Business Irish

Friday 23 February 2018

Bonanza for the bailout bosses

Taxpayer foots bill for stress-management courses, yoga, holistic therapy and post-Budget parties

Secretary General Kevin Cardiff earned €228,000 last year
Secretary General Kevin Cardiff earned €228,000 last year

Nick Webb, Shane Ross

Cosseted civil servants at the Department of Finance spent almost €8,500 of our money on "stress management" courses as the country sank beneath the weight of its flawed financial management.

Top departmental officials negotiated the IMF/EI "bailout" last month in a deal which will see Ireland crippled by spending cuts and tax hikes for more than a decade.

In June, the Government paid €2,785.60 to Torc Consulting for "stress management" in Tullamore. A month earlier, the department handed over €2,668 for "stress awareness", with another €3,043 paid to Torc in May 2008 for "stress management" and "lunch". The total amount paid for "stress management" was more than someone earning €35,000 would pay in tax for a whole year's work.

Outside of "stress management", some €1,200 of taxpayers' money was also used to pay for a "Holistic Therapist" at an "Employee Assistance Officer workshop" in May 2008. Another €4,200 was spent on six courses run by yoga and meditation trainer Ananda Programmes. Another €3,500 was shelled out on a course in "Cognitive Psychology" at Trinity College.

Despite the dismal mismanagement of the economy and presiding over the collapse of the banks, a lunatic decision to change the tax system and almost comical inaccuracies in its economic forecasting, the taxpayer funded more than €51,000 in "gift voucher" handouts to department officials in 2008 as part of a "merit award" scheme.

The hard-pressed civil servants at the department, which oversaw the collapse of Ireland's finances and walked us into the crippling IMF bailout, also blew €3,224.75 on a "post-Budget function" at Doheny and Nesbitts pub, close to its offices. The bill was to celebrate Brian Cowen's final Budget in December 2007, which saw public spending continue unchecked and social welfare rates increase despite the massive economic storm unfolding on global markets. Another €799 was spent on "Finance Bill entertainment" in April 2008. We also contributed €624 for a "retirement party" for a faceless civil servant at Christmas 2008.

The department was so far out of touch with what was unfolding that it saw fit to splurge €2,570 of our money on "Christmas Trees" in 2008. That would pay child benefit for 17 families for a month.

Incredibly, the Merrion Street mandarins also splashed out €6,214.56 on coat stands in May 2008, buying 32 coat standards and 10 coat hangers from Franey Hardwood, according to documents obtained by the Sunday Independent.

Last week we revealed that the department had splashed out over €762 on a toaster and another €913 to have a "bain marie" sauce dish repaired in an orgy of spending. Hot buttery toast and hollandaise sauce weren't the only things we provided for these civil servants, as the documents show that a €732 "panini machine" was bought in October 2008.

Chilled water for our Finance officials cost more than €12,800 in a two-year period, or €17 per day. Almost €24,000 was spent on "landscaping" services from September 2008 until June of this year.

The public service benchmarking body, which oversaw public sector wages rising to unsustainable levels, were entertained by the taxpayer at Derry Clarke's splendid L'Ecrivain restaurant at a cost of €1,254.55, in March 2008. We also spent €1,440 on two lunches for interview boards at Hugo's restaurant and wine bar next door to departmental offices on Merrion Row.

Utterly pointless spending was rampant at the department. The taxpayer coughed up more than €2,070 to buy novelty pens and USB memory sticks as "promotional materials" for the national development plan. That plan is now in tatters as government spending has been slashed to fund the €15bn in austerity measures. The department also shovelled €5,792 of our money to a courier company for "distribution" of the national development plan calendar 2008, according to the files.

The Department of Finance is run by a faceless civil servant -- albeit an extraordinarily highly paid one. Secretary General Kevin Cardiff headed up the department's banking division before landing the top job last January. He was paid €228,000 last year -- over €50,000 more than British Prime Minister David Cameron. Cardiff replaced the equally low profile David Doyle who retired in January this year after four years as the department's top official, a period which saw him fail to have any impact on the collapsing economy.

An unfettered splurge on diaries and calendars was also highlighted by the 160 pages of documents obtained by the Sunday Independent. This included €2,794 for the IPA year book and diary 2009 and a further €6,412 paid to Irish Goodwill Products for a variety of diaries and calendars in 2008 and 2009.

The well-upholstered rears of departmental civil servants were also catered for, as the taxpayer coughed up €33,117 for chairs for the Revenue, as well as a separate €2,080 for an "armchair and couch" for an official's office. Three orthopedic chairs, each costing more than €950 apiece were also bought by the taxpayer. More than €7,200 was spent on a desk for the reception at the Merrion Street offices.

The department also ploughed huge sums into buying advertising in various State or public sector-focused publications, including €3,623 for a "half-page ad" in the Local Authority Members' Association magazine or another €2,359 for a half-page advertisement in the Inside Government magazine.

Another media firm Edgewood Productions, known for its live music production slate, received €43,584 for "training DVDs and four days' editing".

Sunday Independent

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