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Lear jet logic- lessons from the expenses scandal
[ by Niall Hunter, Editor www.irishhealth.com]
"We have to live within budgets in the health system as we do in every other aspect of our lives." Mary Harney - October 2008
“I must emphasise that budgetary situation makes it more, not less, important to continue to press ahead with the various reform initiatives that are already underway in order to deliver higher quality services to patients with the resources that taxpayers are providing.” Mary Harney - April 2009
“(2010) will be the most challenging year ever from the perspective of financing the health service. There is no doubt about that. We are living in very difficult times…we have to look at the cost of providing services in the first instance. They are very high in Ireland in comparison with other countries.” Mary Harney-
“Funds will always be a finite resource.” Mary Harney - October 2009.
The Minister said as the economic situation has deteriorated so rapidly and seriously she is prioritising funding for the development of the cervical screening programme and treatment services at the eight designated hospital centres, which includes the challenge of funding very expensive cancer drugs. "I will therefore not be proceeding with the introduction of a HPV vaccination programme." Mary Harney - November 2008.
“Health Minister Mary Harney and her husband Brian Geoghegan ran up a bill of nearly €65,000 on hotels, limousine hire and accommodation in the space of just three years. That figure does not include the massive bill for the Government jet, which Harney used on almost every occasion she travelled abroad and which cost the taxpayer more than €735,000.” – Sunday Tribune, October 2009.
Pulling out past quotes by politicians in order to hoist them on their own petard is often like shooting fish in a barrel.
And while the exposure of the level of politicians’ expenses in recent months has been one of the better moments for an oft-criticised Irish media, members of the media too, have not been averse to travelling on the odd "junket’ or (and it shames me to recollect this now and I’m very, very sorry) being provided by with the odd free drink at Christmas-time by politicians.
However, the media's sins in this regard can be excused as relatively minor and can (thank God) be blamed on the madness and profligacy of the of the Celtic Tiger years.
Some of the huge expenses run up by politicians can indeed be dated back to the Tiger excesses but even those Bacchanalian times cannot be used as an excuse for the type of bills that were run up and continued to be accrued as the economic situation deteriorated.
Mind you, the current controversy does remind me of a story (perhaps apocryphal) of the journalist who in recent years went to a media Christmas party thrown by a Health Minister, enjoyed themselves thoroughly and then sent in a Freedom of Information request demanding to know the cost of the revelries.
Joking apart, as they say, the current expenses scandal, piled on top of other evidence of how appalling badly our health and other public services are often run, is enough to force any mild-mannered observer to run to the window, make like Peter Finch in Network, and shout “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”.
And who would blame them?
The current expenses controversy, which has made John O’Donoghue an ex-Ceann Comhairle, has now shown that Health Minister Mary Harney ran up the highest departmental bill in terms of Ministerial costs and expenses.
The stench of “do as I say, don’t don’t do as I do”, is overwhelming as the drip, drip of news of political expenses over-indulgence has increased in recent weeks.
To put it mildly, trips to race meetings, liberal limo hire, the Superbowl and on Government jets are sending out the wrong message in what politicians are frequently reminding us are difficult economic times (which of course we are all very sorry about and promise to pay through the nose for).
The official reponse to expenses revelations that have emerged to date has been that they were accrued as part of official business and were in line with guidelines.
The guidelines, of course, are effectively set by the very people who were running up the big bills.
Certainly, one would hope that the trips were on official business, otherwise an “appalling vista" would rear its head.
For example: "the Minister decided he/she'd had a busy week cuting back anything with a readable pulse, decided she/he needed a break and headed at taxpayer's expense off with 10 spin-doctors and the hall porter on a club med trip which included a bullfight, a burlesque show, a nature safari, a tour of three vineyards and a fishing trip in a glass-bottomed boat."
Come to think of it...that's not too far removed from...ok, I won't go there.
Obviously, politicians have to make business trips from time to time, have to travel by plane, must eat the odd meal and cannot be expected to stay in B&Bs (although maybe they should be in future just to teach them a lesson).
