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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 9, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

    Bull in a China-Shop

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The political demise of John O’Donoghue as Ceann Comhairle was like a Greek tragedy in its inevitability. He and his people were certainly victims of their own hubris. The public relations aspect was not well-handled, it has to be said.


    The exit from the stage is that way (Photograph by Cyril Byrne)

    First, nobody was accusing the guy of dishonesty in any way, shape or form. Extravagance was the subtext of all the newspaper revelations and commentary. He should have come out at a very early stage and said, “Sure, I went here and went there, stayed in this hotel and that hotel. It was part of the job. Did you want me representing the country with my arse out of my trousers? I agree the figures are high and I should have been more watchful. But at the time the country was riding high on the Celtic Tiger and I fell victim to the general exuberance. I didn’t make those arrangements but I can now see the costs were Over The Top and I’m deeply, deeply sorry. If the public feels I should resign, then I will. The TDs say I am a fairminded Ceann Comhairle but if they also feel I should go, then I will.”

     That statement or its equivalent should have been issued after the first or second newspaper story. Presumably he knew there were further requests under the Freedom of Information Act. He should have opened the books himself for all to see rather than having journalists obliged to pay substantial sums of money to get at the documentation.

    There is a school of thought that the holder of one of the highest constitutional offices in the land was shabbily-treated. This version of events has it that the Labour leader Eamon Gilmore reacted to a démarche by Sinn Féin who have their own history with expenses in a parliament they do not recognise.

     I don’t have a view personally on this. Was it a bad day for democracy (I suspect Joanna will not agree)? The comment-line is open ….

    • Jonathan says:

      A bad day for democracy??
      For once people here actually bothered to demand high standards, and actually got them for a change. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the “He was a really nice man/He didn’t do anything wrong/He fixed my pavement in Kerry/He was treated unfairly/He was hounded out of office” brigade reared its ugly head. People in this country really are very predictable.
      I think that’s all a load of rubbish. He behaved in an inappropriate manner (whether legal or not) and had to go. One aspect of their culture that the British unfortunately took home with them when they left is the concept that people in positions of authority should resign if they mess up.

    • Tom Cosgrave says:

      Normal service is resumed. Thanks Deaglán ;-)

    • Deaglán says:

      Thanks Tom, now would you ever chip-in with an opinion?

    • Ray D says:

      My sympathies in all this lie entirely with Tom O’Higgins. He tried to bring a stop to the fiddles but was spurned by the boys in Leinster House. In my experience anyone who tries to bring an end to any scam in the public sector (with expenses being only one of many) is ignored and regarded as a crank. Corruption rules and integrity is the worse sin.

    • Harry Leech says:

      A bad day for democracy? I don’t think so. The only way it could be construed as a bad day for democracy is in the way it highlighted how endemic the sense of entitlement is amongst the government classes.

      Fianna Faíl for decades have styled themselves as “the party of government” and are so entranced with power that they’ve turned themselves into a quasi-royalty, replete with obscene wages, lavish lifestyles and endemic corruption, all with the aid of an indulgent and indifferent electorate.

      John O’Donoghue may have been a good Ceann Comhairle (I’ll take the opposition parties’ word on this) but the man wasted money, taxpayer’s money, with wilful neglect, and in a real Republic (not the sad imitation we currently have in Ireland) that should NEVER happen, no matter what the economic circumstances.

      The conventional wisdom is that under a monarchy the people fear the government, while in a democracy the government fear the people. That has not been the case in Ireland for a long time.

      O’Donoghue’s resignation and the sense of outrage displayed by Lenihan, Cullen, Ahern and numerous government backbenchers show that they’re starting to fear the people once more. I just hope the pressure is kept up; as a nation Ireland deserves better than this government.

    • Robespierre says:

      I work for one of the country’s top professional firms. We would never countenance staying anywhere above 4 star and most frequently bounce around between two and three star accommodation when travelling. The hours are long and I will only be sleeping and showering there so I couldn’t give a fig where I sleep. When I travel accompanying a Partner from the firm his arrangements are normally precisely the same as mine. We bill our expenses to our clients – naturally we do our best to demonstrate that they are reasonable and only account for reasonable subsistence. I never spend more than 7 euro on lunch and never exceed 25 for dinner when I hold the budget. I want for nothing and am there to work for the client.

      The politicians are meant to be working for us and I think Garret FitzGerald’s column today demonstrates how he and other generations of public servants were scrupulous in spending habits. There is a balance to be struck of course but let’s break it down, it is not complicated:

      Dáil office – paid for
      Postage allowance – paid for
      Travel – vouch and offer a modest mileage refund if driving (I get 50c per Km – those electing to get a company car get their cost of fuel only), simple refund if not driving
      Constituency office – offer a modest contribution to rent
      Phone – offer a contribution
      Subsistence – fully vouched and with recommendations similar to the above for lunch/dinner arrangements
      International travel – economy on all short-haul, premium economy on long-haul (like the Jordanian Prime Minister whom I recently ended up sitting beside).

