• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 19, 2009 @ 10:25 am

    Cute hoorism and the public purse

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The penny is beginning to drop. We have a debate about the excessive number of junior ministers and the plethora of (often very loquacious) committees in the Oireachtas. Now I see Enda Kenny is talking of a cut in the number of TDs. Can it be that the political system is reconnecting with the people at last?

     It was two years ago this week that Bertie Ahern held a secret Cabinet meeting to name three junior ministers, bringing the number up to 20. Even his own press spokesman on the day did not know about it. Journalists only heard of the  meeting by accident.

    Herewith an extract from a piece I wrote which was  published in this newspaper next day, 21 January, which is also the anniversary of the first meeting of Dáil Éireann. That meeting in 1919 was attended by only 27 TDs incidentally. Now we have 166.

    The Greens got one of the new junior ministries and made no complaint about it at the time. Now Senator Dan Boyle, a man who keeps his ear close to the ground, has raised questions about it. At least he seems to be aware that the bells are tolling for the “cute hoors” (cunning manipulators, for the benefit of foreign readers) of Irish politics.
    From The Irish Times 21 June 2007:-

    Deaglán de Bréadún , Political Correspondent, assesses the Taoiseach’s latest appointments.
    Let us give thanks this morning for Article 28.1 of Bunreacht na hÉireann which stipulates that the number of government ministers shall be not fewer than seven and not more than 15. Were it not for the fact that a referendum is required to change this provision, we would undoubtedly be looking at a much-expanded cabinet long before now.
    As it is, Ministers of State will exceed the number in cabinet by a third. There was a time when such positions held the modest title of “parliamentary secretary” and there were only seven of them. Not only has the number increased but offices which are often quite modest and undemanding have been invested with a false glamour through the portentous-sounding title of “minister of state”. Indeed it is quite common to hear flunkies and even members of the media and general public refer to these comparatively-minor functionaries as “The Minister”. Ah for the days of John Healy, who cut the job down to size by labelling it as “the half-car” as distinct from the full “Merc”.
    The late Charles Haughey famously referred to the current Taoiseach as “the most skilful, the most cunning, the most devious of them all” and, as yesterday’s events unfolded, Bertie Ahern seemed determined to live up to that reputation.
    A regular Cabinet meeting was held in the morning and journalists were informed afterwards that a decision was taken to introduce legislation in the immediate future to increase the number of junior ministers to 20. But it became clear later that the Taoiseach had not informed his own spokesman that a further Cabinet meeting would be held in the afternoon to name the 20 appointees. We have heard of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing but this was perhaps the first known example of the left hand not knowing what the left hand was doing.
    However, secrets are hard to keep in Leinster House and suspicions were immediately aroused when a number of Fianna Fáil backbenchers were sighted wearing their Sunday best. Then Noel Treacy was spotted leaving the building amid suggestions that he was demoted and feeling disappointed. Finally, a friendly source let slip that the “juniors” had indeed been appointed and all would be revealed shortly after 5pm.
    It was the Taoiseach’s second surprise move in recent weeks, the first being his early-morning visit to Áras and Uachtaráin to call the election in the first place. This one will probably work out better for him, since dispensing patronage is a surefire means of pleasing some of the people some of the time.
    Even the chosen ones themselves did not know of their good fortune until they received the summons, as one of them revealed, at about 10.30 in the morning. Told to be in Government Buildings, the lucky backbencher finally heard the news officially at 3.50pm.
    The underlying purpose behind the exercise is clearly Government stability and the quelling of any potential revolt. Most members of the last cabinet remain as full Ministers and now the feelings of some who were passed over have been assuaged. The implication behind it all is that politics is mainly about seeking and obtaining office and everything else is just window-dressing.
    There are 78 Fianna Fáil TDs at present and, after yesterday, 32 of them will have the word “minister” attached to their names in one form or another. For those who failed to make it, there are lucrative posts such as chairing the numerous committees in Leinster House.
    How much of a fuss the Opposition kicks up about this further descent into “pork-barrel politics” remains to be seen. After all, if and when they move to the other side of the Dáil chamber, they, too, will have hungry backbenchers to be placated.

