Northern Ireland

Reality TV votes cast from phone lines inside Dail

Jackie and Michael Healy-Rae
Image caption Michael Healy-Rae succeeded his father as TD for Kerry South in 2011

A member of the Irish parliament has said he will repay in full the cost of premium rate phone votes cast for him while he was in a reality TV programme.

In 2007, before he was elected to the Dail, Michael Healy-Rae appeared in and won Celebrities Gone Wild.

It has emerged that more than 3,000 votes were cast from a phone inside the Houses of the Oireachtas. His father Jackie was a TD at the time.

The cost of the calls has been estimated at 2,639 euros (£2,357).

Mr Healy-Rae has said he did not think his father would have made the calls.

Broadcast on RTE, Celebrities Gone Wild took eight celebrities on a week-long trek in Connemara.

Speaking to RTE, Michael Healy-Rae said he did not know how the 3,636 phone calls were made from the Dail, or whether they came from one or a number of phone lines.

He said he would make the payment to put a stop to the controversy and to ensure the Oireachtas was not out of pocket.

Mr Healy-Rae succeeded his father as TD for Kerry South in February 2011.

Sean Barrett, the ceann comhairle, or speaker, of the Dail had called for the money "to be repaid in full immediately".

"The misuse of the resources provided to members for their public duties for the aim of voting in a television competition is an outrageous abuse of facilities," he said.

Calls blocked

The issue came to light four years ago when a service provider reported a "spike in calls".

A statement from the Oireachtas said the "calls were blocked within an hour as it was clear that they were to a commercial voting line and clearly were not related to any parliamentary activity".

It also said when it was established that the number in question was a number to vote for Michael Healy Rae, the Houses of the Oireachtas wrote to then Deputy Jackie Healy Rae making him aware of the circumstances of the calls and seeking his comments.

No response was received.

Michael Healy-Rae told RTE that he was not responsible for how people voted.

"You can take my word, that what I would have been doing for the week would have been the least of my father's concerns at that time, because every time the bell would go for a vote in the house my father would have to be there," he said.

"The record will show that is exactly where he was."

RTÉ Television said the votes cast for Michael Healy-Rae using Oireachtas phones could not have altered the outcome of the reality show and that he had received more than twice the number of votes of his nearest competitor.