      There are of course other categories but this is not complicated. It should broken apart, benchmarked against the private sector and put back together again but realigned to the economic, political and budgetary environment that we find ourselves in.

      A lot of the Oireachtas members fail to grasp that we cannot tackle the vested interests seeking to bankrupt what is left of the state if those same politicians are unwilling to take their snouts out of the trough and desist from the graft.

    • Deaglán says:

      Good stuff, Robespierre. Quite at variance with the culture that exists at the moment but that seems to be changing.

    • Ray D says:

      sorry I have no idea what the reference to “generations of public servants” means and no faith in Garret’s comments since he did not know what was goung on. i worked in the civil service for more than four decades and all the scams and fiddles in regard to travel and subsidence were there all the time as the rule not the exception. Garret wa probably like me. He did not indulge..

    • Tom Cosgrave says:

      Was it a bad day for democracy? No.
      The Speaker of the House was hiding behind the mechanisms of the House and trying to avoid the House itself, the House that he answers to.

      Enda Kenny, a decent man who seems to lack the ruthless streak needed to lead a country tried to be decent to the Speaker, but Eamon Gilmore wanted it dealt with in the House, so he went for the jugular. SF were of the same bent, but they seem to have spent more time calling for his resignation and not doing anything to bring it about.

      At the end of the day, the Speaker has to enjoy the trust of all sides of the House in order to function as Speaker, and when that trust is lost he has to go.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      It wasn’t a bad day for democracy. It wasn’t a good day for democracy either.

      Good days for democracy are when good ideas win out in decision-making whether by the voter or in the Dáil and Seanad.

      I recognise the value of the work by the Sunday Tribune in bringing this issue to light. I agree with the view expressed in the paper that the information about expenses should be published online and upfront without the need for expensive Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. I agree with Robespierre about the need to reform and reduce expenses and the sooner the better. But I was disturbed about the crowing tone of the Sunday Tribune and its warning about how it would be scrutinising politicians’ expenses “over the next few months”. Is this going to be the main focus of the Sunday Tribune for the next few months? The Sunday Tribune can congratulate itself for whatever change in expenses occurs. And I accept that the Tribune is not to blame for the expenses issue being allowed to get to this pass. But if the paper is to be in fighting mood, how about fighting for changes in Government policy that will make a difference in people’s lives?

      Meanwhile this week the Dáil is about to make a decision to proceed with legislation that will impact on all of us and our descendants for many years to come. It is bad for democracy that more scrutiny of this legislation is not taking place.

    • robespierre says:

      Joanna, I cannot let that pass entirely although I know what you are saying. The Trib is at best a very patchy operation that bounces between the banal, campaigning leftism (remember their strange obsession with Tara) and proper old-fashioned investigative journalism.

      On two occasions (at least) this decade they have broken stories that have rocked governments. In 2002, the memo that they got under the rainbow coalition’s FOI legislation led to a decidedly shaky start to the second half of the Ahern era. McCreevy then emasculated the bill to prevent any newspaper being able to embarrass an administration caught out blatantly lying in the future.

      This most recent occasion has involved FOI requests with huge amounts of recent data being redacted, consolidated and obfuscated. That officials employed to serve the people of Ireland – not the politicians, the people – are being directed to engage in this level of subterfuge is an outrage.

      Trust cannot be repaired without restoration of the original FOI bill. Why on earth would/could we believe what politicians are saying when we have seen nothing but consistent failure to lead since May 2007. I have just finished Pat Leahy’s fine effort and to say it is a depressing read is to put it mildly. I am not surprised Ahern played the man and not the ball when he attacked it.

      The sad truth is that people like you who seem to have a genuine vision for a new Ireland are being tainted with the same brush as people who engaged in practices that were corrupting if not corrupt in the technical legal sense – the department rules may allow something but that is an entirely different thing to the practice being morally acceptable.

      Three or four years ago at the height of the global boom 4 executives from a major hedge fund were fired for spending 30k on wine in a top restuarant after a liquid lunch celebrating a (very, very) big sales win. Throughout the financial world this created a frisson and the largesse was considered obscene. This was in finacial services!

      How on earth did anyone think that spending 70k on a couple of days St. Patricks Day celebrations or 28k in India were acceptable. I have been to India, spending €100 in a day is an accomplishment akin to Richard Pryor’s task in Brewster’s Millions.

      Freedom of information is a foundation stone of democracy. Impeding the 4th estate in their work is something that only Berlusconi or Lukashenko or Putin would approve of. Hardly inspiring figures for the body politic to model themselves on.

      That is something important for current and future generations.

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