Last week RTÉ’s Ken Foxe reported that a TD or Senator ran up a €2,000 bill in calls to a mobile phone in Kenya. The person wasn’t identified as confidentiality rules forbid the Oireachtas to find out who made the calls.
But yesterday the Sunday Times reported that phone records showed Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin was “the only politician whose attendance is documented on each of the 19 days when the calls were made”.
In response, Ms Mulherin went on RTÉ R1’s Today with Sean O’Rourke this morning to
set the record straight have a chat.
Sean O’Rourke: “Maybe you might just explain the two figures and the calls?”
Michelle Mulherin: “Well, I’m not really in a position to explain any figures because the first, or the only information I have is what’s out in the media in relation to the issue of phonecalls. I have never been contacted by the Oireachtas or Leinster House in relation to any problem with phonecalls. Yes, I made some calls to Africa, none of them were personal. And, indeed for the most part, they were pertained to a third party who is a private citizen who has been maligned and shamed in a newspaper article because of association with me and potential legal action is arising there from. So, I’m not really at liberty to go into that further but what I can say is that I understand at all times, in relation to the use of the phones which is, I suppose, the same as people would operate in business. It’s not for personal, it’s for business and my phonecalls were not personal.”
O’Rourke: “But can you give us an idea…were all the phonecalls, first of all, were they all made to the same number?”
Mulherin: “Well, I don’t know because, as I say, I only…what I have done is, I suppose, just to, because I only know about what’s in the media. We have contacted the Ceann Comhairle. I’ve written to the Ceann Comhairle and I’ve asked them to investigate it. You know the Ceann Comhairle is chair of the oireachtas commission which runs the houses of parliament which looks after the day-to-day affairs of what happens in Leinster House and I’m asking him to look into it. And basically I’m open to whatever he has to say about it. And, basically, the commission which is the committee that he sits with, who then deliberates on these issues in relation to the propriety of any phonecalls I made. At this point, until that clarification is given, I mean in fairness the phonecalls listed there to all over the world, I’d say as there has been every year, and that’s the nature, we’re a parliament, we’re international and I’d like to get more information.
What I will say is if there is a problem and the, I know I’ve made calls and the figures that have been given seem excessive or expensive, if I say it that way. I have no problem in paying or refunding money. But I’d just like to make the proviso all calls have been made in the course of my work and as part of me being a politician. Nothing else, nothing personal. And I suppose what I feel is this really throws open another vista which is maybe a game changer which is if a private individual contacts me, or I contact them and there’s an ongoing matter or indeed if I phone a journalist, in relation to a sensitive case and if that business is ongoing, do politicians and do TDs and senators now run the risk of that now confidentiality that confidentiality which is assured to the communications of TDs by constitutional protection. Is that gone by the wayside? Because, to me, this is the whole new situation we’ll be talking about. We’ve a lot of debate, I suppose, about whistleblowers, confidentiality, things like that. And this is really a new departure in relation to the houses of the oireachtas. And I’ve also asked that the Ceann Comhairle would investigate that.”
O’Rourke: “Yes, but the Sunday Times says, though you don’t seem to be as clear about it, but, I’m not saying they’re more accurate than you but they say that it’s been established that all the calls, 19 calls, were made to the same mobile number. And…”
Mulherin: “But sure we don’t know what that number is, Seán.”
O’Rourke: “Yes but you seem to accept that you did make those calls…”
Mulherin: “I did, I made some calls Seán I made some calls for sure and their, I’m, I’m not taking from that but look all of this has coming at me from the media. As I said, nobody has ever, nobody has within the houses of the oireachtas, you have the clerk of the Dáil, you have the assistant clerk of the Dáil, we’re often sent out memos about issues arising and, as I said, there are a lot of international calls made and if there was a problem in relation to my usage of a phone, or in general, I’d imagine that I’d have been told about it. And I maintain that the manner in which I keep a phone was within the standard way, except that it just happened to be somebody who was in Kenya.”
O’Rourke: “Yes, but I think in this instance, the Sunday Times and the [Irish Daily] Mail today both indicate they had, that you were not available to explain or comment to them about the situation. Now obviously that’s changed this morning.”
Mulherin: “Just to be clear, again Seán, I have contacted Ceann Comhairle to get to the bottom of it, so has not, this isn’t something that has been brought to my attention before this, in terms of the houses of the oireachtas telling me there’s a problem…”
O’Rourke: “Yes but…”
Mulherin: “So I have to find out that myself and I think that…”
O’Rourke: “Yes, and in fairness there may be no problem at all, Michelle, there may be no problem at all but, in the meantime, it’s emerged that Ken Foxe [of RTÉ’s Investigations Unit], the RTÉ reporter, he got details or he looked for details of the recipient of the calls in an FOI appeal to the Information Commissioner in 2013 now the appeal outlines how the Oireachtas contacted the number to establish who, to establish who was the recipient of the calls and concluded it was a local Kenyan mobile number of a personal phone of a private person, that’s what it says here in the text…”
Mulherin: “Well, I wasn’t contacted.”
O’Rourke: “But are you saying that you should have been. I mean this is just seeking information about who made the calls.”
