PAC revelations - Culture of greed must be crushed

It is obvious that a great many people in this country do not feel constrained by the idea of moral, honest or even decent behaviour.

That so many of those who behave as if there was no moral compass, no social obligation relevant in their professional lives are well-educated, comfortable and privileged professionals has had a hugely negative and dangerous impact on this country. This crass behaviour continues to stymie the possibility of this being a fair or admirable society and if it continues unchecked social stability will come into question.

What was not as obvious though is that, as we watch one untouchable cabal after another untouchable cabal, pick over the corpse of this betrayed, inequitable Republic, we would be so utterly exhausted by the all too regular anger provoked by one snouts-in-the-trough scandal after another.

Yesterday’s revelations at the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, and the earlier disclosures around expenditure and salary bonuses at Irish Water, are tragically two more occasions for deep, marrow-sucking anger for anyone who cares for this country.

But, as there are virtually no meaningful consequences for squandering public millions, the sharpest business practice, corruption or most occasions of white-collar crime, how could it be otherwise?

Yesterday’s PAC disclosures, despite the concerted efforts of those who shamefully colluded to keep the details secret, that former Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) boss Paul Kiely got an off-the-radar €750,000 retirement package represents yet another betrayal of the social contract that underpins our security. That some of that money was collected from a charitable public to help some of the country’s most distressed citizens makes this just another example of the cancerous greed and abuse of position that have made this such a challenging, sometimes disheartening place to live.

That Mr Kiely hid these details — no wonder he would — from the PAC at an earlier hearing dealing with these matters points to a concealment designed to mislead an agency of our parliament. That he did so with confidence suggests that he was certain the details of his obscene package were a secure, golden-circle secret, one that he would never have to explain in public. Not now, thankfully. He may even have to explain it to the gardaí.

The exposure of Mr Kiely’s feral greed facilitated by the support he received from some CRC directors — and his successor Brian Conlan’s pitiful PAC contribution yesterday — are not the week’s only occasion of despair.

Once upon a time we could point to Mr Kiely’s links with the very heart of Fianna Fáil power and convince ourselves that the election of 2011 had purged politics of that culture. However, the sight this week of Environment Minister Phil Hogan, one of the perceived dreadnoughts of political life, muttering about employment contracts when challenged about bonuses proposed for 299 Irish Water staff was a lot more than disappointing. Was he not offended by the dodge? Did he not feel obliged to change it, to tear up whatever document that allowed it? It seemed he was suggesting that the stroke was as relevant to his and the Government’s obligations to the electorate as François Holland’s enthusiasm for furtively riding scooters around Paris.

Surely, if Irish Water can spend north of €50m on consultants then the Government can find the resources to employ a half-decent legal team — that’s all it would take — to dismantle arrangements, which, on face value, seem designed to give two fingers to Government policy of pay restraint and limits? But then the secrecy afforded to Irish Water, the curtains drawn around so many aspects of its business, are already profoundly anti-democratic and worrying. That they are a complete affront to the idea of transparency championed by Fine Gael before the election is just one more shabby strand of this stinking affair. If Mr Hogan cannot organise a successful challenge to the Irish Water bonus ruse then Taoiseach Enda Kenny will have to dispense with the armour-plated leader of his Praetorian guard in this year’s reshuffle.

Earlier this week we argued Government was putting its credibility and the only currency that sustains it — its mandate from the electorate and the subsequent consent to rule — in jeopardy. Unfortunately this week’s events only strengthen that argument. They also recall a gentle chastisement given by one of the architects of our downfall: “Anger is not a policy,” warned a crushed Brian Cowen. Indeed, but it seems that the only mistake we continue to make, despite all the evidence all around us, is that we do not get angry enough.


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