However, the obvious questions that will be asked in terms of Mary Harney’s spending is why it was necessary to go on the (€7,000-an-hour) Government jet on this business, however vital it might have been, and why it was necessary to take a sizeable retinue of civil servants and advisers on these trips.
Is there any formal advance vetting process when such trips are proposed? You can probably guess the answer to that one.
Shouldn’t a Minister have to justify in advance a) having to make the trip in the first place and b) the number of people (including family members) they have to take with them, in addition to an estimate of the cost and a justification for this cost?
These rules would apply in any half-decently run private company.
We do know that one particular trip by the Minister was related to looking at how cancer services had been reorganised in Canada.
The rationale for this trip was eminently sensible, and the fact-finding mission (haven’t these people ever heard of Google?) may have eventually benefited cancer services in Ireland.
However, the prodigal rate of expenditure on the excursion must be open to question.
The reasons behind other expensive foreign trips made by Minister Harney have not yet been made in any great detail.
Mary Harney has said that all the trips were on necessary and legitimate departmental business, sometimes related to the planning of, for example cancer or children's services, or else she was representing the Government on some trips when she served as Tanaiste.
It has not yet known whether the Minister will maker a fuller statement on the expenses issue. In the meantime, more details of her expenses are expected to be released to the media shortly under FOI.
What has perhaps astounded the public and the media moreso even that the rate of expenses and costs run up by politicians has been their attitude to the revelations.
The subtext to this attitude, underneath some perfunctory assurances that the expenses system will be reformed, to date has been that the public does not really have a right to know.
The politicians’ attitude is that they work hard (which undoubtedly is true) but that any questioning of the bills they run up in the process is regarded as at best an intrusion and at worst a threat.
This can be seen from the length of time it took the newspaper concerned to prise the details of the Health Minister’s trips from the vaults, and from the fact that some details were “redacted” (a fancy word for censored?).
The same newspaper also received legal threats as a result of the accounts it published of the former Ceann Comhairle’s expenses.
Official Ireland, the Government, the health service or any other part of the public service, will pay lip service to being transparent and accountable,
It will even hire spin doctors and advisers on chunky salaries to show how accountable they are. But Official Ireland’s accountability is only ever on its own terms.
Anyone who has tried extract information from the health services or other services through FOI or formal communications channels will testify to how difficult this process can sometimes be.
The only way we usually find out that is really going on in the health service is through media “leaks” or (eventually and often in a limited and edited form) through FOI.
Even under FOI, information appears often to be withheld by the relevant sections of the public service under a rather liberal interpretation of FOI rules on denial of access.
In a properly-run democracy, a lot of the data currently sought under FOI and often guarded jealously by officialdom would automatically be there for all to see at the click of a mouse on an official website.
That might put some manners on Official Ireland and might, as an unexpected by-product, lead to politicians and leading public servants being “hounded” much less by the media.
Telling everyone pretty much everything about everything that doesn't have obvious national security implications would possibly put the media out of business, but this is happening anyway in the current recession. (Only joking, I think.)
In any properly transparent and accountable political and public service system, details of Ministerial visits overseas, the precise purpose of them, what was gained from them, the reason for the number of people who were sent on them and justification for what was spent during the trips should be published as soon as possible after the event on official websites.
The politicians’ expenses scandal, depressing though it undoubtedly is, will hopefully be a turning point in Irish politics and public services.
Basically, people would like to know as a matter of courtesy and if it’s not too much trouble, how their money is being spent.
And when they are caught out, politicians might do us the courtesy of being a tad more graceful in their contrition. Or even show some contrition.
But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
|brandy Posted: 13/10/2009 18:33|
We are learning from the expenses scandal...what many have been saying for years; that the political system in Ireland is corrupt from the top to the bottom!
We have all, by now, witnessed the furore that this 'gravy-train' ticket system is producing in Britain. The difference there is that, almost immediately, we see politicians from the highest (Brown) being 'forced' into repaying expenses !!
