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End of the line for gravy train of old

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has removed Deputy Michael Healy-Rae from the governing body of the Citizens' Information Board.

The move is described by Ms Burton's spokesman as unconnected with the controversy over calls made from Leinster House in 2007 in support of declaring Mr Healy-Rae the winner of a television "reality" show. Certainly it raises bigger issues than a comic-opera affair which has supplied the nation with equal measures of anger and entertainment.

The new Independent deputy for Kerry South received his appointment to a state board in the first place as part of a deal made by his father (and predecessor in the Dail) Jackie Healy-Rae and Deputy Michael Lowry of Tipperary North with Brian Cowen's government in 2009. Not all the details of the deal are known, but the purpose was never in doubt: to help prop up a shaky government.

It seems that neither the Healy-Rae family, nor Mr Lowry, nor the former Taoiseach, saw anything improper in these proceedings. And cynics will say that in the unlikely event of the Celtic Tiger boom continuing forever, the general public would have remained similarly undisturbed.

But times have changed -- drastically. And the citizens object -- vehemently.

The favours showered on practising and former politicians by the Ahern and Cowen governments were a trifle by comparison with the behaviour of the banks and the property mania. But they did more than either of them to coarsen the political system.

And they have left more than one toxic legacy. For example, Messrs Healy-Rae and Lowry, along with other Independent deputies, are still entitled to a payment of more than €40,000 a year each as "party leaders".

That is indefensible. A party is a party. An Independent is an Independent.

If any of them want to form parties, and incur the expense involved, there is nothing to stop them. Criteria already exist by which to define what constitutes a party worthy of official recognition. If the criteria are too narrow, they can be changed.

The key issue here is not the money. It is the public fury provoked by the irresponsibility of persons chosen to lead us, and the threat to the social solidarity which will be so vital in the hard times ahead.

Irish Independent