Pork barrel politics

 

FAILURE BY the Oireachtas to defend the public purse was as significant as Jackie Healy-Rae’s decision to ignore an official query concerning the thousands of phone calls made from Leinster House in support of his son Michael Healy-Rae in 2007. They reflected a pattern of low standards in political life where a widespread abuse of official facilities, from various unvouched expenses to telephone calls and a free postage service, was treated as normal.

 Those were the days when a minister for finance could accept a €60,000 “dig out” from business friends and the government ignored appeals by the Standards in Public Office Commission for greater investigative powers.

Some of those abuses were recently addressed in relation to travelling and other expenses. But it took gross misbehaviour by people like Ivor Callely to bring issues to a head and, in spite of that, political expense systems at local and national level remain porous. Michael Healy-Rae, who succeeded his father as an Independent TD for Kerry South, has attempted to defuse this controversy by offering to reimburse the Leinster House authorities for the telephone costs. In doing so, he has insisted on his complete innocence. His father also denied personal involvement.

It doesn’t wash. This is the kind of political cute hoorism that has the economy where it is today. Cutting ethical corners and facilitating powerful interests and political supporters became part of a long-standing government process. Making secret deals with Independent TDs like Jackie Healy-Rae was another. When things went awry, an abdication of responsibility by ministers and the transfer of blame was elevated into an art form.

The Healy-Rae family has benefited handsomely from its involvement in politics. Support for the government brought local projects and the appointment of two family members to State boards. Sons Michael and Danny were elected council members and, for the years 2008/2009, they are reported to have drawn down combined expenses amounting to almost €200,000. In that context, paying off a charge of less than €3,000 to defuse this controversy, makes sense.

Outrage has been expressed in the Dáil over this four-year-old abuse of its facilities. For politicians who sat mute for decades while their colleagues caught trains to and from their constituencies and then charged high motoring expenses, it does not impress. Greedy public representatives continue to milk expense systems. That is a problem that requires early attention.