What chance of the 'cute hoor' Irish equivalents admitting their greed and doing the same.....DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH INDEED!
|anony Posted: 14/10/2009 09:05|
Good article Niall. Unfortunately just prior to reading it I heard that Drumm has been voted a €70,000 bonus. Now I see red. Now I feel like going over to Dublin and doing something stupid. However there is still more to come out but the question is - how can we get at the truth?I would also question the value of her trip to Canada re. cancer services. They do there what is done here and everywhere - put on a show of greatness, push the sore points into a cupboard until the guest leaves, hide the bad bits under a piece of carpet, get the spin doctors to produce the text of speeches, hide the public service, and she would come home with a totally distorted view of what is actually happening. However Google would have a better chance of having the opposing views as well.Yes - there are many more bonuses being paid out and there are still lavish bashes and expensive promotions taking place but we will be denied access in FOI.
|jazzman Posted: 14/10/2009 09:30|
Some things never change and the lame excuses given for spending taxpayers money is an insult to the Irish people.Thank God for an active intelligent electorate who are no longer content to say ah shure that's alright there is no point in complaining anyway. But there is a point and at last politicians are waking up to the voices of the Irish people in that regard. If all this happened anywhere else,the jails would be full. My thanks to the media and to RTE, for weeding out this disgraceful carry on.
|Peter 47 Posted: 16/10/2009 22:18|
Verrrry well written, Mr Hunter.
We have successfully gifted the country to the European Partners, who are acting as any money lender would do in the circumstance, and waiting the time to come and seize a return for their patience...
We have sucked the EU dry, and have sold out our birthright, and the people who will profit are those who borrowed the millions just before the crash ( or behind doors before the dust settled),,, and have it hidden in some foreign bank, under another name !
Every day that passes, another disgraceful waste of tax payers money is revealed,,, latest info from John Gormley is the "voting machines " situation is being sorted !
They were ordered "not to spec", and could not be returned as "Not fit for purpose" A group of secondary school kids in Holland found a way to hack them in less than two hours... Design was probabbly from some of our retained IT specialist advisors ( trained no doubt by FAS)
So,,, it took Ms Hearney and family and friends, three years to spend €80,000. she must be loosing her touch,,, letting the team down like that, she could learn from John O'D, and others who have yet to get their comupance !
I notice there was no comment about the H1N1 flue injection, to be available for Asthmatics, and those with serious infirmaties, and the Pensioners who built the country all their working lives,,, I would bet the first batch of vaccine will go for distrobution (trial) in the Dail Bar.... and washed down with a few free Gins...
"I'm a pensioner,,, get me out of here"
|Chrissie Posted: 17/10/2009 01:59|
This is a good article presented by our Editor Niall Hunter - For this I thank you for your excellent work put into this.
We cannot accommodate Mary Hearney's spending on her beliefs that she travels and flies to different parts of the World only to bring back nought on her learning of up to date techniques for health when she cannot deliver the services already here, yet alone the ones she learned from her medical advisers. Indeed why? Because somehow she sees that the decisions Brendan Drumm makes in downgrading the HSE throughout our land is justifiable. She says she cannot intervene the €70,000 bonus he is getting. Yet other different graded HSE workers did not get their pay rises as promised in increments over agreed period of time scale, so why should Drumm get his bonus? Also since when does any Minister in Ireland have rights to bring their Wife, husband on our Government Jet around the World at the expense of money from our Exchequer? I thought that this only applied to our President or our Taoiseach. If I be wrong please let me know. But when we look at circumstances here and other medias, it seems they can do what they like with others money, including our so called circle of bank friends.
I believe especially with our Now Recession known to be worse than the last recession in the eighties that Brian Cowan should order all those in our Government to put forward Tenders fully outlining their proposed expenses if they believe it would be beneficial for Ireland to go ahead with their ideas to try and get Ireland back on track. If they keep over spending our money in times of this recession how can they expect to get out of this big deep hole they have dug for us. Indeed the labour party put it to Mary Hearney that she could stop this bonus of €70,000 to Drumm. Niall put another article here "Harney must explain expenses FG" Let's all hope that she will have to explain every cent she spent on her lavish tours over coming weeks in the Dail. Our Editor says it all in paragraph I have below and thanks again for bringing it to our attention. Forgive my long post, but we are now becoming a nation oppressed and depressed with this recession with not even one person accountable for what they do when it comes to light - they can resign with a full government pension!!
