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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 14, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

    Walking the plank, Greens preening on the banks, Cycling from the ranks.

    Harry McGee

    John O’Donoghue

    John O’Donoghue’s statement is just out and I’ve read it and it’s long enough on volume but short enough on substance. Essentially, he refuses to engage on the subject of his travel expenses other than a half-apology at the end for some of those that ‘seemed’ high. There has been a strange silence from opposition parties about this, save for Aengus O Snodaigh and Paschal Donohoe.

    Essentially, there are are only two sentences that are important.

    1. He says it is not appropriate for him to comment inside or outside the House on the matter.

    2. But right at the end of the letter, he does acknowldege that some of the costs are high and then offers his sincere apology. However, he quickly adds the rider that he would not have been apprised of the high costs and, therefore, would not have been aware of them.

    There is a short appendix at the end of the letter, which contains a statement (undated) from the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism that states that tourism is worth almost €5 billion. It also points out that the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism goes to high profile events as a representative of Ireland (and they include the World Cup, the Olympic Games, Cannes Film Festival). The costs around those ‘marquee’ events always invovle a premium (as everybody else is going!), it argues.

    However, he incurred astronomically high costs on other trips. And was there a justification for his wife accompanying him on so many trips with some of the cost being borne by the taxpayer? And is it enough to say that he didn’t know? Should he have made it his business to know?

    If the opposition parties do decide to react today, it could spell big trouble for him.

    The Green Party

    Can you imagine a worse tool for gauging democratic reaction than the Green Party’s preferendum?

    Besides the low turnout (150 members, diminishing returns),  a couple of the choices were of the fantasy league variety.

    Which would be your preference; gruel; cold porridge; cooking grease; Marmite; or a freshly-baked homemade scone with melting butter and lashings of ginger ale?

    Some of the choices being offered to the membership were just not real. And of course, they opted for the ones that seemed the best in an ideal world.

    There has to be some reality to the debate. You offer what’s on the table and what your Ministers have wrought out of the Fianna Fail colleagues. And if that’s not enough you go back looking for more.

    Value of preferendum in my humble opinion: Nil.

    Dublin Bikes

    It was fantastic to see the dublin bikes racked up this morning, ready for the rush. As I cycled in I noticed that about half the bikes were taken from each stand, which wasn’t bad for a first morning, though I only say one in actual use on the road.

    It’s a pity that the city itself is not yet cycle friendly with loads of streets and roads in the city centre that are hostile places for two wheels to travel. When are they going to stop cars zooming along the southern quays? When are they going to put cycle lanes along Pearse Street, Tara Street, Townsend Street and the Southern Quays? When are they going to finish the job on the Northern Quays? And when are all those one-way systems in Dublin going to be changed to accommodate bikes?

    When? When? When?

    And on the political side, whatever about the mixed results of the Green experiment in Government, the party did make a difference at a local level.

    One of the great pities of the local elections is that the electorate didn’t distinguish between the national and local. The Greens have been arguably most effective on a local level because they really care for the built and unbuilt environment and the need of both to be human.

    Fair play to Andrew Montague from Labour who first proposed a Velib scheme for Dublin. But I was leafing through the Greens’ ten-point manifesto on cycling in Dublin last week and it was a brilliant plan. If it were to happen, the capital city would be transformed, made all the more human.

    Sure, the party paid the price for going into power.  That said,  it’s a little sad, on a day like this, that there aren’t any Green councillors there to celebrate what we all hope will be a milestone.

    • robespierre says:

      Bulls are not best known for their tact or for their parliamentary niceties. They are quite well-known for contributing large quantities of post-digestive agricultural by-product.

      The Bull has merely served some of his stock-in-trade up for public consumption. The offering is a foul as the thought.

      This is a man of such high principle that he could tear into Nora Owen during her tenure as Minister for Justice without any regard to protocol but now is above the fray and unwilling to engage with the great unwashed or to account to us because he is automatically re-elected.

      A motion should be moved to sack him.

    • Harry says:

      The motion looks unlikely to be moved, judging from less than emphatic condemnation from opposition. His statement says that he was unaware of any of the costs. He had better be right about that, for his own sake.

    • robespierre says:

      I travel a lot for business. Not unlike journalistic expenses you have some paid upfront or on account, others are accrued as you go along and you then “vouch” for them afterwards. Not everything is pre-booked and normally items that are added to a bill like catering, restaurants etc. that were not part of an arranged booking have to be settled separately. There are catering bills exceeding EUR 1000 in the Tribune‘s money trail. These are for a single event.

      How often would an account be set-up (Cheltenham aside obviously) for one event for a foreign official? I often review finance processes and have done so for hotels. It doesn’t happen this way. Unless the Ceann Comhairle has been afflicted by temporary loss of memory (which for FF’ers doesn’t preclude the writing of a memoir but can preclude giving evidence to a tribunal) then he simply must have paid for some of the large bills he incurred. It is a simple matter of logic.

