Sunday 15 December 2019

John Downing: 'Welcome to latest edition of 'Taxpayers' Money Is Nobody's Money''

Leinster House. Photo: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
Leinster House. Photo: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
John Downing

John Downing

Remember the time when that super-duper Dáil printer "mawshine" had, over a very short time, resolved all our problems? It belched out so many notes in the higher euro denominations that we suddenly resolved the €200bn-plus long-term national debt problem.

But then, alas, we woke up and learned it was just another episode from that long dreary saga entitled 'Taxpayers' Money Is Nobody's Money'.

Hands up anybody who knew who Peter Finnegan, the most senior administrator of our national parliament, was before you heard tales about the ill-starred installation at Leinster House of a taxpayer-­funded €1.8m printer? This writer sees Mr Finnegan from time to time in the corridors of Leinster House.

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To his credit, he generally stays in the shadows, as the elected politicians he serves take the stage.

The Leinster House staff ensure the efficient running of the national parliament.

They do it all with great courtesy and good humour, welcoming tens of thousands of people from across the country from week to week, helping everyone to see how Irish democracy trundles on. On many levels, Dáil and Seanad Éireann are very open and truly democratic places.

But every now and again we get an episode like this one. A big ball of money is spent, and it turns out to be a very expensive misadventure, paid for by the hard-pressed taxpayer.

Then that questionable spend is set against some rather shameful health, welfare or education cutbacks hitting the most vulnerable people. So, here we go again.

Thing is that the ones who collect for the consequences are the elected politicians. Very many prospective voters take in their politics from a very glancing perspective.

And many of those glancing people decide the fate of our politicians. Early yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) revealed the actual cost of the printing equipment, which came in five lots, at just over €1.3m. But adding other costs, we were soon at €1.8m and counting,

We were also back in drip-drip revelations as the new printing machine, which was found to be too big for the room when it arrived, had cost just over €800,000. Then the PAC received a report showing the actual cost of the equipment, which came in five lots, was just over €1.3m.

Mr Finnegan - who ordered an investigation - told PAC that "the requirements of the building and other regulations in relation to head height were neither understood nor examined during the critical early stages of the project".

Significant building and restructuring work had to be carried out before the printer could be placed in the room which cost another €229,000 exclusive of Vat. The report also told us that the Office of Public Works took the opportunity to carry out "necessary additional works on the fabric of the building" while the contractor was on site.

Those extras amounted to a further €195,000, which included €30,000 on electrical works and €138,000 on air con. A few hundred grand here, a few extra grand there, and suddenly you're into money.

But despite the flippancy, there is a serious point here. For this once at least, this is not about the politicians.

It is about the "permanent government". And for this once again at least our TDs and senators are right to demand answers.

Irish Independent

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