Analysis/Comment
Where is the Outrage? Gombeenism thrives at home while in Paris, OECD staff work on proposals for Irish public service reform
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor
Oct 27, 2007 - 5:47 AM

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An image from the BBC's political comedy of the 1980's: Yes Minister

Irish Government Chief Whip Tom Kitt told the RTÉ Morning Ireland radio programme earlier this week that the expansion of the number of parliamentary committees to twenty-three was necessary to respond to the demands of the modern world. Twenty additional researchers will be employed and only a fool would expect any change in the 1920's era ramshackle system of governance with its limited accountability and responsibility. Meanwhile, in Paris, staff of the OECD, the think-tank for 30 governments of mainly industrialised countries including Ireland, are working on proposals for reform of the Irish public service.

In parallel with a modern economy that is powered by the world's top companies in their sectors - - Intel, Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Pfizer and Boston Scientific - - old-style gombeenism still thrives. Despite the unparalleled opportunity provided by the prosperity of the Celtic Tiger, there has been no reform in our system of governance or public service in recent decades. In ten years, almost 100,000 extra staff have been employed in the public sector and before the pay increases of the past week, the politicians have headed the gravy train queue.

The pay of the bog standard TD whose main function is as a citizens' bureau/messenger boy, had increased by 120% since 1997. In addition, the typical Irish private sector worker has no occupational pension while a TD can get a pension of €50,000 annually after 20 years of service. The funding cost of the equivalent of a public service pension, in the private sector, would be 28% of salary. Last year, the then Green Party leader and school teacher Trevor Sargent, was paid almost as much as the average Irish industrial wage in local travel expenses as a TD. He lives in North Dublin and apparently just used his bicycle and the train.

Following the general election last summer, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern expanded the number of ministers to thirty five in a country with 216 members of parliament (including a redundant Upper House talking shop of 60 members) compared with 121 in New Zealand, a country with a comparable population and economy. Most of the 20 junior ministers, complete with a retinue of advisers and press officers, have no real jobs. There are for example 4 ministers in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the principal role of the senior minister appears to be as Minister for Good News.

This week as cutbacks in public services loom, the public was treated to the spectacle of TDs, mainly in the governing  Fianna Fáil party jockeying for Committee chairs that are paid approximately €20,000 on top of their salaries, while vice-chairs receive about €10,000. In addition, there were 23 lollipops at €6,500 a pop for so-called Committee conveners. In The Irish Times, Mark Hennessy reported that the Taoiseach was understood to have made a promise to Frank Fahey and Noel Treacy when he told them he was not reappointing them as junior ministers that he "would look after them" when it came to sharing out the chair positions.

Does the great Irish public know or care if any of the new Committee heads have anything of substance to propose, on preparing for a time when short-term gombeenism could well turn Ireland into a smaller version of France with its protected insiders and many in the private sector struggling in temporary work?

One of the spectacular examples of gombeenism in recent times was what was ostensibly the biggest reform of the public sector in recent decades. The standard Irish approach in government to decision making is to respond only when there is a crisis ...and it generally must be a dire one. Then commission a raft of reports. This time, the decision was taken with a "plan" on the back-of-an-envelope and ministers got the pick of the prizes for their political constituencies.

In December 2003, in advance of the announcement of Budget 2004, the then Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy, produced a non-plan for the greatest reform of the Irish public service. The motivation was to deliver a political stroke in advance of  local elections in 2004. Earlier this month, McCreevy's successor Brian Cowen lauded the success of the decentralization programme. More than 2,000 jobs will have been filled by the end of the year and just half of the applications to fill the 10,600 posts to be moved out of Dublin under the plan, have come from Dublin-based civil and public servants.

Just some years, before the decentralization stroke, the sham benchmarking scheme was to usher in a reform of the public service with meaningful job targets. It ended up as one of the greatest frauds perpetrated on the State.

With decentralization, it was a case of déjá vu all over again.

This week the Taoiseach became one of the best paid leaders in the world - higher than the President of the United States, the President of China,  the Chancellor of Germany, the British Prime Minister and the President of France.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said that ministers would be entitled to a lot more if they were paid on the performance of the economy. Ireland is of course not a Soviet command economy and time will tell who will pay for gombeenism and the illusion of permanent prosperity but built on the exporting power of US companies - not by people who have nothing credible to say about the challenges in a decade ahead.

Next month (November) will mark the tenth anniversary of the establishment of a public tribunal on planning corruption and despite the army of researchers underpinning the hot air emitted by the legions of parliamentary committees, ZERO has been done to reform the corrupt land rezoning system that spawned the corruption.  A year before the birth of the corruption planning tribunal, the Constitution Review Group, which was chaired by Dr T.K. Whitaker, eminent former civil servant and architect of the modern Irish economy, proposed a departure from the bogman system of Irish local politics that has made it the preserve ofschool teachers, auctioneers and small-town solicitors. The Whitaker Group proposed an additional list system while retaining the multi-seat transferable vote system that had been supported in two referenda in 1959 and 1968. In the 1992 election, teachers who have the flexibility of a shorter workday and more holidays, headed the occupational ranks for the 27th Dáil,with 37 winning election, followed by farmers at 20 and solicitors or barristers at 10.

As with most publicly commissioned reports such as the 45 that were requested by school teacher Micheal Martin when he was Minister for Health, the Whitaker Report was also consigned to the bin.

John Drennan wrote in the Sunday Independent in respect of the pay increases of 15% accepted by the Cabinet: Of course in situations such as this our politicians love to use that well-worn phrase about paying peanuts to get monkeys. However, a look at our Cabinet suggests that even though we are paying them loads of cash, we're getting a lot of Stans and no Jacks.

