McDaid has done himself a favour and may even have done one for us

FORMER Dáil deputy Jim McDaid once called those who committed suicide “selfish bastards” and this unfortunate phrase came to mind this week when he ended his own political career suddenly, dramatically and seemingly with little care for some of those left behind.

In the first case his staff are out of work, apparently with no warning given of their boss’s whim. Hopefully, they will enjoy some financial protection by way of redundancy, but their pay-offs will surely pale by comparison with that to be enjoyed by their erstwhile boss. His electorate is left with diminished representation, although it might not notice given McDaid’s unofficial part-time status as a TD representing Donegal North-East since the last election in 2007.

McDaid’s exit is well-cushioned. As a former minister, albeit one who served at the cabinet table for a mere five years, and former TD, it has been reported that he will get a pension, immediately even though he is not yet 65, starting at €94,000 per annum. To cushion the loss of his salary he will receive a lump sum redundancy payment of €147,000. And, amazingly, although McDaid abandoned his seat, he will also receive a severance package of €60,000.

It is a rare job that allows you to quit and automatically rewards you with such large sums of money. In most jobs if you leave that’s it, it’s your choice and at your cost. It’s not as if he has no other future source of income. As a medical doctor with a thriving practice he is going to have a considerable income, part of which, ironically, is likely to be provided through state contracts.

He will be taxed on his annual income – and presumably on part of his pay-off – but either way McDaid is unlikely ever to have to worry too much about money in the future. Lucky him. It is no wonder that the public grows cynical about the largesse enjoyed by our politicians.

But here’s the odd thing: even if acting in his own interests – he said he had personal reasons, unexplained, for ditching his job, while also claiming to have the national interest in mind by doing so now rather than waiting a matter of months before an election is certain to be called – McDaid actually may have done the state some service. He has made an earlier election – absolutely essential if we are to get a government which has some credibility with moneylenders on international markets – more likely.

It is few enough government-supporting politicians who are in a position to do that. Most, even those who know they will receive massive compensation when they fail to be re-elected, are hanging on grimly, claiming every last expense and salary cheque before they have to spend money trying to get re-elected. Many of them know they will never again earn such large sums of money on an annual basis, even if many have jobs to return to, especially as teachers. And many of them just can’t bear the idea of missing out the buzz of doing the job. Even if they complain bitterly about the workload and the travelling, it is amazing how many of them cling to their positions nonetheless.

But surely there must be others who, like McDaid, do not intend running in the next election, who are guaranteed large payoffs and who know that, in the national interest rather than the Fianna Fáil party interest, an election now is a necessity rather than, as the prepared script has it, “the very worst time to have one”? Is there any chance a couple of others might do the right thing and pull the plug early? Next...

All eyes now of course are on the three Government supporting independents, Jackie Healy-Rae, Noel Grealish and Michael Lowry. If two were to vote against the budget, then the Government would fall. Healy-Rae is retiring at the next election but wants to hand his seat over to his son, Michael. It seems he will be involved in a battle for the last seat in Kerry South with Fianna Fáil’s John O’Donoghue.

Healy-Rae wants to get his timing right. He and his son are in the Fianna Fáil gene pool – and will tap many votes there – but want to emphasise their independence at the same time as their loyalty. It is a difficult balancing act. They know too that O’Donoghue is weakened both by being Fianna Fáil and by the circumstances in which he fell as Ceann Comhairle, but they know too there will be some local sympathy for O’Donoghue’s plight, even if it came as a result of living the high life at state expense.

Grealish has been as much a parish-pump politician as Healy-Rae but must be somewhat less confident about retaining his seat if running as an independent. He may have left the PDs before they folded but that mightn’t necessarily stand to him. He is likely to stand by the Government for as long as possible for reasons of self-preservation. And then there is the former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry, who warned Fianna Fáil against replacing Brian Cowen after the Galway drinking row and who has been vocal in saying an election now would not be in the national interest.

Lowry has bargained much to the benefit of his constituency, courtesy of selling his vote to Bertie Ahern in 2007, but he has one big coup left in mind. He wants a major change in the law to allow for a licensed casino in this country. If that happens – and Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is considering it – then a massive job creation project in North Tipperary is possible. You can’t blame the people of Tipperary North for wanting to believe in Richard Quirke’s fairytale project for the country, the one that received planning permission this week.

On the face of things it looks wonderful. The investment of €460m that will provide at least 1,000 jobs during construction and, hopefully, another 2,000 afterwards is not one that locals are likely to reject. But who would want to finance a project such as the one planned? Surely not any Irish bank and not an overseas one either.

THERE is to be a massive new 500-room hotel, a music venue, an all-weather horse racing track to replace the existing Thurles track, many retail shops and a replica of the White House that would service weddings as well as being a tourist attraction.

At one level it looks like a great idea. It would bring in tourist dollars and, hopefully, plenty of tax revenue as well as much needed jobs. Former garda Richard Quirke, who made his fortune through slot machines and property speculation, has spent €30m already on assembling the 800-acre site and claims he can raise the finance overseas. If he can build it, then tourists will come, he believes.

It can only work financially, though, if he wins a licence for a super-casino; it would be the cash cow for the entire project, subsidising other parts of the operation and providing the money to repay the loans and dividends for whatever other rich investors he attracts.

But who would end up making the profits? Who are these investors? This is not a ‘win-win’ venture. For some to profit others must lose. It won’t just be foreign tourists. It would Irish people as well, including locals. There is conclusive evidence to suggest such large-scale gambling would have to be detrimental to the finances of those who visit such a venue to ‘play’.

Is that something we are willing to endorse by way of changing the law? Have we not had enough gambling in this country on property speculation and the like without doing this too?

The Last Word with Matt Cooper is broadcast on 100-102 Today FM. His book, Who Really Runs Ireland?, has been shortlisted as best non-fiction book of 2010 in the forthcoming Irish Book Awards.

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