Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Premium numbers ban over 'Ring' row

Premium rate numbers will be blocked at Leinster House after the Michael Healy-Rae controversy

Calls to premium rate numbers are to be barred from Leinster House telephones in the wake of the "Ring of Kerry" controversy.

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has refunded the cost of the 3,636 calls that helped secure his victory in RTE's Celebrities Go Wild programme, despite denying any involvement.

But the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, chaired by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, said it was forced to act when facilities were being abused.

"The committee said that access to facilities such as telephones was essential for the work of the Dail and its members but that it was equally important to act where it was clear that facilities were being abused," a statement said.

Telephone restrictions are already in place for staff and media at Leinster House, but calls were not logged for TDs and Senators for reasons of privacy and confidentiality.

Mr Healy-Rae was a Kerry county councillor and mayor when he took part in the RTE show in 2007, broadcast in aid of People in Need.

Eight celebrities, including the late model Katy French, were forced to shun modern living for a week-long trek through Connemara.

Some 3,636 calls were made from Leinster House to a premium rate 1513 number, leaving the Oireachtas to foot the 2,639 euro bill.

Mr Healy-Rae insisted neither he nor his father Jackie - who was a TD for Kerry South at the time of the show - were behind the dialling, but he offered to pay the money in full.

The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has been asked to amend regulations to give effect to the committee's decision.

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