Generosity and waste in Ireland

FR BRIAN WHELAN

Published 09/08/2011 | 14:23

TRÓCAIRE had a collection in every parish in Ireland a couple of weeks ago in aid of Somalia. In Wexford parish, where I am based as a curate, over €14,000 was given by the Mass-goers that weekend, far exceeding any expectation of how much might be donated. An incredible amount, which was given without a heavy heart.

Similar amounts, I'm sure, were collected in parishes the length and breadth of the country. It got me thinking about the amount that must have been collected that weekend, in churches alone, at Masses across Ireland. The people from one town parish in Co. Wexford gave €14,000, not to mention the numerous other parishes throughout the county whose parishioners also gave generously.

If you do the maths, and take that each county in Ireland donated only a total of €14,000, and that's a very conservative estimate, then simple multiplication (14,000 multiplied by 32 counties) would suggest that somewhere in the region of over €400,000 was collected at Mass that weekend. That's a lot of money.

I'm reminded of the gospel story of the Widow's Mite. Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ' Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.' That imaginary guesstimate figure of €400,000 that was so generously given is perhaps a modern-day 'widow's mite'. The people who go to Mass aren't the super-rich, or the ones who have plenty of money to spare. They gave their own 'widow's mite'.

Meanwhile, we learn that a Mr Fingleton, former chief of Irish Nationwide, received as a retirement gift a watch costing €11,500 and a €1m bonus for presiding over a financial institution that has needed a bailout to the tune of €5.4bn. Something somewhere doesn't add up.

And consider this. In the forthcoming Presidential election there is a €750,000 limit on the amount that each candidate can spend on his or her campaign. The two main political parties in this country, who form the current Government, have nominated their own respective candidates to contest the election. Fine Gael is planning to spend around €500,000 and Labour about €330,000 on their campaigns. Take the two together and we get €830,000, whereas, if the two parties put forward a joint candidate, that spend would be much less. Now you might think, sure it's their own money, let them spend it as they please. Well, that's not entirely the case. Because currently, a candidate who receives votes in excess of one quarter of the quota at a presidential election can claim a reimbursement of election expenses up to a maximum of €200,000. In a time where every cent is crucial in terms of our economic recovery, wouldn't it make more sense if the two Government parties backed the same candidate, and saved the tax-payer €200,000? Instead, the tax-payer has to pay up, for two candidates whether they are successful or not, to the tune of €400,000 – our modern-day 'widows mite'.

Maybe there's a lesson in the story of the 'widow's mite' that needs to be looked at again. The ordinary Irish citizen is becoming more and more like a poor widow, struggling to make ends meet. And it seems money is being wasted and the wasters don't even realise it, money that's harder come by today than ever, and money that's needed much more than ever before. The famine in Somalia is expected to last until December. Each day a famine goes on, more people die. The people who went to mass and gave so generously are aware of that and responded incredibly generously. The presidential campaign, and the €11,500 watch for a retired banker are two crazy examples of unnecessary wasting of taxpayers' money. Unfortunately, with that kind of wasting, the modern-day 'widow's mite' will only stretch so far.

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