We’ve been here before, haven’t we? We have done the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. We have phoned Liveline in our masses, watched politicians kick the problems around like footballs and read all the newspaper column inches dedicated to our rage.
Exhausted, beaten down and worn out from scandal after scandal, we emerged from the blazing furnace to a happier dawn. The Democratic Revolution was heralded. There would be no more of that Fás business, no more Bertie Bowl, no more banker bonuses or jaw-dropping ministerial expenses. There would be no more brown envelopes, economic treasons, mature recollections, or thundering disgraces.
We had — in the words of our new political leadership — voted for a “new way of doing business, a new Ireland that works”. At last it happened; we couldn’t wait.
The “bright new day” had come, Enda Kenny told the Dáil on the day he was nominated as Taoiseach in Mar 2011. “The old ways of politics damaged us not alone financially, but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually,” he empathised.
Like fools, we fell for it. We clung to it in hope and went about obediently living our lives.
We paid our mounting taxes, we worked extra hours if we could get them; we lined up in dole queues if we couldn’t, or we took the plane to Australia or Canada.
We accepted cuts to our carers’ allowances, increases in college fees and growing class sizes. We shook buckets on the street to raise money for the less well-off because we knew the State had less money to support them.
We were assured by our political leaders our efforts were appreciated. We were thanked, each and every one of us, by the Taoiseach in his live television address.
And yet, here we are again. Listening once more to revelations of sickening greed, this time at the expense of disabled people and their families, doing the best they can.
And, at the same time, listening helplessly to stories of the re-emergence of a bonus culture.
Of payments that will be made for no explained reason to employees at Irish Water — a company set up by the Coalition through legislation, rushed through the Dáil in four hours, that is shockingly weak on oversight, transparency and accountability. We sit back and wonder why, when we have kept our side of the “covenant” that the Taoiseach spoke about when he was elected, has our leadership not kept its side of the deal?
And when the Taoiseach reacted to the CRC scandal by saying it was “indicative of a time in Irish politics” that he hoped had “gone away” one would have to wonder if any meaningful lessons have been learnt by those in charge.
Yes, the board members involved in the CRC scandal had been part of the circle of Bertie Ahern.
But the agreement to award Paul Kiely a pay-off amounting to almost €750,000 was made in Mar 2013.
Of course, the Government cannot “micro-manage” everything that happens as Phil ‘it’s not my fault’ Hogan reminded us during the week.
But it can — and has an obligation to — put in place the necessary governance structures to ensure the very system and culture that allowed this to happen is changed.
The controversy over the spending of €50m on consultants by Irish Water is indicative of how it has failed to do so.
While the Coalition could not put in place the promised Charities Regulator because of costs, it was able to pay consultants €50m for work for which — when asked if it was value for money, the Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said: “I don’t know.”
The legislation setting up the utility was far from properly scrutinised in the four hours on the last day before the Christmas holidays that the Dáil was given to discuss it. As a result, TDs who raised concerns that the company would not have to answer parliamentary questions, were told to sit back down. An amendment to ensure it would be subject to Freedom of Information was not accepted.
And it went entirely undiscussed during the “debate” that the company will only be obliged to appear before the Oireachtas Environment Committee once a year.
Despite Mr Kenny’s claim when he became Taoiseach that “the new Government will tell the people the truth regardless of how unwelcome or difficult that might be”, a range of Dáil questions about the consultancy costs at Irish Water went unanswered over the past year, even though the Government had all the information.
Is this the sort of thing that is indicative of the politics of the past, Taoiseach? Or is this something that we should be worried about right now, before we slip back into the obedient acceptance of another perpetual cycle of scandals?
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