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Monday 19 March 2018

Unions and civil service 'seduced by greasy till'

Public Accounts chief lashes out at those who 'forgot obligations'


THE head of the state's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Fianna Fail's John McGuinness, has said that senior civil servants seduced by the "tinkling of the greasy till" abandoned their posts during the boom and pursued their own interests before those of the Irish people.

Mr McGuinness said that greed was allowed to take hold and the fabric of Irish society was "torn apart", in a hard-hitting address at a Dublin function last week.

He described a country where people were on the take and forgot their duty. He said that those who were in charge of managing the ship "still have serious questions to answer".

Mr McGuinness also heavily criticised trade unions for a lack of transparency when it came to their financial affairs, during his speech about the future of Ireland.

He said: "Hands were either in gloves or washing one another; nods, winks and nudges were the order of the day; guard dogs did not bark and conflicts of interest were ignored. While the smell of burnt fingers, charred egos and incinerated wealth hangs over Ireland, we should all take time to contemplate and accept our mistakes," he said.

But he specifically criticised the role of top civil servants, whom he described as the chief beneficiaries of the boom.

"Seduced by the tinkling of what Yeats called the 'greasy till'," top civil servants and politicians forgot "our obligations to each other, to our country and to our children's future", he said.

"When governments spent, opposition parties called for more and trade unions asked for more, and were given more; which largely went into the pay packets of senior civil servants who in many cases were doing the country a lot less service than they were doing themselves," he said.

Mr McGuinness said that we have sought to blame everyone from German banks to rapacious builders for the country's demise, but the real cause was "the absence of good governance in many areas, and the lack of backbone that makes that possible".

He added: "Voices that should have been loud and powerful advocates for good governance, caution and rigour, whispered or stayed silent, as hares were let sit and kings walked naked."

He also called on private sector professionals like auditors and accountants who are often engaged by various organs of the State to properly insulate themselves against "conflicts of interest".

But some of his toughest words were for the trade unions, whom he said had questions to answer over their openness when it came to their financial affairs.

"There is growing concern among senior union officials, who have written to me about systems of financial control in unions, and recent events have highlighted this," he said.

"Given the substantial sums of public money many of them deal with, ignoring the question of whether unions are charities is like being satisfied that Bo Peep can look after a pride of lions," he added.

He concluded by saying that Ireland needs "straight talking, hard facts and decisions devoid of spin" but he questioned whether political leaders have the stomach for such measures.

He also said that we must tackle sacred cows like the Croke Park deal if Ireland is to recover.

"The long grass [into] which generations of politicians, senior public servants and trade union leaders have kicked every ball that looked vaguely like a hot potato is no longer acceptable. That long grass is now home to a number of sacred cows, the biggest of which is the Croke Park Agreement," he said.

Sunday Independent

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