Mulherin: “No, Seán, I’m not trying to make any less or more here of this. As I said I have absolutely no problem in making refund if that’s what’s required. But what I am maintaining is that I didn’t act outside the jurisdiction or what I’m allowed to do, as part of my job as a politician. And the big issue I think is how the confidentiality of not just myself but of somebody that I might call and this may happen in the future and where does that put all these calls…where does it put, where does it put communications with journalists, where does it put communications with citizens with ongoing problems, if you have an investigation journalist who’ll go to that length to identify individuals…”
O’Rourke: “And that’s presumably why the confidentiality was preserved through the Office of the Information Commissioner. Maybe the big question is, aswell, is there a matter here that has to do with taxpayers’ money being spent on personal phonecalls?”
Mulherin: “Well, in relation to that, I have confirmed to you it isn’t. I actually, being honest with you, don’t have a personal life. All my life is pretty much taken up with politics and that’s everyday of the week. I haven’t got the liberty of having long, lengthy personal phonecalls out of Leinster House..”
O’Rourke: “Ah no, but you would, you would remember maybe making…”
Mulherin: “Is this story just to do with the cost of the taxpayer or, might I suggest, that there’s an attraction to link my personal life, as it has been in the past, with someone in Africa. And to go down that route, and it is of interest to some sectors of the media that that angle would be taken on it. I mean there’s calls made all over the world there so there is, from Qatar to Columbia, several calls to Columbia. Look, this is bigger than Michelle Mulherin, this will be sorted. What I’m saying is there’s a total confidentiality issue here in relation to how politicians can do their business with people, which is political business…”
O’Rourke: “No but you’ve gone some way towards explaining or at least giving us an explanation by saying these calls were made in the course of your business, as a TD. Now, just to give you some of the listener reaction, ‘Does this woman – in otherwords, you – know if she made the calls? Yes or no?’.”
Mulherin: “I’ve already said I made calls to Africa, I don’t know if they are those calls. I have made the request to the Ceann Comhairle in relation to, getting further information and, with respect, not from the media but from the houses of the Oireachtas that keep the records and that also have rules of conduct in relation to how we conduct ourselves which I am more than willing and happy to attend to and oblige to.”
O’Rourke: “When you talk about those calls being made in the course of your work, as a TD, have to do with an individual who was ‘maligned’ in the media. Is this the person that you were friendly with? That you helped in your campaign? I think, if I pronounce his name correctly, Danson Kole?”
Mulherin: “I don’t want to be going into this third party situation, to add insult to injury but, yes, the individual who was maligned and defamed, was that third party and, as I say, there are more people who are connected with the revelations or the spurious information that was given in a particular newspaper article and they’re private citizens and I don’t want to be going into it.”
O’Rourke: “But can I just clarify? He’s a person who’s maligned, as you say, in the media. Is he the person to whom you made the phonecalls?”
Mulherin: “Yes, in relation to that particular matter, yeah.”
O’Rourke: “Right, so where does the third party come into this then?”
Mulherin: “Well, he is a third party private citizen who got mentioned in a newspaper article just because he was associated with me.”
O’Rourke: “Right, no, so my interpretation of third party was that the calls were made about a third party when, in fact, the calls were made directly to him.”
Mulherin: “No, well, depends on where you begin and end, define a third party.”
Talk over each other.
O’Rourke: “There may be no big mystery…”
Mulherin: “…also associated with this story, ok? As I say, look, it, my phonecalls were not personal and the individuals that you’ve referred to there, he is a private citizen and he doesn’t need to be put into newspaper articles because he’s associated with me and in the manner in which a story was reported.”
O’Rourke: “And were those phonecalls then, were they all about the malignment of him in the media?”
Mulherin: “In relation, my, what I have said is that, for the most part, they were but I have had communication with this individual, I’ve had communications with Dan over a period of time and, as I say, he’s somebody that I would have dealings with in relation to political situations, as I do have other people who I would call political confidantes or people that…”
O’Rourke: “Sure and your basic position, if I could summarise it and tell me if I’m being unfair or incomplete or otherwise is that you made calls on 19 days to Dan and they had to go with the fact that he was maligned in the media and they were calls that were made directly to him, to his mobile in the course of your work as a TD and not in any other setting?”
Mulherin: “It’s all in the context, if I want to be making calls besides, and I have done, I can make them on my own phone and I’ve done it. So and in relation to the number of calls and the actual calls themselves, this is something I am getting clarification from, from the House of the Oireachtas and I think that, in fairness, I should be entitled to do that.”
O’Rourke: “Of course..”
Mulherin: “As far as I’m concerned if something is deemed excessive or there’s a problem in relation to calls that I made I have no problem making a refund but I just want to stress it’s in the course of my political business. And I believe that this invasion of the confidentiality of phonecalls that I have made, in the course of my political business…it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger that Michelle Mulherin and, as I say, that issue will be sorted. It’s about confidentiality in relation to anybody who today or tomorrow decides to ring a TD or a senator about their business.”
O’Rourke: “Does the question of spending, be it €968 or €2,000 or taxpayers’ money, on these calls, is that an issue?”
Mulherin: “What I’m saying is that I have no problem refunding money if that’s what’s required to be done here.”
O’Rourke: “OK, we’ll leave it there.”
Listen back here
Previously: Who’s Phoning Kenya?