    • Last November, the Irish Independent ran an article about the Rody Molloy flights controversy: “Cowen defends FÁS chief in travel bill fury” One of the points made was about possible tax consequences if an employer paid for a spouse to accompany an employee on a trip where the spouse’s presence was not necessary for business purposes. “The Revenue Commissioners said benefit-in-kind tax could apply to flight tickets used by the spouse of a business person under some circumstances. But a spokesman said it would depend on whether the spouse was taking part in business activities — such as attending a conference.”

      So where does this leave John O’Donoghue, whose wife seems to have been paid for (by you and me) to accompany him on most of his overseas junkets, even though he had his personal assistant along as well? I have no doubt the Revenue Commissioners are onto this already …..

    • steve white says:

      Yes lets thank Montague for all the extra ad hoardings around the place

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Notice how no TDs called for him to resign – if you ever wanted to see how TDs rally the wagons to protect their privileges then the reaction to this is it.

      Not one TD publishes proper receipts for all the expenses and allowances they claim nor does even one of them publish proper factual accounts of who donates money to them and where they spend it.

      It is patently clear that the message is not getting through to either TDs, Senators, Councillors, MEPs or civil servants above a certain grade and I never thought I’d ever think like this but it seems what it will take is when a crowd of angry people rip the gates off Leinster House and tear a few TDs limb from limb.

      The lack of response of FF over the last 18 months is to be expected given how riven it is with cronyism and we have had the children of 3 crony rural TDs in the top 3 jobs – yet we are surprised none of them are fit for the job. Where is the evidence that Cowen, Coughlan or Lenihan have done anything in their career to warrant being thought of as intelligent? It seems simply surviving a press conference or interview is enough to make Brian Lenihan ‘stable’ and ‘capable’. Have we really set our aims that low?

      Then of course Kenny and Gilmore can’t say a word with their own track record in the rainbow government and their own track record up to now in failing to make even their own parties accountable and transparent. Where is FG getting the moeny to fund its Lisbon campign and where is Labour? Why don’t any of their TDs publish proper receipts and why are some of their TDs still taking pensions?

      I really think the only way to end the crony state is for the IMF to come in and gut the place once and for all and then leave an entirely new generation of politicians untainted by cronyism to pick up the pieces.

    • robespierre says:

      Look at Leo Varadkar’s website. He alone publishes a categorised breakdown. I would admittedly like even more data but it is more than anyone else does.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Reply to 7: he does not publish a full breakdown with receipts – simply staying a bland figure is not being transparent – we can find out the bland figure for any TD. He – and all public reps – should publish a breakdown of expenses and allowances and costs to the cent – line by line with a receipt backed up for each cent claimed and spent.

      I’m sorry robespierre but FG – and L – are as much involved in cronyism as any FF rep is when it comes to expenses and allowances.

      Enda Kenny for all his hard work has done nothing to stop former FG ministers claiming pensions and all sorts of allowances – the fact they are ‘entitled’ to them doesn’t make claiming them right as UK MPs found to their cost.

    • Damian says:

      Harry, if as you claim, some of the options on the Greens’ preferendum were from the fantasy league, nobody has told your colleagues, the politicians or – more worryingly – the economists to whom we look for informed opinions.

      Of the four least favoured proposals, one (nationalisation) is Labour’s while another (the good bank), comes from Fine Gael.

      The other two are letting the market decide our banks’ fate, which is the favoured option of no lesser an individual than David McWilliams, and the original Nama proposal – which is basically Fianna Fail’s position.

      So we discussed, alongside what emerged as the two favoured proposals of a heavily amended Nama and a ‘Swedish solution’, the other options that are being variously touted by the opposition and the commentariat.

      It’s hardly a fix-up

      Now, would you like grease and gruel with your porridge?

    • robespierre says:

      Gene Kerrigan wrote a good tongue in cheek book called something like “so you want to be a TD”. In it there is a very detailed breakdown of the perks etc. available to each deputy. It is redolent of swine feeding at a trough.

      I did not know prior to the RTE News Report on Monday that TDs could expense donations to charity or club. How is that possibly in the national interest. Whithertofore charity.

      If you want a good giggle look at the members that made up the “independent” commission on public service pay that looked at increases to political salaries. Allowances of course are determined by the Houses of Oireachtas commission which in realpolitik is completely political and not above the fray.

    • Patrick H says:

      Well, let’s just hope that NAMA fails terribly and we all fall … It’s really the only way we can get the IMF in. Hopefully then our children’s nephews and nieces will stand a chance at survival. This government and the other parties have to go. Reform is badly needed and it will only happen through the IMF.

      If the taxman calls to my door this year I’m going to tell him I don’t see the receipts and I have nothing to do with the payments … I’m way above all that!!

      Or I could just do a Bertie on it and say “I won it all on the horses”

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