This story is by Ken Foxe and based on a recent story in the Mail on Sunday: Documents obtained under FOI are below.
A politican is suspected to have run up a bill of more than €1,600 calling a single mobile phone number in Pakistan, an unpublished Oireachtas memo has claimed.
Officials in Leinster House’s telecoms unit estimated that calls to a ‘very small number’ of foreign numbers were costing the taxpayer at least €14,000 per year.
Other costs included an estimated €1,249 bill for calling a mobile in Australia, €581 to a mobile in Lithuania, €381 to a Maltese mobile, €370 to a UK mobile, €366 to a South African landline and €331 to a landline in Cyprus. The officials admitted they were powerless to establish whether the expensive calls – made in 2010 – were legitimate as they don’t track who TDs and Senators call on their taxpayer-funded phones.
But the memo stated it was ‘difficult to imagine’ how they could be genuine. ‘It is difficult to imagine what Oireachtas business would give rise to calls costing €1,621 to a single Pakistani mobile phone number, and it would be irresponsible to consider the possibility that such calls might have been an unintended/improper use of the service provided. Without availabe data it is not possible to make any judgement on the matter.’
The discoveries were made after a report was commissioned following the ‘Ring of Kerry’ controversy in which a €2,639 bill was run up dialling a premium phone line to vote for Michael Healy-Rae, who was a contestant in the Celebrities Go Wild TV show.
That led directly to a ban on calls to premium rate numbers from all Oireachtas phones and immediately eliminated any potential for abuse. These unpublished memos, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, were prepared internally but never sent forward for consideration by spending watchdogs.
The Oireachtas has confirmed they are now planning a review of telephone services to look at the risk ‘of inappropriate use, or excessively expensive use of telecoms facilities. However, tackling the problem of politician’s personal phone bills has proven difficult because of the cloak of secrecy that surrounds them.
The Oireachtas operates a screening process for calls and if civil servants, and other similar staff, run up excessive bills – the costs are immediately red-flagged. But this screening does not apply to TDs or Senators, which means inappropriate use of phone facilities can never be investigated.
There is a proviso on the above figures in that they are based on seven months of usage, with a twelve-month figure extrapolated from the January to end July cost.