Dáil Sketch: Phil and Enda’s eggcellent adventure

The business of “micro-managing” a project which is only one of the most significant in the history of his Government department would be far too tedious for Big Phil, who is more interested in looking at the bigger picture. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

The business of “micro-managing” a project which is only one of the most significant in the history of his Government department would be far too tedious for Big Phil, who is more interested in looking at the bigger picture. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 01:00

Do you not know who they think they are? Of course not. You know nothing. On the other hand, the consultants know everything about everything. Most important of all, they know how to charge. Exceptional performance doesn’t come cheap.

Even Big Phil knows you can’t make a decent omelette without breaking a few Fabergé eggs, as he pointed out yesterday. But it’s worth the outlay in the end.

His use of this eggy metaphor in explaining the eye-watering cost of setting up Uisce Éireann caused quite a stir. We were more intrigued by his reference to making an omelette. As if Phil Hogan would know how to make such a class of a thing.

He strikes one as the type of man’s man whose only acquaintance with a frying pan would be a wallop from the business end of a Tefal.

Similarly, the business of “micro-managing” a project which is only one of the most significant in the history of his Government department would be far too tedious for Big Phil, who is more interested in looking at the bigger picture.

Drivel in the detail
So when Irish Water was being established, he gave the lads and lassies engaged on the job €180 million and told them to run off and get it done and not to be bothering him with the detail.

Former taoiseach Albert Reynolds got into trouble when he told the beef tribunal he liked to be a “one-sheet man.” Just one piece of paper with the key points of a plan set out for him to make sure things were happening to his satisfaction. Phil doesn’t even want to see a few sums scribbled on the back of a matchbox. He employs people to employ consultants to get on with the job of spending the nation’s money.

Big Phil hasn’t time to be sweatin’ the small stuff – like the €50 million or so shelled out on consultants to consult over the setting up of Bord Gush. “The usual suspects,” as one Senator called these huge companies yesterday. “Delighted and Touched” as Pat Rabbitte once called one of the leading lights of this big money brigade.

They got a mention at the hearing of the Public Accounts Committee, which was a relief. It wouldn’t have been fair to see them missing out on the State-funded bonanza the rest of their consultancy chums are enjoying at the birth of Bord Gush – the watery offshoot of Bord Gáis.

These are the lucky corporations which have their fingers in every luscious financial pie-chart going and their fingerprints across many of the financial disasters and cock-ups that have beggared this country in recent years. Spending money like water is fine, before the meters go in.

The men from Bord Gush – all men – were before an Oireachtas committee for the second time in 48 hours yesterday. They still think we’re getting “good value” from the tens and tens of millions that have been spent setting up the organisation.

The detail of the money and how it was spent only emerged in recent days, thanks to a particularly incisive interview of the company boss by RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke. Suddenly, the Government, which had been singing dumb over the start-up costs of the water utility, started spewing figures like a burst pipe.

One hundred and eighty million? Enda Kenny told the Dáil he knew about this figure all the time. Not so, protested the Fianna Fáil leader, backed up by his Sinn Féin counterpart. They had been tabling parliamentary questions on the cost until blue in the face, with nothing coming back in the form of answers.

The Taoiseach insisted Irish Water would be included in the new Freedom of Information Act (which came as recent news to everyone) and the company would be “wide open” in terms of transparency, accountability and justification of expenditure. The company “will be a national flagship of high quality and integrity.”

Over in the Seanad, David Norris was exercised by this new conversion to openness and transparency. He, along with colleagues, got nowhere when they raised the exemption of Irish Water from Freedom of Information legislation. Something experienced by politicians across in the Dáil too.

“In the newspapers this morning one can see the consultants are all the same old suspects. Half of them are the ones who got us into the financial mess. They gave bad advice. What on earth are we doing?”

An oeuf for an oeuf
As for Phil Hogan, Norris felt an oeuf was an oeuf. “Minister Hogan said one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. Who asked him to make an omelette in the first place? I didn’t. I don’t want an omelette. I never ordered one and the Irish people don’t want one either. As for the eggs he used, there is a rank stink of gas off them.”

But while the detail behind the funding of the founding of Irish Water may be clear as mud to everyone else, the Taoiseach insists it is totally transparent. As for parliamentary questions not being answered, that had to do with somebody not sending a letter to the relevant department. The person concerned had apologised, said Enda. The Freedom of Information issue was nothing to do with him.

“Above anybody else, Minister Howlin has done more to make public information available through this Act than many of his predecessors” protested Enda, neatly passing the blame on to Brendan. Politicians don’t always need water for the washing of hands.

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