Sunday 25 September 2016

Brendan O'Connor: Convenient how charity bosses are new bankers

Our Eliot Ness-style politicians are gunning for the evil charities, but what about the bigger scandals, asks Brendan O'Connor

Published 26/01/2014 | 02:30

Highly paid: Angela Kerins isn’t doing Rehab any favours. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Highly paid: Angela Kerins isn’t doing Rehab any favours. Photo: Steve Humphreys

You could have come to the conclusion last week that if only Angela Kerins would tell us what she is earning all our problems as a nation would be solved. It seems like we were stuck, waiting for Kerins to cave, and then we could all move on; life as we knew it before could resume, life as it was before we realised we could not rest easy in our beds until we knew what Angela Kerins was earning.

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The Central Remedial Clinic having become a dirty word in the last few months, Rehab was now in our sights and anything to do with Rehab was bad. These two institutions, that have done so much for the most vulnerable in our society, are now reduced to being two dirty words. Three letters, C, R, and C, are now invoked to sum up everything bad about the country from Bertie Ahern to Fianna Fail to cronyism to "good pals of" to top-ups to pensions to payoffs. And now Rehab is the same, all the problems of the country seemingly personified in one woman.

And it was all awfully convenient for the Government. What could have been more convenient at this time than for Alan Shatter to announce to everyone that Rehab's lottery makes virtually no money? This was what we were being told to believe. The problems in the country and in the public sector are nothing to do with the Government or with the civil service. They are extraneous issues, seemingly out of the Government's control up to now, but now that the Government are aware of these problems, they are furious about it, and they will not be found wanting in sorting it out.

No one would defend some of the salaries in "charities" that exist at that weird intersection of public and private money. But it is terribly convenient when the alleged evils of the public sector and the charity sector can all be personified neatly in one villain. Suddenly, the Government becomes the good guys, the ones who are appalled. They line up in the Dail to express their shock and disappointment. The Dail, from being an institution that comes under fire for being a talking shop, there to rubberstamp whatever is the latest ready-up between Europe and the four members of the Economic Management Council, suddenly finds a role for itself as the Eliot Ness of modern Ireland, there to root out abuse of taxpayers' money by evil charities.

Suddenly all those committees we thought were just extra top-ups for the deputies have become where it's at. The Government, and the Oireachtas, haven't had this much moral high ground since the bankers. The charities are the new bankers. They ruined everything for all of us good guys.

And of course this Government has a great 'out' on all this stuff, which is that they weren't there. When Micheal Martin tries to pin anything on them, Enda Kenny still comes back with smart remarks about changing spots, and who was in power when all the bad stuff happened. When Martin tried to bring up the scandal of public sector workers with fat-cat pensions getting more fat-cat jobs in Irish Water – even though this is happening right now – Enda fobs him off by reminding him, yet again, of Fianna Fail's history. Fine Gael's lack of electoral success for so many years has become their greatest asset.

So roughly the logic seems to be that Fine Gael are not responsible for anything in the past because Fianna Fail did everything bad that ever happened in this country, but neither, somehow, are Fine Gael responsible for anything rotten that happens now, under their watch, because Fianna Fail did worse in the past.

Either way, Fine Gael are responsible for exiting the bailout and getting the country back on its feet after the shameful situation we ended up in at the hands of Fianna Fail. Fine Gael restored our virtue and restored our pride. We can hold our heads high again now in Davos and no other narrative is entertained.

When there is anything rotten to be rooted out in this country it is rooted out by Fine Gael, not about Fine Gael. Fine Gael are the ones who find the maggots. And the maggots, right now, are in the charity sector. And this Government is now fearlessly after Rehab, and we are even meant to think it is more admirable they are doing this because there is a perceived connection between Fine Gael and Rehab. And as long as Angela Kerins and the question of her salary are the latest scandal, and as long as the Government are the ones on the right side of this latest bun fight, on the side opposite Rehab, then all is well. And of course it is all done more in sorrow than in anger.

You would almost think there is an element of a smear campaign against Rehab. It was well signalled to everyone in the know in the last few weeks that "Rehab was next". And for the past week there's been an unseemly public spat playing out with Alan Shatter's department seemingly leaking selective info about Rehab, while Rehab is under pressure about Kerins's salary.

It is unedifying, and hugely damaging for the charity sector. While Kerins herself isn't doing Rehab any favours here either, the whole thing is, again, convenient for the Government.

And if some of the niceties and the details need to get lost in all this whooshing up of public indignation, well, that's all right too. The main thing seems to be the headlines. As long as you can have headlines about Angela Kerins's salary or some guy getting three-quarters of a million in a charity, and as long as people equate that with charity money collected by well-meaning people, and as long as the Government are the ones telling him to give it back, then that's keeping more awkward issues, like the scandal of Irish Water, off the front pages.

Increasingly the Government is facing a situation where no one believes in anything anymore. We are presented with a situation where not only was there €100m spent on an incinerator that no one seems to want built anymore, but that the consultancy fees for that went three times over budget.

And then the same guy who is in charge of that has now been put in charge of a new public utility company, which seems to be spending money hand over fist unbeknownst to the minister responsible or the regulator. The gardai are in turmoil too. So it's nice for the Government to be able to displace all this disillusionment on to the supposed good guys in the charity sector, and it's nice that the charity sector was personified this week in a seemingly hard-necked and highly paid woman. That will keep the indignant mob busy for now.

Irish Independent

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