"Health Minister Mary Hearney and her husband Brian Geoghegan ran up a bill of nearly €65,000 on hotels, limousine hire and accommodation in the space of just three years. That figure does not include the massive bill for the Government jet, which Harney used on almost every occasion she travelled abroad and which cost the taxpayer more than €735,000." - Sunday Tribune, October 2009.***********************************
|DJ. Posted: 17/10/2009 11:29|
THE TAXPAYERS CAN DEMAND MINISTER HARNEY SHOULD GO NOW , BRING NO MORE MISERY ON THE SICK AND VONURABLE, ITS UP TO EVERY TAX PAYER TO TRY TO SUPPORT THE WEAKEST IN SOCIETY," OUR SICK AND DEFENCLESS" IT COULD BE ANY ONE OF US TODAY, TOMORROW, NEXT WEEK, HASENT SHE ALLOWED ENOUGH MISERY ,SHE CHANGES NOTHING IN THE HEALTH SYSTEM, WE ALL OF IRELAND DESERVE A HEALTH SYSTEM IT IS OUR BASIC ENTITLEMENT AND NOT AS IT SEEMS A FAVOUR GIVEN TO THE ODD CHOSEN NEXT ON LIST ,NEXT HOPLESS CASE THAT FOR THE SAKE OF SAVING FACE SHOULD BE ALLOWED THE USE OF A BED TO DIE IN, ALL THE TALK OF WHAT THEY ARE ALLOWED TO SQUANDER BY THE TAX PAYER WONT CHANGE ANYTHING, AS WE HAVE SEEN IT JUSTS GETS WORSE AND CONTINUES, THE ONLY HOPE FOR THE SAKE OF OUR LOVED ONES,CHILDREN, PARENTS, SPOUSES, IS TO DEMAND A HEALTH MINISTER THAT CARES AND WANTS TO DELIVER THE HEALTH SERVICE WE DESERVE AND ARE INTITLED TO, PERHAPS THAT WHAT MINISTER HARNEY IS GIVING US , AS WE ARE PUTTING UP WITH WHAT SHE FEELS WE DESERVE ARE WE NOT?
|mdeda Posted: 17/10/2009 14:52|
Are we wasting everyone's time on these topics or is there is there a point.
It seems we are still going over the same old, same old. Can we actually make
a difference?. It seems the government covers every angle and if it can't, then
it just won't!!. Maddening, Fraustrating, are a few choice feelings. I'm sure we
will catch up in the very near future, then they will listen and do as the
people ask. unless they sort it out and properly regulate with a system, other
than themselve's, Amen.
|big jim Posted: 18/10/2009 00:17|
Mary Harney has lost her way,first FF,then for the sake of the wee people with the assistance of other so good moralists' founded the Democrats to do what go into Government to continue as FF. What is HIGH GROUND anymore? Then we go it alone still supporting wrong doings without due care and responsibility as to how much was I costing to get this job done.
Judging from results I believe the whole cartel carpetbaggers could have done better in to days use of communications by e-mail and conference communications on line.
But NO no money in that, who calls the shots on these JUNTAS, the size & numbers that must travel. would it be the case we have so much money placed aside that it must be spent,while the sick just suffer on at their expense.
What charity, love, caring attitude have we expressed while in office?
Mary Harney TD you have lost your way, just go without any more delay and take a few with you and let the public know what it was really like on the HIGH MORAL GROUND?
|Anonymous Posted: 19/10/2009 09:24|
Great article Niall. Your search for transparency - don't hold your breath on that. If you asphixiated as a result - I wouldn't fancy your chances in hospital!
|Counsellor Gahan Posted: 25/10/2009 22:01|
Hi mary Harney
Would you ever consider trying what it might be like for a individual pleading for psychological help and can't afford it. Often the consequences may be suicide where expert counselling may save his/her life but it is often not available among the other shortcomings for example proper hospitals which are clean and secure for our mental ill. The government interduced a multidisplinary plan to care for our mentally ill in the community but now that is scrapped in most areas because of lack of money
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