Beverley Flynn crosses the line

 

IF BEVERLEY Flynn lacks the moral compass to behave in an ethical fashion, then Taoiseach Brian Cowen has a duty to remove her from membership of Fianna Fáil. At a time when public confidence in Government is at an all-time low and people are desperately seeking a restoration of standards in public life, her determination to draw the untaxed allowances of an Independent TD while enjoying the full benefits of Fianna Fáil membership cannot be tolerated.

Society is already immersed in unethical dealings, pursued by individuals at the highest levels of business, banking and construction. And little or no remedial action has been taken. Those gross failures in standards will cause serious economic damage unless legislative action is taken to bring us into line with British and US business laws. In order for that to happen, Government and Oireachtas members must first clean up their own acts if they are to provide leadership, confidence and hope to the majority of honest citizens.

Ms Flynn's behaviour - and the unvouched and untaxed nature of many Dáil allowances - is symptomatic of much that is wrong in Irish political life. It requires radical overhaul. In the days of the Celtic Tiger, unvouched expenses represented a minor scandal. Today, as people face into uncertain futures and lower standards of living, these special allowances are an affront to every right-thinking citizen. A system that allows elected representatives to effectively double their take-home pay through a range of special allowances and flat-rate, untaxed expenses is unacceptable.

Since the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission was established five years ago, the situation has worsened. Granting elected members the right to draw up their own terms and conditions failed to produce necessary reforms. TDs' salaries, linked to those of principal officers, more than doubled in five years. More than half of the electorate see the Oireachtas as "unimportant". And the Government is largely to blame. Ministers resent being held to account. Important policy decisions are announced elsewhere. The Dáil continues to meet for only three days a week in plenary session. Extended holidays are the norm. A better democratic balance is required.

In the meantime, the scandal of unvouched expenses and of untaxed allowances amounting to €40,000 that do not have to be accounted for must end. Leaders of all political parties have a responsibility here. The brass-necked behaviour of Ms Flynn, in challenging the authority of the Taoiseach to moderate her behaviour, has cast her in the role of lightning rod, drawing attention to an unacceptable system of payments and allowances for all Oireachtas members. She is no stranger to such controversy, having been twice expelled from Fianna Fáil and readmitted in questionable circumstances by Bertie Ahern. Ms Flynn may be legally entitled to hang on to the allowances of an independent TD but, in this economic climate, she is damaging Mr Cowen's authority every week that she draws it down. The Taoiseach must act.