McDaid is quitting politics but will still draw his Dáil salary

DR JIM MCDAID has apparently decided to quit active politics with immediate effect. He has stated that he is already concentrating on his medical practice.

It seems he thinks his political talents are not appreciated and are no longer likely to be recognised following his conviction for drunken driving last year. He was driving the wrong way on a dual-carriageway with well over the legal alcohol limit in his blood. As a result, he realised that he had no chance of getting back into Government and has obviously lost interest in politics.

“Let me call a spade a spade,” he said this week. “The drunk-driving situation put the cap on that.” Henceforth, he realised, he was “always going to be, basically, voting fodder”.

People should welcome the news that he has seen the light, because as “voting fodder” he would clearly be of little value to anyone. In the past year he has been a waste of space, and a disgrace to himself, to the people who elected him, to his party, and to politics in general.

Last year, for instance, he only voted six times out of 137 votes, which was one of the worst voting records in the Dáil. But that dismal record did not stop him drawing his combined salary and expenses of more than €150,000 for the year.

“I wasn’t representing the people of Donegal North-East, and therefore it was time to get out,” he admitted this week. Honesty should dictate that he should repay the bulk of last year’s salary in the light of his admission that he was not doing the work he was elected to do — ie, representing the people of Donegal North-East.

At the last general election he had grounds for believing that he would be in Government again if re-elected. But when Bertie Ahern dropped him from the Cabinet in 2002 and dumped him on the backbenches in 2004, McDaid lost interest in politics.

He has every right to quit, but he should do the decent thing and quit properly — not betray the people he is supposedly representing by holding on to the seat while actually building up his medical practice. Worse, he is drawing his deputy’s salary while effectively working elsewhere and also being paid handsomely by the State for this. This should not be allowed.

If anybody in a properly run business decided to devote their time and energies to another job, they would be given the option of quitting immediately or being fired.

Is it too much to expect our so-called leaders to provide leadership in the form of proper example? What we have been getting are lousy examples.

Why is the Government not doing anything about this? In 1991, when Charlie Haughey appointed Jim McDaid to the position of defence minister, the Progressive Democrats put the figurative gun to Haughey’s head, demanding the nomination be withdrawn. McDaid did the decent thing and saved the Short Fellow some embarrassment by asking that his nomination be withdrawn. He had made the mistake of allowing himself to be photographed with members of Sinn Féin outside the Four Courts after James Pius Clarke, a fellow constituent, won his battle against extradition.

The argument against McDaid’s appointment then was that the position of defence minister was too sensitive to allow any doubts about any kind of links or friendship with subversives. In a way, he was very unlucky. The opposition was not really gunning for him. It was trying to gut Haughey, and anyone who got in the way was fair game.

With any other Taoiseach, the whole thing would not have roused such uneasiness. But there was a whiff of cordite about Charlie ever since the Arms Trial when he was rescued by the bungling of the then defence minister, Jim Gibbons.

Hence, that office took on added significance while Haughey was in power.

McDaid’s was the second head the PDs had demanded from Haughey. The previous year they had forced him to dismiss Brian Lenihan as Tánaiste, basically for lying about making, or not making, a telephone call to then President Paddy Hillery following the defeat of Garret FitzGerald’s first government’s budget almost nine years earlier. Lenihan apparently did not make one of the calls that night, but he told a research student in a tape-recorded interview that he did call. Clearly, he lied to somebody — to the student, or to the nation on television news.

THE PDs behaved as if honesty meant something to them then. They were on a roll. After getting McDaid’s head, they delivered the coup de grace by demanding Haughey step down after Seán Doherty announced he had informed Haughey about the telephone tapping of Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold in 1982. In late 1992 the PDs brought Albert Reynolds and his whole government down after he essentially accused PD leader Des O’Malley of lying under oath.

That was some haul in the cause of political integrity in just two years — they brought down a whole government, as well as three separate ministers, including a Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Jim McDaid. The latter was certainly in exalted company. Ultimately, this may well have contributed to his political recovery in 1997, when he was appointed to Cabinet as Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Bertie Ahern pointedly paid tribute again this week to “the dignified manner in which he had declined” the nomination in 1991.

One can feel sympathy for the Donegal deputy for the way in which he lost ministerial office. The Taoiseach declared this week that McDaid was “a real champion for Irish tourism” and “made a real impact” as the first minister for sport in the Cabinet. He “signed the contract to bring the Ryder Cup to Ireland” and he addressed “the issue of doping and provided for an anti-doping agency in the Sports Act”, according to Bertie Ahern, who added, “the Roderick Murphy Report that Dr McDaid commissioned is a model for effective child protection”.

If he was so good, why was he dumped?

The Taoiseach thanked him for his contribution to public life since he was first elected to the Dáil in 1989, and he added that McDaid’s decision to quit was “for the best of all possible reasons”. One could understand that assessment if he was actually quitting, but for all we know he is only quitting his political duties. He is apparently still going to draw his Dáil salary of more than €94,000, and collect €125,000 severance pay next year. This should ease him nicely into his €80,000 annual pension. And through all of this the State is paying him handsomely for looking after medical card patients.

Last year, when he was too busy, or did not bother, to present himself for 131 of the 137 Dáil votes, the medical practices he owns earned more than €110,000 from medical cards. So far this year he has only turned up for three of 42 votes, and all three of those were on the same day. This is an outrage, but the reprehensible behaviour of the Government in just standing idly by is an even greater outrage and betrayal of the public trust.

Is it asking too much to expect the PDs to take a stand for honest government again? We know Fianna Fáil is not going to do so unless compelled. This week the Taoiseach was singing the praises of Jim McDaid for putting “the interests of his party above any selfish consideration”. Poor Bertie has got his head up the trees, again!

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