Monday 9 December 2019

Gene Kerrigan: 'Thank you to the kind people of Bulgaria'

Forget the staggeringly expensive printer, have you heard about the invisible TD who got a big job

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Soapbox cartoon
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Two questions. And though they might seem very different, they are related.

First: why do we owe a debt of gratitude to the Bulgarian people?

Answer: because one of their EU representatives is taking Dara Murphy TD off our hands.

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Second question: why do we need a super-duper printer that's costing us anything up to €1.8m?

Answer: we don't need it.

At first, I laughed when I heard about the €808,000 printer they bought for the Oireachtas. And how they then found out it was too big for the printing room, so they had to spend hundreds of thousands enlarging the room.

Typical of our governing classes. Order the best, splash the cash, don't ask the basic questions you or I would ask if we were buying a sofa.

Will it fit in the door? Is it the right size for the room?

It's only when I read the official report into the farce that the thought occurred, "Why do we need this printer at all?"

The report answers that question, damningly.

Meanwhile, word was coming through that Dara Murphy TD, the Fine Gael member for Cork North Central, is resigning from the Dail. Turns out he's been offered a job in the Cabinet of the Bulgarian EU commissioner for Something or Other.

For a moment, I couldn't place Dara. Then, it dawned. Dara's the chap in the Garda Taxi.

Enda Kenny made him Junior Minister for Whatever. And one night, having a meeting to attend in Brussels, Dara was catching a 6.40am flight and his chauffeur-driven car broke down on the M8 near Fermoy.

I'm not sure why he didn't get a taxi; or ask a party member or friend to help out.

Instead, Dara rang the Cork gardai. And they gave him a 214km lift to Dublin airport. Seems they'd nothing else to do that night, Cork being such a law-abiding place.

Knowing so little, I had to look up Dara on Wikipedia. Not much there, to be honest.

Studied economics at UCC from 1988, failed his exams. Passed them, finally, in 2015. Slow learner, you might think, but I see Dara as thorough, persistent.

In 2015, then Taoiseach Enda Kenny was reported to have lobbied intensely (and successfully) to get Dara made one of 10 vice presidents of the European People's Party, to which Fine Gael belongs.

That's a position from which a fella might get career advancement. In 2017, Dara was made campaign director for the EPP.

That's a high-profile position, from which a fella might get an even better job.

And now, a Bulgarian commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, has appointed Dara to her cabinet, on about €150,000 a year.

Here's the odd thing.

All this time, Dara has been a TD. On a salary of around €96,000. Perhaps the reason I don't know much about him is - well, "he's been busy" in Brussels, as Leo Varadkar told us last week.

I know some more about Dara now, having read an article by Harry McGee, in The Irish Times. Short article, but it's the type that takes ages to read. Because you end up throwing the newspaper down repeatedly, to walk around the house, kicking lumps out of the furniture and swearing obscenities.

McGee begins: "Cork North Central TD Dara Murphy has claimed his full parliamentary and travel allowances of €4,300 per month despite not having spoken in the Dail for almost two years."

That's €51,000 a year, expenses.

The Dail sat 70 days this year, Dara turned up for 24. He had little to say, he mostly turned up to vote as the party told him to. How much did he know about the issues on which he was voting? Well, who knows?

But he also turned up on another 55 days...

Look, just get up now and go kick the furniture. Get it over with.

Dara turned up for work in the Dail on 55 days on which the Dail wasn't sitting, mostly Mondays and Fridays. Dara signed in electronically, qualifying for expenses.

Harry McGee looked at Dara's tweets for those days and found him in various EU cities. He suggests Dara may have clocked in on his way to or from the airport.

Let us state clearly - in all of this, Dara Murphy was acting within the rules laid out for the TDs. Any TD could do this.

What other job would tolerate a worker who's off in another country, working at something else, for a couple of years, but keeps collecting his salary and expenses?

All we can do is offer the traditional expression: Ah, here.

Where does the €808,000 printer (with associated costs of another €1m or so) come into all this?

Well, what is this super-duper printer actually for?

What will it print?

The official Oireachtas report on the printing debacle helpfully tells us. It will print, "newsletters, bulletins, general or specific communications, information papers, fliers, circulars, personalised headed paper, Leinster House Guides, complimentary slips, business cards, clinic cards and a variety of cards all conveying contact information".

In short, it's mostly promotional literature for TDs and senators.

Ten per cent of the printing work relates to Oireachtas business, the report admits, 90pc to material promoting the profile of the TDs.

Let's not pretend this is anything other than free promotion of TDs, for electoral gain. Apart from anything else, it massively disadvantages candidates who seek to challenge a sitting TD.

The public service bureaucracy is often impenetrable and inadequate.

So, people constantly depend on individual TDs to interpret the rules, to tell them their rights, for information and for advice.

TDs use this public lack of knowledge, and alienation from the bureaucracy, to harvest votes at election time.

The Dail is full of TDs who do little apart from raise local issues, pester public servants, lobby on behalf of constituents. Then, they order letters printed to tell the voters how hard they're working for them.

TDs call this "servicing constituents". It's actually the State providing free electoral services for the TDs.

In theory, parliament originates legislation, which the ministers implement.

In fact, ministers originate legislation, often with the help of lobbyists employed by the rich, and the party they control instructs TDs to pass it.

TDs capable of doing so (not many) seek to amend such legislation.

The effect of this is that decisions on crucial matters - housing, health, transport etc - are made by a small cabal of ministers with limited knowledge of the world. (And, right now, ministers who have a fervent loyalty to ideologies that have repeatedly failed.)

In effect, party backbench TDs are limited to voting as instructed and working to get re-elected.

We need a widespread network of outlets linked to the Ombudsman's office, to tackle routine unjust decisions. This would protect and advance the interests of the people.

It would free TDs to legislate, to analyse, to make decisions and to direct the work of the Cabinet. It would improve the quality of TDs.

That way, we might get logical decisions on housing, health and everything else.

Who will argue for this? The current crop of TDs? Not bloody likely.

Those now in situ like it how it is. The task of researching and arguing and campaigning for actual change, via legislation - the very reason for the existence of parliament - is beyond many of them.

Anyway, I'm sure that whoever replaces him - be they FF or FG - will live up to Dara's standards.

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