    • John says:

      The growth in junior ministries is actually one of the more illogical occurrences over the past thirty years. During that time we have seen massive displacement by government of authority from their departments to agencies. Take a look through the answers many departments give to parliamentary questions on a host of issues, and the abdication of responsibility by government to agencies is quite stark.

      If you look at a Department such as Enterprise, Trade and Employment, or Transport, the minister actually has fairly little to do with all the real work having been outsourced to agencies like the NRA or the RSA in the case of Transport, or in the case of ETE, FAS, Forfas, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and so on. All of these agencies have highly paid CEOs. What the Ministers do in these departments isn’t often exactly clear, so what the case for Junior Ministers is, is quite baffling.

    • Ray D says:

      I have been writing for years about Ministers for State and the fact that such are outside the Constitution and, I would contend, unconstitutional appointments. I have wondered what our Comptroller and Auditor General guardian has being doing about it all these years.

      The Constitution sets out our Government and gives its business to Ministers. Nowhere are Ministers of State mentioned. Ministers are limited to 15 so clearly the Consitution not only envisaged, but specifically provided for, Government business to be done only by a maximum of 15 Departments controlled by a Minister (as a corporation sole).

      Yet recently I have heard Ministers of State talk about their important role in Government – at international meetings, the need for Ministers to be present simultaneously in the Dail and Senate, etc.. Nowhere is any role for them in Government provided for in the Constitution. Indeed it is the Constitution that created the Dáil and Senate as well as a total of 15 Ministers only so clearly envisaged attendance at the Houses of the Oireachtais by Ministers and not by bogus Ministers. Also some of these Ministers are delegated Ministerial powers by way of legal Orders. I believe that such delegation is inherently unconstiitutional.

      There are a lot of arguments that could be made about Ministers of State but, if these are not unconstitutional, why then every single Teachta Dála and Seanadóir could be made a Minister of State. I have not the slightest doubt but that such posts are both unnecessary and unconstitutional.

    • Joanna Tuffy T.D. says:


      As regards the political system connecting with the people, I have been knocking on doors in the New Year, and the number of T.D.’s and or the number of junior ministers are not the issues that are being raised with me. People are worried what impact the recession will have on them and what are politicians going to do to protect them and their families from the fallout from the recession. Dan Boyle and Enda Kenny got headlines, as was their intention, but what they were proposing will do nothing to stop the dole numbers rising and will make minimal difference to public finances.

      By the way its not the committees that need to be cut, but rather why the big allowances for committee chairs etc? Why any allowances for that matter? Committees to look at various issues are not a bad thing in themselves (and look at what came out of the Dirt Committee and the Committee that looked at FAS) but we are already paid as T.D.s and Senators and I would have thought work on committees was part of the job we are paid for.


    • Ray D says:

      There should of course be no allowances for Committees – whether for chairperson, convenor, or whoever. But I bet that, if that happened, there would be few if any committees left in 12 months’ time.

      We need to go the whole hog and roll back on the plethora of “benefits” introduced by McCreevy for Oireachtas members with the approval of all parties. And pigs will fly.

    • Deaglán says:

      Was there ever such a period of corporate greed (not confined to politics) and nest-feathering in history, as there is at present? So many CEO’s seem to have adopted the mentality of the old Robber Barons and “grab and guzzle” is the order of the day. What do they intend to do with all that money? What’s the psychology at work here? Is it a byproduct of the decline in religious-based moral values? Is it all Maggie Thatcher’s fault for saying, “There is no such thing as society” (although she was preaching self-reliance in that instance)? Or is it Gordon Gekko’s mantra, “Greed is good”? It seems to be a large part of the problem we are facing today in the economy, resulting from the greed and self-seeking of people who should have known better. If they live twice the normal life-span, some of these people won’t be able to spend the money they have salted away for themselves.

Search Politics