Tuesday 22 October 2019

Editorial: 'FG must do its sums properly or we will all pay the price'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Damien Eagers
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Damien Eagers


In these vegan-friendly times the scent of pork-barrel politics is likely to be sniffed out faster than a political promise of funding at election time. The miraculous appearance of millions in unsolicited Government spending for hitherto unimaginable localised projects bedazzles the beholder.

This day next week European and local elections will be held, and lo and behold farmers who have been having a rough time are suddenly told by no less than the Taoiseach that a €100m rescue package will "flow to them".

It is not that farmers do not deserve a dig out. It is more that the shine of the brazen brass necks in Government is in danger of blinding some to the dangers of maintaining some sense of budgetary responsibility.

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The magic money this time was delivered by an unlikely genie from Brussels. The EU agriculture commissioner did his party leader some good by rubbing a magic lamp. "Hey presto", an enchanted EU Commission found it within its powers to produce €50m in "exceptional funds".

Commissioner Phil Hogan's master stroke has not just won him the gratitude of the Taoiseach - and hard-pressed farmers - but has also probably secured another term for himself as Ireland's representative on the commission.

If timing is critical to pulling off a neat trick, in politics it is even more so.

Mr Varadkar said: "If we could have got it over the line a few weeks ago we would have been very happy, as you can imagine."

We can. But to have been able to do so fortuitously, a week from election, must have left him ecstatic.

Meanwhile, in another part of the political forest, the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee was told: "We are being made eejits of."

The comment came as the HSE was under fire from Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy.

The HSE claimed there was no conflict of interest in the role of PwC over a review of costs at the National Children's Hospital.

Last year PwC provided "high-level input" into the decision by the HSE to allow construction company BAM to proceed with the project.

Yet it was apparent that the cost had risen by €450m. Only two months later, PwC was commissioned by the Government to carry out a review into the cost escalation.

It got a fee of €500,000.

But it has emerged the same people from the firm who advised the HSE on its decision to go ahead with the project were also involved in the review into spending.

Ms Murphy's chagrin will be shared by many.

Last year in one of its most hard-hitting assessments to date, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council warned the Government Budget 2019 was "not conducive to prudent economic and budgetary management". Fine Gael once prided itself as being a rock of financial dependency.

Did we not learn the hard way, we either gain control of our money, or the lack of it will surely control us?

Irish Independent

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