Government spending shows the contempt in which taxpayers are held

SO anxious were the people for the return of their beloved politicians that many of them made the journey to our national parliament to welcome them back, and some even slept outside the Dáil the previous night.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that.

Six different groups of protestors greeted TDs when they returned from their three-month holiday to let them know that the world hadn’t stopped in their prolonged absence.

You might be hard-pressed to guess what heartless third world country was referred to in two different stories on the same day this week which reported that its leaders let people die in the streets while at the same time millions of taxpayers’ money was wasted.

It sounds like a third world country, but it isn’t. Its leaders like to boast that it’s one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, which it is.

It’s Ireland.

It’s the Ireland the Government and the opposition parties don’t want to know about - but as they returned to our national parliament they were confronted by the appalling disgrace which they ignore.

Members of the homeless community were driven by desperation to highlight the plight which has seen several of their numbers die on our streets, by sleeping outside Leinster House on Tuesday night.

It must have been desperation that forced them to sleep outside the Dáil. God knows, there are enough people sleeping inside when it’s open.

Meanwhile, a psychiatrist - singular - chosen to work with homeless people in Dublin had his job offer withdrawn because of a row over funding. This happened a mere week after three homeless people were found dead on our streets. Incidentally, those deaths could only prompt 200 people to protest on the streets of Dublin.

It seems the consultant wanted a number of specific supports to help in his job and the Health Executive Northern Area management’s excuse was that its budget could not stretch this far. The job would have involved dealing with the mental health needs of about 1,000 people.

The HSE Northern Area budget would have been well able to stretch if the Government, its departments and agencies were not so profligate with taxpayers’ money by wasting it on string of wasteful projects, or simply not collecting it - like the €173 million in unpaid taxes the Revenue Commissioners wrote off last year.

The attitude to public money by the Government virtually amounts to criminal negligence.

The sleep-out by the homeless was organised by anti-poverty newspaper, Street Seen, and one of the organisers, Mark Grehan, said the homeless community had met nothing more than indifference from the Government.

“Failure to act will result in more deaths on our streets, deaths caused by the indifference of our Government,” he said.

Theirs was just one of the protests. Other issues included the Rossport Five, a prison site, asylum seekers, and the murder of a Dublin man.

And, of course, there’s still rip-off Ireland and the disgraceful situation at Irish Ferries.

The unremarkable fact is that in the absence of our politicians the country continued as normal - the cost of living remained scandalously high, Government departments wasted money, murders happened regularly, and the republic was, as always, on auto-pilot.

Nothing changed.

In fact, there is almost something comforting about a Dáil recess - especially a long one. You know that the country will be alright for few weeks - no price increases will be sanctioned. Like college accommodation in the summer break, Leinster House should be let out to tourists.

One of the first things our lethargic Opposition parties, in the shape of Fine Gael and Labour, did was to jointly table a motion seeking an urgent inquiry by John Purcell, the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), into the decision to buy the farm at Thornton Hall for a jail.

Urgent! Maybe the Mullingar Accord was concentrating their minds a bit, but it’s not as if the purchase of the farm came under the Official Secrets Act. I mean, the people living in the area had a thing or two to say about it - loudly.

It may be a bit late to be tabling urgent motions when Justice Minister Michael McDowell has almost got the deeds of the place in the safe. A deposit has been put on the site, which he got for a steal at a reported €30 million.

The opposition should have been jumping up and down a long time ago on this issue - like many other issues.

According to some sources, the site is worth in the region of e6 million, which is a long way on the abacus from the €30 million the Government is anxious to pay for the site of the 1,000-inmate replacement for Mountjoy Jail and a new Central Mental Hospital.

Remember, that’s only for the site - the prison will then have to be built.

Apparently, RTÉ’s Prime Time did a programme on this mess of porridge, which essentially raised questions as to how the 150-acre site at Thornton Hall was selected and how the price was negotiated, as it works out at about €200,000 an acre.

Mr McDowell has accused RTÉ of bias, but then he also described the motion from FG and Labour that the C&AG should investigate the deal as “complete nonsense”, and having no basis “in either law or reality”.

Mr Purcell’s job is to monitor Government spending - and we all know it seriously needs monitoring- so it’s rather perplexing as to why Mr McDowell is so adamantly against it.

There is also the issue of expecting local people to have a prison AND a mental institution imposed on them. You would not have to be paranoid to be against this proposal if you lived locally.

In any case, wouldn’t something like the Central Mental Hospital be better located in a quiet, idyllic and pastoral setting away from the difficulties of prison?

Somewhere like Rooskey.

Year in, year out, Mr Purcell &produces a report on Government spending, or waste, which shows exactly the contempt in which the taxpayer is held.

Across virtually every department there is a recurring splurging of public money either through gross overspending, failure to recoup money or simply checking to see if they’re getting value for money.

There’s no compunction on them to consider any of the above because it’s not coming out of their pockets and, anyway, nobody will be held responsible.

Despite those named and shamed regularly by the Revenue Commissioners, Mr Purcell’s report concluded there were “serious compliance problems” highlighted in 1970 in the construction industry which still exist today.

Talk about name and shame - farmers were shown this week to be the single biggest occupational tax defaulters, with 35 of them owing an average €84,359, out of a total of 170 settlements. And where were Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, FG leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Pat Rabbitte on Tuesday? In Mogeely, in east Cork, for the National Ploughing Championships!

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