independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Was it for this we got rid of Fianna Fail?

Last weekend, instead of addressing the Primary Care cronyism issues, RTE led us down an ideological cul-de-sac, says Jody Corcoran

This way lies a totalitarian State: the Fine Gael and Labour elite, with the trade union movement, aided and abetted by RTE, are in control of the political, economic and social discourse and outcome. We should be worried.

They came to office on a five-year plan. Fine Gael would "tackle cronyism" and "feather-bedding"; believed the executive was "all-powerful" and had turned the Dail into an observer rather than central player; it promised "stronger committees" to hold the executive to account.

Enda Kenny even coined a colloquialism: his Government would not leave the people in the dark, he vowed, buoyant on his triumph: "Paddy likes to know what the story is."

Labour would also -- that word again -- end "cronyism", but went further to promise that ministers and senior civil servants would be "legally" held to account for their decisions.

From the cover of Time magazine, the Taoiseach turned up on Midwest Radio on Monday. Three times he was asked if James Reilly had consulted him and Eamon Gilmore in July on the locations of primary care centres and three times he refused to answer.

Last weekend, the Sunday Independent twice asked the Taoiseach's spokesman much the same and twice he obfuscated: "I will answer it on my own terms as I do all queries," he snarled.

The centres are to be located in the constituencies of Roscommon, Dublin-North and Carlow-Kilkenny, that is, where the Taoiseach broke another election promise, where Reilly lives and in Phil Hogan's base.

For context: Reilly and Hogan are seated at the right and left hand of Time's man of the moment and Gilmore is in his lap. With thanks to Breakingnews.ie, this is what Kenny told Midwest Radio: "The minister made it clear that beyond the mere criteria of deprivation, which are important in themselves, that he extended that criteria as he explained, both to deal with vested interests, buy-in from general practitioners and to provide competition for these services."

The minister had "made it clear . . ."

On Saturday, at a Fianna Fail dinner, Micheal Martin tried to focus the issue: "Put aside their bluff and bluster and you find a simple, core fact. James Reilly prioritised two towns in his own constituency and two areas in Roscommon for political gain."

While the Government bluffs and blusters, there can be no argument about the truth.

In a Dail question, Sinn Fein asked the Health Minister the "exact criteria" used to identify the 35 centres, but Reilly listed the criteria for 20 laid down by Roisin Shortall, before her leader left her with no choice but to resign.

The Ceann Comhairle subsequently ruled that Reilly had failed to answer; the Health Minister's response to the charge, as Sinn Fein has said, oozed contempt.

You would think that this would matter, that these events would be of concern, not just to the Opposition and non-State media, such as Kenny's local radio station, but to everybody, what you might call the citizenship in general.

Last weekend, however, RTE chose to lead us down an ideological cul-de-sac, to focus instead on an obscure motion passed at a Labour conference in April to do with State support for fee-paying schools, a majority attended by students from the new coping class.

An intervention by Labour minister Alan Kelly on The Week in Politics also removed an issue raised by his colleague John Whelan, that is, the withdrawal of respite care for parents of children with Down Syndrome and the slashing of other home-help facilities.

Whelan went so far as to suggest that Time magazine might like to put these matters on its cover rather than an airbrushed portrait of our Uno Duce, Una Voce leader. Mussolini, by the way, also had a Five Year Plan.

Kenny has sought to silence TDs in his own party, backbenchers who are cooling their heels in a Government with a majority that is itself larger than the collective voice of the Opposition. Is this the outcome we really wanted in our haste to be rid of Fianna Fail?

The Fine Gael 'five-a-side' TDs, meanwhile, congratulate themselves that the issue of public sector allowances is back on the agenda when, in fact, it was the trade union oligarchs themselves who managed that.

Having vowed to cut the allowance bill by 5 per cent, or €75m, a saving that would protect home help and offer respite to parents, Brendan Howlin shrugged .

Negotiations will now centre on just 88 of the 1,100 allowances; the eventual savings will be no more than €10m, enough, the oligarchs hope, to say that they have done their bit. Meanwhile, increment payments for nothing other than to turn up to work will continue at a cost of €200m a year.

Reilly now wants to close down a debate that has only just begun.

His two hand-picked officials, Ambrose McLoughlin and Tony O'Brien, both on six-figure salaries, stonewalled the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week in a manner that was disturbing.

These men, and their political master, are responsible for the biggest exchequer spend, but more than that, are responsible, literally, for the lives of the people who pay their salaries.

The two will not talk about policy, perhaps because policy seems -- like certain payments -- incremental, or, to put it another way, made up as they go along.

If Reilly had tackled the vested interests in the business of Health, of which he was once part, and had done so in a timely fashion, much of this would be unnecessary, these attacks on the disabled, vulnerable and other easy targets.

Rather than roll up his sleeves, a powder-puff Taoiseach instead waltzes from one projected job announcement to another, camera in tow, at a time when 1,000 jobs a week are lost and 250 a day are deserting the country.

Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming walked out on the the stone-walling health czars at the PAC last week.

As he did so, quietly, without fanfare, the chairmanship of, perhaps, the second most powerful Dail committee was filled, vacated when the little prince, Alex White, slipped behind the old desk of Roisin Shortall.

The Dail Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has fought a pitched battle with the PAC to hold an inquiry into the collapse of the banks -- an unresolved turf war put on the long finger. The committee is actually there to hold Brendan Howlin to account.

The chairmanship has been filled by another Labour TD at the grace and favour of Eamon Gilmore, a staunch defender of pay, pensions, increments, allowances and premium pay in the public sector.

This is what Labour said before the election "Restrictions on the nature and extent of evidence by civil servants to Oireachtas committees will be scrapped, and replaced with new guidelines for civil servants that reflect the reality of authority delegated to them, and their personal accountability for the way it is exercised."

"I do not care what they say about the past," Micheal Martin told the Dail last week when he tried to get answers from the Taoiseach, not forthcoming.

George Orwell said who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

With a whiff of totalitarianism, Fine Gael and Labour now control the present, therefore the past, and the future as they intend its design. We really should be worried.

Sunday Independent

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