MATT COOPER: Callely will have done us a favour if his greed speeds end of the Seanad

INADVERTENTLY, Senator Ivor Callely may have done the state a massive favour. By his selfish actions, in what some would describe as giving a false address to maximise the amount of expenses he could claim from the state, he has emphasised the expensive uselessness of Seanad Éireann.

Never mind the saving that would accrue from his claiming less expenses. He has drawn attention to a potential saving to the state of €25 million per annum that apparently could be achieved by abolishing the upper house; it isn’t just the removal of salaries and expenses for the 60 members that would help but all the associated running costs.

No wonder Callely’s fellow senators are furious with him. The scandal involving his claiming of expenses since his appointment – note, not election – to the Seanad in 2007 has added significantly to already compelling arguments to do away with this unnecessary and expensive institution.

The Seanad is full of has-beens and wannabes and is a vestige for disgusting patronage and a gerrymandered voting system.

It is a retirement home for politicians who have lost their Dáil seats – such as Callely himself – or were never popular enough to get themselves elected. It is a stepping stone for those with ambition who think they can use it to raise their profile before a Dáil election.

The patronage involves the right of the Taoiseach to nominate 11 members after each election and then to nominate replacements if any drop out. Bertie Ahern, as Taoiseach, rewarded Callely when the people of Dublin North Central rejected him at the last election and just two years after Callely had been forced to resign as a junior minister because it had been discovered he took free painting and decorating services at his home (in Dublin).

The whole Seanad set-up is anti-democratic as it has an elite electorate, a subset of the entire electorate. If you are an NUI graduate you can vote on the election of a panel of three of your peers (I refuse to register). Trinity College gets its own three seats. County councillors all over the country are lobbied hard for votes. One Roscommon councillor recounted last year how he had received a free tie from one successful Fianna Fáil candidate (who owns a rural menswear shop) and discovered how all voters had received the same.

The Seanad rarely overturns laws originated in the Dáil or starts its own bills that the Dáil endorses. And even when they do, is it worth the cost of having this talking shop? Add to this the cost of running the Dáil and you have to ask what sort of fools we are to allow the political class to indulge itself to this extent at our expense. The excellent thestory.ie website has established that between 2005 and 2008 our 166 TDs pulled in just under €100 million in salaries and expenses.

What value for money did we get for that? The website also reveals that in 2007 alone former minister Michael Lowry, who had to resign when it was discovered he’d let Ben Dunne secretly pay for his house extension and who, we subsequently discovered, had offshore bank accounts he’d lied to the Dáil about, received nearly €200,000 in salary and expenses.

Callely’s (Dublin) house renovations cost only a fraction of Lowry’s. Callely may now have to show that he actually spends his time in west Cork but his problem is that his website says he lives in Dublin. It also headlines him as senator for Dublin North Central, which is clearly impossible, but shows how he intended using the Seanad role as a platform for a return to the Dáil in his own constituency. So you’re paying to finance his career prospects too.

Now let’s not just stop at abolishing the Seanad: let’s reduce the number of sitting TDs to 100 to serve a population of little more than four million.

What sort of fools are we to take this?

* Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary would never run a country this way. That said, his opponents rightly say you can’t run a country like a company. There are social requirements that a corporate entity does not have to meet. But that isn’t to say that many of the things he does at Ryanair could not be usefully employed in our public sector to provide a better service to users as well as more value for money.

Those who might decry the idea would be among those who would denigrate Ryanair’s commercial achievements. How sadly ironic for them then that the corporate bête noir for many confirmed itself this week as the country’s finest domestically owned and headquartered company.

Ryanair was vilified for years during the boom for its alleged poor work practices and apparent contempt for its consumers. Trade union leaders were to the forefront of this – because of Ryanair’s refusal to negotiate with unions, something that many foreign multinational employers insist on as well.

What Ryanair created was real. It did not engage in reckless speculation in overvalued properties or borrow excessively. Instead, it is a highly profitable company, making profits of more than €350m. It has accumulated more than €1bn in cash and is giving some back to shareholders. Ryanair’s customers may complain but the proof of its popularity is in its passenger numbers. Its workers seem happy enough with their lot. Ryanair is not without its flaws. It hectors and bullies and, as the High Court found recently, has made false claims during disputes. It could behave better. But it remains an example to the rest of the Irish economy.

A COUPLE of years ago in this column I extolled the virtues of an excellent biography of Michael O’Leary. Shockingly, the author of that book, Alan Ruddock, died suddenly last weekend, aged just 50.

He will be sadly missed by all who knew him, most particularly his family who meant everything to him and whose loss cannot be estimated.

Alan will be remembered as excellent company, witty and sharp and irreverent, but also as someone who seriously wanted a better Ireland for everyone and who was passionate about the role of newspapers in letting people know what was really happening in this country. He will be missed sorely too by his readers at the Sunday Independent, where he was one of its finest writers and analysts in recent years.

Alan wrote passionately and fiercely, but with a great sense of fairness and after applying rigorous and rational analysis, something those who disagreed with him did not always appreciate or, if they did, resented.

Those qualities of explanation and analysis meant he was a regular guest on The Last Word. We both enjoyed the fact that one of the country’s most prominent trade unionists was so enraged by Alan’s ability to lay out his argument clearly that he refused to take part in any discussions of which Alan was part. Alan was reviled by this union boss as “right wing” but what he should have realised was that Alan was as fiercely critical of dodgy businessmen, bad banking and populist politics as he was of bad practices on the left. That even-handedness was part of his excellence.

We will miss Alan as a contributor to our programme but far more importantly as a person. May he rest in peace.

The Last Word with Matt Cooper is broadcast on 100-102 Today FM, Monday to Friday, 4.30pm to 7pm.


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