Dáil Sketch: The ‘unsanctioned’ extra sweetener strikes a very sour note

Sugar is bad enough. But Enda also wants to see an end to artificial sweeteners

Joan Collins’ colleague John Halligan, got to the point. “We want our money back,” he said.   Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Joan Collins’ colleague John Halligan, got to the point. “We want our money back,” he said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 01:00

All those gorgeous little bundles of joy. Special dollops of delight guaranteed to soften the hardest of hearts.

Such bonny features of our maternity and children’s hospitals crying out to be clutched to the nearest bosom and hugged. Utterly irresistible.

Nurse! The screens!

No, stupid. Not the babies or the tiny tots. It’s the money.

Here’s a special delivery for the master. And a large extra allowance is about to drop for the CEO.

Remember to breathe, boss, we can see the neck of the cheque now!

Congratulations, one and all, on your bouncing baby BMWs!

Have a cigar. This calls for a drink. Top-up, anybody?

Don’t mind if we do.

The news that some executives working in the voluntary hospital sector have their State wages bolstered by funds from private sources didn’t go down well in the Dáil yesterday.

It left a sour taste with the public too, who wonder if their donations to these institutions end up helping sick people or feathering a fat cat’s lifestyle.

Government and Opposition were concerned yesterday at this creative approach to remunerating senior health executives, with certain individuals paid in excess of Government guidelines thanks to a system of under-the-bed payments.

Enda said he was determined to “weed out” this situation.

He acknowledged “additional sweeteners” for managers would not help his Coalition’s harsh medicine go down well with the rest of the workforce.

The situation cannot go on, agreed the Taoiseach.

Sugar is bad enough. But Enda also wants to see an end to artificial sweeteners.

His Government will not rest until the Hermeseta culture among senior management is stamped out in the health service.

Micheál Martin wanted to know why he hadn’t acted sooner to end the handsome pay deals enjoyed by the top brass. When, asked the Fianna Fáil leader, did his Government first become aware of this situation?

“I don’t know when they were originally sanctioned or when they came into being,” replied Enda.

His Minister for Health was more forthcoming later in the evening when Seán Fleming (FF) returned to the sweetener debate.

“Minister, you were aware of all of this and didn’t bring it to light,” he accused James Reilly, who strenuously protested the charge.

Fianna Fáil started the practice, said Reilly. “For two successive governments these arrangements started and were allowed to continue . . . we are taking action, unlike the previous government.”

Back at Leaders’ Questions, Micheál said the Government had taken “a vow of silence” on the issue in the run-up to the Haddington Road agreement, preferring to concentrate on cutting the pay and conditions of rank and file workers.

Enda rejected this.

The HSE is still carrying out an audit to ascertain the full picture. All the agencies concerned were supposed to file their answers by a specified closing date, which happened to be yesterday.

“All the responses have not yet been received,” explained Enda, surprising nobody with that information.

The Sinn Féin leader wasn’t hopeful of a swift resolution. Not when the Government itself stands guilty of breaching pay guidelines for some of its advisers.

Gerry Adams was also concerned about where this private funding came from.

“In the children’s hospital at Crumlin a €30,000 top-up came from the proceeds of the shop. Is this where fees for car parks are going? Are they going to elite personalities?”

Meanwhile, Joan Collins of the Technical Group pointed to the irony of staff in these shops “probably only getting the average minimum wage” while working to bump up the salary of well-paid executives.

“It’s an outrage, Taoiseach, that this happens in this day and age.”

She also wondered what political appointees to hospital boards had to say on the matter.

The Ceann Comhairle was in like a light: “It is not in order to question the integrity of any member of a board.”

Joan’s colleague, John Halligan, got to the point. “We want our money back.”

Enda was adamant. His Government would sort out the practice of “unapproved, non-exchequer payments”. The “unsanctioned” sweetener would be stopped.

Now. Can they do anything about the widespread abuse of unsanctioned sweetness among our politicians?

Thought not.