RYLE DWYER: We have every right to be angry when politicians get golden parachutes

A LETTER writer to the Irish Examiner during the week asked if the manner in which John O’Donoghue was essentially forced to step down as Ceann Comhairle was “trial by media and mob justice.” There can be little doubt that there was an element of this in what happened. People are becoming dangerously exasperated.

Initially the main opposition parties seemed prepared to wait for O’Donoghue to explain his behaviour before the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. But on Monday Labour leader Eamon Gilmore announced that the Ceann Comhairle’s position was “no longer tenable”.

Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader, then joined in the call. “I had sought to avoid the politicisation of the office of Ceann Comhairle by proposing that John O’Donoghue attend the Oireachtas Commission meeting,” he said. “That would have provided him with an opportunity to account for his expenses and for expenditure incurred on his behalf. In the present circumstances, this is no longer realistic.”

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan accused Eamon Gilmore of abandoning proper procedures by presenting a motion of no confidence in the Ceann Comhairle before he could explain his side of what happened to the Oireachtas Commission, where the Labour Party had a representative.

After Gilmore spoke out, Enda Kenny looked rather inept in his handling of the whole affair. It seemed that he was abandoning due process so as not to be upstaged by the Labour leader.

In truth, however, Sinn Féin upstaged the lot of them by being the first party to demand the Ceann Comhairle’s resignation. We are in a sorry state indeed when Sinn Féin appear to be leading in a matter of financial integrity.

John O’Donoghue had provided details of his expenses as Ceann Comhairle for all of the media last Friday afternoon. He did not have to do this and the media gave him no credit for it, according to some in Fianna Fáil. Two hours earlier, however, the Ceann Comhairle had been compelled to provide the information to the Sunday Tribune under a Freedom of Information request for which the newspaper had to pay €600. So in the circumstances he did not get any credit for releasing the information, because he did not deserve any.

He was really attempting to undermine the Sunday Tribune by trying to ensure the story was buried amidst the referendum coverage. Moreover, the Sunday Tribune was denied the exclusive for which it essentially paid. Releasing the information in this way was a naked attempt at media manipulation. To an extent it succeeded, because the story was largely overshadowed by the referendum coverage.

The Ceann Comhairle’s problem was not so much the details that were coming out as the fact that this was the third exposure of its kind. In August of 2008 there were the disclosures of over €100,000 that was spent on refurbishing his office. This included €11,380 for a pair of curtains, along with a new bathroom for the office at a cost €58,712. John O’Donoghue was hardly personally involved in the selection of the curtains, but therein lay the problem. It was done in his name and he wittingly, or unwittingly, allowed it to happen.

This may well apply to just about every member of the Government and to the civil servants who are working for them, rather than for the public that is paying all of their salaries. Redecorating Bertie Ahern’s office cost more than twice as much after he stepped down as Taoiseach.

Following the disclosures in relation to O’Donoghue’s office decorations, came the details about his expenses as Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism.

With the Lisbon referendum coming up, he got an easy ride in the Dáil. His apology was widely accepted and seemed to turn things around. At that point he should have been fully open and disclosed his expenses as Ceann Comhairle as well as the padding of his staff. It might not have saved him then, but thereafter he had no chance.

Brian Lenihan announced on Thursday of this week that he intends to bring forward a fully verifiable and fully vouched system of Oireachtas expenses. It seemed like a bold announcement, but within hours it became apparent that he was pulling the same kind stunt that John O’Donoghue pulled in placing the details of his expenses in the Oireachtas library.

Lenihan knew that another Freedom of Information request was about to show that Tom O’Higgins, chairman of the audit committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, had already protested over the commission’s ineptitude in drawing up proposals that clearly lacked an adequate vouching scheme for the expenses being claimed by politicians.

The commission, made up of politicians from all the main parties, ignored the views of the audit committee as it recommended that the Minister of Finance introduce “a monthly all-in standardised parliamentary allowance,” O’Higgins complained. “In my experience, as chairman of four other departmental or State-sector bodies’ audit committees, this was quite unprecedented.”

In order to appear not to be dancing to a tune being set by O’Higgins, the Minister for Finance told RTÉ that he did not believe the system proposed by the Oireachtas Commission would meet either public concerns, or his own insistence on full transparency.

LABOUR Party Senator Dominic Hannigan, a member of the audit committee, made a pathetic effort on Morning Ireland to appear to share O’Higgins’s concerns when he said that Pat Rabbitte wrote to the minister more than a month ago to implement immediate reforms.

Those were the reforms over which O’Higgins was resigning in protest. Yet Senator Hannigan sought to blame the Finance Minister.

“If he believed that a different system was needed, let him introduce it,” Senator Hannigan continued. “But there has been very little commentary from Brian on this issue for the last year.” What was the commission doing for the past year? Such pathetic posturing is an excuse for opposition leadership.

At least Lenihan has said he wants a verifiable and fully vouched system of expenses for politicians. Of course, he also said that reforming the current system of Oireachtas expenses is not going to solve the country’s economic woes.

He may be preoccupied with the billions involved in NAMA, but the ordinary people cannot comprehend those figures. But they do understand the thousands and tens of thousands being obscenely squandered by politicians. That kind of money represents months and years of work for honest citizens.

The minister was right that people should focus “on the real issues,” but he should realise that they cannot focus on those while politicians on all sides of the house persist in abusing the system with their lousy leadership.

Thousands of people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own, while politicians and public servants, who are largely responsible for the current debacle, are being accorded golden parachutes that are as dangerously provocative as they are obscene.


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