News Lise Hand

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Lise Hand: Forgotten children of Irish politics lap up day in sun

Published 23/01/2014 | 02:30

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Owen Keegan pictured arriving at Leinster House. Photo: Frank McGrath
Owen Keegan pictured arriving at Leinster House. Photo: Frank McGrath

Posses of pinstriped chaps trooping down the staircase clutching folders of facts and figures and explications have become a regular sight these days in Leinster House.

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For the CEOs and directors and top dogs of this-and-that company/organisation/agency are only stacked up like planes over Heathrow outside the Oireachtas committee rooms, awaiting either a light or torrid grilling from the members assembled within.

It may be the depths of winter, but the Oireachtas committees are having a moment in the sun right now. For the past few lonely years as the economic Ice Age froze the marrow of the citizenry, committees fast became the forgotten child of Irish politics. All the gripping dramas were publically and loudly played out in the Dail or in the Bundestag or anywhere the troika laid their hat.

The committees' moments of fame were few and far between, mostly the members were akin to doleful Dickensian orphans with sooty faces pressed against the political glass as all the fun and games took place elsewhere.

But all has changed in the past few months, courtesy of Irish Water boss John Tierney and two former chiefs of the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC), Paul Kiely and Brian Conlan, who all did the committee Stations of the Cross in recent weeks.

And yesterday it was the turn of Dublin City Manager, Owen Keegan, to answer questions in the Environment Committee on the amount of taxpayers' loot spent on the Poolbeg incinerator project – €96m so far.

However, none of the fingers of blame could realistically be pointed in the direction of Mr Keegan as he only took over the job of city manager last September, replacing John Tierney who moved on to Irish Water.

Owen didn't hesitate to acknowledge that the whole project had been a shambles at one juncture. And worse, if the project doesn't get the green light – a situation Owen admitted was "a big if" – it's likely that the taxpayer can say sayonara to its 96 million scoots.

And inevitably the committee word du jour – consultants – was invoked. It was revealed that consultancy fees for the process had rocketed from €8m to over €30m.

Owen readily agreed that the decision not to break contract with outside consultants was wrong. "I can't say that we achieved value for money – with hindsight it would have been better to break the contract in 2005 and put it out to tender," he admitted. It was, he concurred, "unacceptable".

Mr Keegan's candour was refreshing in an arena where information is often dragged kicking and screaming from the occupants of the hot-seats. Fianna Fail Senator Averil Power found it "shocking" that so much money had been spent on consultants.

There was only one thing for it. "Bring John Tierney back in to answer questions," demanded the committee.

These lads and lassies have the bit between their teeth now. And they have Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan in for interrogation today. Then there is the whole board of the CRC, not to mention folk from Rehab. Oh and then there's the Big One – the Oireachtas banking inquiry. There'll be enough brown stuff flying around Leinster House that perhaps they better get cracking on that big ol' waste incinerator in Poolbeg after all. . .

Irish Independent

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