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Big picture more important than parish-pump politics

THE noise coming from the joint committee on enterprise, trade and innovation at Leinster House yesterday lunchtime was the sound of the pork barrel being scraped dry.

With an election coming, TDs from all parties were battling to transform themselves into Jackie Healy-Rae.

Three TDs in a row used an appearance from the IDA's Barry O'Leary and Enterprise Ireland's Frank Ryan to inquire about the appearance of possible IDA-backed projects in their back yards next year.

For the record, Fine Gael's Kieran O'Donnell was assured that three projects will be announced in Limerick next year. Sinn Fein's Arthur Morgan was told projects are coming to Louth, while Fianna Fail's Michael Kitt was told that rural Galway should also benefit from jobs despite a bonanza for the city.

In the good old days, when the jobs were pouring in, this parochial approach to one of the State's most important agencies would have been mildly amusing.

With jobs being lost at record levels and 400,000 on the dole, yesterday's parish-pump politics was more than a little depressing.

It was only when Fine Gael's Richard Bruton began asking questions that the big picture got a look in.

Mr Bruton appeared incensed that neither Mr O'Leary nor Mr Ryan had made any effort to discuss the net loss in jobs in companies which are funded by the organisations.

Again and again, Mr Bruton tried to squeeze some commitment from the state bodies to give up-to-date figures to the committee which is meant to decide how much money should be allocated to the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

In sharpish exchanges, Mr O'Leary not unreasonably noted that he had been summoned to discuss the IDA's performance in 2009 rather than 2010. It was a classic civil servant's answer; 100pc accurate and 90pc useless.

As the exchange continued, the committee's emollient chairman, Willie Penrose, acted as peacemaker, noting that there was something wrong with the system inside Leinster House that forced TDs and senators to debate the wisdom of funding organisations when the "milk is long spilled".

Point made, it was time to return to the topic closest to the committee members' hearts; jobs in their own constituencies.

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