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Andrew Lynch: €4m spent on Canadian embassy just the latest example of government's lack of joined-up thinking

In a recent United Nations survey on global tourism, Canada was seen by many international travellers as the most boring country in the world.

While this might be a bit unfair on the land of the maple leaf and ice hockey, you might have assumed that maintaining good relations with our North American neighbours was not exactly top of our list of priorities at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Think again.

For more than a year now, the Irish Government has been pouring a small fortune into turning the home of its Ottawa ambassador into a virtual palace -- and while this reckless spending project is not going to break the bank, it tells you everything you need to know about the lack of joined-up thinking that landed us in this economic mess.

The Canadians themselves, by all accounts, are amazed at this display of conspicuous consumption by a country they had assumed was doing its best to watch the pennies.

At 24,000 sq ft and four storeys, the house of our ambassador Declan Kelly was not exactly a hovel in the first place. After the Irish taxpayer has unwittingly stumped up €4.4m on adding a Jacuzzi, sauna and a €20,000 chandelier, you can see why one construction worker was quoted as saying, "All that's needed is a throne for Caesar".

Over the weekend, the Minister for Foreign Affairs defended the project by claiming that embassies play a key role in attracting inward investment to Ireland.

While Micheal Martin is probably the smoothest talker in the cabinet, however, this time he's not fooling anybody.

You don't need a degree in economics to know that foreign countries invest here when they think it makes financial sense -- not because our ambassador has eight bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, a wine cellar, gymnasium and what appear on the blueprints to be five fireplaces.

In the league table of Irish political scandals, our Canadian palace is not up there with GUBU or even Bertiegate.

Its real significance lies in what it tells us about how this Government has still not managed to cobble together a spending plan that is appropriate to our newly reduced circumstances.

Ever since the recession broke, the FF-Green coalition has been cutting vital services that cost next to nothing but have a huge effect on people's quality of life -- while continuing to waste huge sums of money on luxuries that we never needed even in the boom years.


You don't have to look too far for examples. Brian Lenihan's three budgets have hit special needs teachers, reduced services for the blind and delayed a cervical cancer vaccine that would have saved young girls' lives.

Schoolchildren have been left in rotting prefabs as their new buildings have been put on hold, while children's hospital wards have been left waiting for vital equipment.

Most of these cuts will save a few million at the most, but the human misery they will cause is impossible to calculate.

If the Government was clearly seen to be tightening its own belt, we might be able to believe their reassurances that all this scrimping and saving is really necessary.

Instead, the political system is still blowing money every day on propping itself up, thanks to an expenses and pension scheme that the Canadians would find even more extravagant than our ambassador's digs.

A group of senators are currently trying to drop a few stone on RTE's Operation Transformation, but most of us would be happy to see the Seanad dropped altogether and save ourselves the cost of a few embassies in the process.

With an industrial war brewing, this is not just an academic debate. However much cuts in the public service payroll may be needed, it is hard to justify taking money from cleaners in the Department of Foreign Affairs while their bosses splurge it on Jacuzzis and saunas thousands of miles away.

The bill for the Canadian embassy suggests that joined-up thinking is not this Government's strong point.

The rest of their day-to-day spending makes you wonder if they do much thinking at all.