the crash not only without having to explain but relatively unscathed.

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Sean Fitzpatrick, Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern, Michael Fingleton — do you think their families have been split by emigration? Do you think they’re worried about paying the mortgage? Do you think their access to the fee-paying schools and the exclusive golf clubs has been curtailed?

The jailing of Ivor Callely for five months for fiddling mobile phone expenses, well, it just seems petty, doesn’t it? It seems spiteful. I mean I don’t think Ireland is a safer place now that Callely is behind bars and for the judge to declare that ‘a prison term was demanded by the public interest’ as if Callely was the big fish we’d all wanted to see in court, well, it is kind of ironic.

Not that Ivor Callely does not encapsulate so much of the story of modern Irish politics. A Fianna Fáil politician who, as the Irish Times puts it, loved to display ‘the trappings of wealth including a large house in Clontarf, a holiday home in west Cork, a big car and a motorboat’, Callely came out of Celtic Tiger central casting.

The fact that even within Fianna Fáil he was not regarded as a politician of substance gives you some measure of the kind of character we are dealing with here. That’s like still being kept as a sub when the Sunday league pub team are short of players.

Callely’s personal political history is also something of a snapshot of Irish politics and a signpost of how he got to where he is now. As a Junior Minister in Transport he was criticised for putting images of himself on traffic information boards.

When his staff started resigning when he was a Minister, over difficulties in working with him, he was in trouble again when he offered to buy one of them a car if they’d stay. He was finally forced to resign when it was revealed that a big construction company had painted one of his large residences for free.

Earlier on in his career it emerged that his wife had won the franchise for a lucrative hospital hairdressing salon when Callely just happened to be chair of the relative Health Board.

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On losing his Dáil seat and having been rewarded by Bertie Ahern with a seat in the Senate he was soon suspended when it emerged that he was claiming travelling expenses to attend the Senate not from his Dublin home but from his property in west Cork. The mobile phone fiddle was just the latest in a long line of sleazy activities that Ivor Callely was involved in.

So we can be under no illusions about the kind of character we are dealing with here. Callely was representative of the rotten core of Fianna Fáil in a line that goes way back over recent decades of that party’s history. He is no unfortunate victim.

But his imprisonment is still nothing but a petty act by a judiciary and a system that is extremely good at bringing those without real power to account. Sure, Callely is still a wealthy man and will still have those trappings when he comes out but it is a long time since he was even around the fringes of power.

If Irish society and Irish politics and the Irish legal system are suggesting by jailing Ivor Callely they are showing no one is above the law, they must still think we are the fools they all thought we were when Bertie said his strange money had come from winnings on the horses.

Move along, there’s nothing new to see here. Just a petty man doing some time for some petty theft.