I’ll be voting for two women: Joan Burton as leader, and Ciara Conway as deputy leader. They are authentic people, and that’s what attracted me to them. When they talk about Labour values, they mean it.
They have campaigned for equality all their working lives, and I’d love to think that they’ll bend their efforts to putting equality, and the struggle against inequality, back on the agenda.
I particularly like Conway’s idea that, if elected, she will serve as deputy leader from a backbench position. I’ve often thought that if a minority partner in government had a ‘conscience’ voice outside the Cabinet, someone to represent no vested interest except party values, it would significantly strengthen the party.
People sneer at politicians who decline senior office. But Mary Robinson never held executive office and she was enormously influential — her presidency changed Ireland. Garret FitzGerald, after he lost power, never lost influence, because he knew how to use his voice. Michael McDowell was probably never more influential for the PDs than when the only elected office he held was that of party president (he craved office, though, and lost most of his influence the day they let him into power).
There is a fundamental difference between power and influence. Martin Luther King once said that the best leaders were those who were willing to serve — not those who needed to be rewarded. I hope Conway gets a chance to put that into practice, because I think she could make things exciting.
Of course, if both women get elected they will have a mountain to climb to restore faith and trust in the Labour Party. The reason they might succeed is because they inspire trust, in terms of their values and their decency. As I said earlier, they’re authentic, and that would be a great start.
I craved authenticity and decency more last week than I have done for a long time. That’s because I spent a good deal of the time reading, and trying to understand, the report of the interim administrator to the Central Remedial Clinic.
It’s a dry, restrained report. But in what it reveals it is a portrait of complete and utter moral bankruptcy. The greed and selfishness displayed by the small cabal of people who ran the CRC was compounded by the fact that they were betraying the very mission for which they were established.
I had thought, originally, that the moral void revealed was symptomatic of the worst of the Celtic Tiger. But the people who made up this cabal — all part of Bertie Ahern’s circle — go back to pre-Tiger days, when Bertie was establishing his fiefdom in that part of North Dublin.
I’m amazed that after a day of coverage, the media seem to have turned their back on this story. Prime Time, for example, was going to do an item on the report, but dropped it, because there was nothing dramatic in it.
But this was not a report into a bank, nor a company being run for profit. This was a report into the operations of organisations set up to serve the needs of people, some of whom carry severe and extreme disabilities through life.
They are people who, in the main, will never work, will always depend on their families, will always need high support, will always struggle to communicate, to read and write.
They are precisely the sort of people that no-one, surely, would ever think of exploiting for their own purposes.
But that is precisely what the cabal at the top of the CRC did. Consider these facts, all from the dry, restrained language of the report.
The CRC was reasonably wealthy, and well-funded by the taxpayer. Not enough, for sure, but better than most.
So they set up another company — the Friends of CRC — for the purpose of hiding any extra money they raised from the State.
And they raised lots and lots of money. Up to the moment they were forced out of office, the cabal spent nothing — not a single cent — on the people who depended on them.
Instead, they kept millions of euro in the bank, and spent only what they needed to spend on themselves.
The same people were on every board, and they overlapped with the board of Rehab.
So they controlled what came in and what went out. In effect, if they needed money, they gave it to themselves from the Friends’ bank account.
In fact, the Friends were largely funded by a lottery, run by a separate organisation (with overlapping board members, naturally) called the Care Trust.
For years, the Care Trust was in breach of the Lotteries Acts, because its administrative costs exceeded the proportion allowed. So, each year, the Friends (controlled by the cabal) gave the Care Trust a ‘loan’ to cover this up, and then immediately forgave the loan. They spent €5m doing this — €5m that should have gone into services. And that was only the start of it. When the CRC pension scheme needed a top-up (and senior management of the CRC were the main beneficiaries), the Friends gave them a ‘loan’ of €3m. But they made an accounting provision for that loan in subsequent accounts, so it has actually been written off.
WHEN the CEO of CRC (the leader and founder of the cabal) wanted to retire, they gave themselves €700,000 out of the Friends’ bank account to look after him.
And they kept giving themselves money to top up senior management salaries in the CRC.
When the economy collapsed, and cuts in pay were ordered throughout the public service (including the CRC), the CEO “diligently” (that’s the word used in the report) enforced every pay cut on the frontline staff of the organisation.
But he used the secret funds collected by the Friends, which he controlled, to protect his own pay, and the pay of a few mates.
In fact, he had to cut the ‘public’ portion of his salary (which was about half the total) by around €10,000. So the Friends funded a travel allowance of €19,000. Aren’t Friends great.
You have to rely heavily on the administrator’s report to find all this out, because the organisations involved — Care Trust, Rehab Lotteries, CRC and Friends — all publish little or nothing.
It would take An Garda Siochána to unravel it all fully — and I, for one, don’t understand why a complaint hasn’t been made to them.
The greed and immorality is disgusting. It’s precisely the sort of thing that decent, authentic politicians, with a commitment to greater equality, would take on. And I hope they do.