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Monday 20 November 2017

Enda does a spot of housekeeping to avoid dust-up over spending

Enda bustled into the Oireachtas committee-room, trailed by an impressive entourage of 16 people carting folders stuffed with stats and bulging with briefing notes.

It was housekeeping day, when he goes before the select sub-committee on the Department of the Taoiseach to elucidate how much money he intends to spend this year on running his Government gaff. And he had facts and figures to beat the band, explaining that his Department's budget is €27m.

It sounds like a heck of a lot, but he explained that the bulk of it - €15.8m - goes on administration and pay for the 185 departmental staff. Moreover, €4.55m is allocated towards Moriarty Tribunal third-party costs to cover the legal bills of witnesses who appeared before the 13-year long hearing. "To the end of 2014, a total of 49 bills of costs amounting to €10.76m have been settled for a total of €4.77m," he stated.

Nor does the departmental largesse towards legal-eagles end there - a further €2m has been earmarked for the Fennelly Inquiry, the ongoing commission of investigation into covert taping at garda stations and into the series of events which led to the exit of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan last year. Nor he stressed, were his 185 staff sitting about doing crosswords and drinking cups of tay.

They were busy bees; last year they dealt with 58 Government meetings, 76 Cabinet committee meetings, 952 Government memorandums, 805 Parliamentary Questions, 173 Freedom of Information requests (mainly from pesky nosey-parkers of the media) and a mind-boggling 20,000 pieces of correspondence. Sitting beside the Taoiseach was his unflappable secretary general, Martin Fraser, at his elbow like a sort of pinstriped comfort blanket in case the grilling got too torrid.

But there was no need to worry - Fianna Fáil's Sean Fleming and Sinn Féin's Peadar Toibin were the only Opposition TDs in situ to divine if he was being over-flaithulach with taxpayers' moolah. Pat Rabbitte was present, but uncharacteristically was content to survey proceedings rather than join in, and Fine Gael deputy Tom Barry's role was apparently to laud his boss for doing a damn fine job.

Sean Fleming wanted to know whether the level of security has been stepped up around the Taoiseach and the President, given that a small group of thugs have been doling out rough treatment to the top brass during recent anti-water protests.

But it seems that he's not swamped by droves of detectives every time he sets foot outside his door. "I'm the kind of person who's out and about a lot. The gardaí were more than anxious to provide the security facilities but I declined those. They're available if they're required," he said, adding, "I didn't feel they were necessary and I don't think they're necessary now either."

He also took the opportunity to have a go at the unsavoury dog's abuse heaped on President Higgins by a group of protesters last month, deploring it as "disgraceful behaviour".

It was all quite relaxed, with no exchange of hostilities, and after a while the visages of the assembly of Sir Humphreys who had accompanied Enda began to look less worried.

After an untroubled hour-and-a-half, the Taoiseach was sprung. Sean Fleming left, tucking the hefty document of expenditure under his arm.

"We'll get a few Leaders' Questions out of this," he predicted happily.

Luckily, none of the Sir Humphreys heard him.

Irish Independent

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