Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the turning of student accommodation into short-term lets for tourists is “contrary to Government policy”, but more than 500 rooms have been lost until next May in the teeth of the worst such crisis on record.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he was “shocked” to discover 999 calls were still being cancelled by officers even after a massive controversy erupted several months ago.
Irish Water chief Niall Gleeson, in seeking to explain the grotesque contamination of the water supply in Gorey, said his entity was legally
responsible for water treatment plants even though they have no
access or control of them.
The Comptroller and Auditor General said the HSE had written off €375m worth of PPE bought since the start of the pandemic, the Dáil heard on Thursday. Not €3.75m, or €37.5m, but €375m. Gone in a puff of smoke.
The political system tore itself asunder over the €15,000-a-year job to Katherine Zappone, but barely an eye was batted when the PPE issue emerged.
Worse, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly stood up in the Dáil and sought to defend the situation.
“The HSE did what we asked it to do,” he said. “I urge us all to remember that we in the Oireachtas demanded immediate action from the HSE. It took that action.”
While not an exhaustive list of how things can go wrong, the examples listed above are illustrations of how dysfunctional the Irish public service is in 2021.
The examples cited above are scandals in their own right. We go to a lot of trouble and spend a lot of money every four years or so to elect a parliament which in turn elects a government. We do so to designate the responsibility to run the country on our behalf. Those in elected office have the duty and responsibility to appoint people they deem qualified to senior posts of high office throughout the public service.
We delegate them the responsibility to ensure the smooth running of our country and to try in some way to make life easier and better for those of us who give up our taxes to pay for it all.
If those who govern can’t govern, then we have a serious problem.
Finance minister Paschal Donohoe has told the Budget Oversight Committee that his department estimated a budget deficit of about €20bn for this year.
The country’s public debt is approaching a quarter of a trillion euros and will top €280bn next year. This is the equivalent of about €50,000 per person, a figure that is among the highest in the developed world, he said.
Added to this is the reality that from October 1, all public servants will get a pay increase, and now we have the prospect of a Covid bonus being paid to some, if not all, State employees at a cost of over €1bn.
As therevealed last Monday, the Government is looking to finalise this payment in the coming weeks, and there is a desire to announce it in the budget, if agreement can be reached.
But stepping back for a minute, there is something incongruous about all of this.
Is it right to give pay rises and bonus payments to public sector workers at a time of significant budget pressures?
Much of this stems from a lack of willingness from the political system to confront or stand up to the might of the public sector unions.
There is no political appetite for industrial unrest — and the unions know it.
Just look at how Education Minister Norma Foley was scuppered, not once, but twice when she sought to have the nation’s children return to the classroom earlier this year.
But worse, there remains little or no accountability within the Irish system for those who screw up.
Surely more questions are needed to explain how and why the HSE was allowed to waste so much money on PPE which was either defective or did not materialise.
An internal HSE audit, which has been commenced, is not sufficient.
The establishment of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was heralded as the ending of the old way of doing things.
Reform would sweep through the system. Managers would be held to account. There would be no more brushing matters under the carpet.
A decade on, little has changed. If anything, the system — as in the permanent government — is less penetrable now than it was then.
Weak governments have ceded power to their officials and now act as commentators as opposed to drivers of change and reform.
It might make sense to Stephen Donnelly that the operational matters relating to the health service are handled by the HSE, but the electorate rarely makes that distinction.
It is the politicians, not the officials, who pay the price for the calamities, yet the political class seem unable or unwilling to exercise their power and demand change.
As a result, scandal after scandal is allowed to occur and it is the taxpayer who picks up the tab. Those responsible remain immune from sanction or accountability.
To illustrate the futility of this way of governance, look at the stratospheric increase in the amounts of money the State is paying out for negligence and injury on behalf of State employees.
Since 2010, the cost of meeting claims has risen five-fold from an already staggering figure of €81m to €416.9m in 2019, with the numbers increasing year on year. Indeed, the 2019 figure was a 20% hike on the amount recorded in 2018.
And by the end of last year, the State Claims Agency was dealing with in excess of 11,500 cases, with an estimated outstanding liability of €3.6bn. This is the true cost of a lack of accountability.
The outsourcing of issues from the political realm may not be a new phenomenon, indeed it was the main reason for establishing the HSE, but the corrosive impact such a policy has had is clear for all to see.
Rather than excusing and rewarding failure for fear of inciting industrial unrest, the Government would do well to remember the silent majority of people who want to see their taxes well spent, punishment for those who do wrong, and fairness in how we treat our most vulnerable and needy.
Those are the measures of a true republic, rather than the sorry
edifice we have become.