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Just like 'Fingers', we'll be left to pick up the tab ... again

Go whistle for your €742,000. This appears to be the message from Paul Kiely, the former Central Remedial Clinic chief executive who has so far refused to pay back his lavish retirement package that we now know was funded from charity donations.

It may be a despicable attitude, but it's a rational one, because the history of Irish scandals shows people who enrich themselves unjustly have an excellent chance of getting away with it. And people who splurge tens of millions of taxpayers' money rarely, if ever, are held to account.

Since the CRC outrage was revealed last week, government leaders have been clambering over themselves to reach the moral high ground.

Enda Kenny has described it as "indicative of a time that I hope is long gone in Irish politics", conveniently ignoring the fact that Kiely's deal was signed off as recently as last June.

Michael Noonan has ordered Kiely to hand back the cash and even hinted that a garda inquiry may soon be under way.

Behind these tough words, however, the grim reality is that there may be precious little Kenny, Noonan or anyone else can do.

Kiely has reportedly hired a legal team to represent his interests, suggesting that the €742,000 will have to be taken from his cold, dead hands.

If he and the CRC board can produce binding contracts, the Government will be left trying to shut the stable door on a horse that has already disappeared over the horizon.

Of course, the Taoiseach might try appealing to Kiely's sense of decency. That could be a fool's errand, since the former CEO was apparently unmoved by the sound of a mother sobbing on RTE radio last week because she needs CRC funding for her disabled son. If Kiely's story sounds depressingly familiar, that's because it is. Time after time in recent years we've seen political and business leaders caught with their hands in the jar but managing to escape without any serious consequences.

Kiely's role model might well be Michael Fingleton, the former chief executive of Irish Nationwide. 'Fingers' often sent journalists a Christmas card depicting himself as Father Christmas, but he turned out to be a Bad Santa whose reckless lending cost the Irish taxpayer €5.4bn while he rode off into the sunset with a €1m bonus.

Fingleton indicated that he would return the money, but almost five years later it seems the cheque is still in the post.

Irish Water is floundering over its €85m consultants' bill, not helped by weekend revelations that the super-quango spent six grand on sending staff to a "laughter yoga workshop".

All this is academic, because the public's money has long since gone down the plughole.

The only consolation is that it's not as bad as the €220m blown on the HSE's useless PPARS computer system, the €54m blown on faulty e-voting machines and the €43m frittered away on a Bertie Bowl stadium that was never built.

In all these cases, we picked up the tab.

While politicians can claim to be as shocked as they like by the CRC's secret slush fund, they are no slouches at building up gold-plated pension packages for themselves.

The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel famously wrote: "The only thing we learn from history is that nobody ever learns anything from history."

Paul Kiely may be about to rub our noses in this inconvenient truth all over again.