If they were not ministers, Micheal Martin, Mary Hanafin and Noel Dempsey would be school teachers whilst Brian Cowen and Dermot Ahern would be nothing more than small town solicitors.

Ms Harney may very well be the great defender of the private sector but our heroic scourge of dirty nurses and greedy hospital cleaners has managed to avoid the delights of working in the private sector for her entire career.

As for Bertie, if he had not being busy saving Ireland our Taoiseach would now be a balding harried accountant in the Mater and no, the rest of the CVs aren't particularly inspiring either.

Bertie Ahern's own Government is planning to prevent bookkeepers/ unqualified accountants, like himself, from using the term "accountant."!!

There is a paralysis at the core of the Irish political system. Fianna Fáil, the largest political party, is usually in pole position by buying off single issue independent members of the  Dáil as their motivation is to avoid an early general election at all costs. The likes of Dublin TD and school teacher Finian McGrath can be Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde when it suits - - lambasting Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for begging for income to support himself  when as a minister and then after a sweetheart deal with Ahern, pleading with the Opposition not to rush to judgement for many years more. The demands of smaller parties like the Green Party and the almost defunct Progressive Democrats are more extensive but the truth is that it's hard to find an Irish politician who will not jettison almost everything they had claimed to stand for, in a bargain for patronage and power. Green Party leader John Gormley has bought into the gombeenism and it's easier for him to pretendthat he can save the polar ice-caps than pursue fundamental reform closer home. The reality is that in both areas, his long-term impact will be ZERO.

Gormley and others like him, bank on the public tolerance for corruption and the view that a bird in the hand is as good as two in the bush. Simply put, if a large section of the electorate appear not to give a damn, then the attitude is let's make hay while the sun shines. 

The Irish Times reported last May: Green Party leader Trevor Sargent described the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as a political "dead man walking" and claimed no party would be willing to serve in a coalition government led by him because of the questions about his personal finances.

He said he could not "see any party to be honest accepting the moral authority which is expected of a taoiseach with Bertie Ahern in that office".

"I feel that Bertie Ahern as a result of the Tánaiste essentially calling him a liar is politically now a dead man walking. When people vote for Fianna Fáil the question will be on their minds as to who they are voting for as leader because it's very likely it won't be Bertie Ahern."

He added: "The questions of his own personal finances and his relations with individuals which he didn't want to make public but has been made public, does, I believe, call for a new start in Irish politics where standards are set at the very highest level which take out any confusion about vested interests and who controls decision making in Government."

Trust me? And the same people bewail widespread cynicism!

Within weeks, Trevor Sargent avidly drank the soup despite the cant on moral authority and became a Minister in Ahern's Government!

On September 26th, Green Party Leader John Gormley spoke in support of Bertie Ahern in a Dáil confidence debate: When the Green Party made the decision to enter Government last June, its members knew a process was in train and that the Taoiseach was due to give evidence to the Mahon tribunal. It has been our consistent line that we will await the outcome of that tribunal. It is important that the tribunal be allowed to conduct its work unimpeded and that no attempt is made to prejudge the outcome.

Consistent? Four months is a long time to be consistent!

Change does happen eventually in Ireland but don't doubt that it's at a slower pace than the glacial speed in the Arctic and the penny may well drop at some point for the Dr Faustus of modern Irish politics.

The main Opposition party Fine Gael, like Fianna Fáil, is reluctant to tackle the privileges of the farming (huge bonanzas from rezoning for people on public welfare via the EO Common Agricultural Policy) and public sectors. Coupled with the timidity of the principal business lobby group IBEC, Fianna Fáil can operate as if it is running a one-party state. 

John Gormley's Planet Bertie Speech Feb 2007

Irish Politics and the Value of "Values" - -  Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader says in Feb 2007 that the Fianna Fail party is "without vision or values" and that Michael McDowell, then PD leader was Bertie Ahern's Tammy Wynette - Stand by your Man - a role Gormley plays months later.

Gormley may well have done more damage to the reputation of Irish politics than Bertie Ahern because of the huge gulf between his words and actions.

The Buck Stops Nowhere in the Irish governance system and the example of Minister Dempsey apparently being kept in the dark on the Aer Lingus Shannon decision, is just part of a never-ending litany. The buck of course does stop with the electorate and it's appropriate to ask: Where is the Outrage?

Pay day comparison in Sterling from the London Times:

€217,000
Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister

€195,000
George Bush, US President

€187,000
Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister

€183,000
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

€168,000
Nicolas Sarkozy, French President

Super VIP Benchmarking

Super VIP Benchmarking has provided additional benchmarking increases over the sham benchmarking that every politician, civil servant and retiree received some year ago. The additional Super VIP Benchmarking has been provided by a mechanism known as the Buckley reports. This year, the Secretary-General of the Taoiseach's Department has got one of the biggest hikes - 25% - he will no doubt be in charge of drafting the pleas for pay restraint that will inevitably emanate from his Department in the coming year. The Taoiseach's chief flunkey/political adviser Gerry Hickey gets paid 210,141- a doubling in ten years compared with a 30% rise in the Consumer Price Index.

The Dublin City Manager got a whopping 36.2% pay rise of €66,000, going up from €184,000 to €250,000 - -  there will of course be the béal bocht for the lower paid in the Corpo.

God the pressure and stress on those senior people!  - but the truth is that nobody has to take responsibility. The councils in the Dublin Region pay out more in compensation for injuries caused by cracked pavements than it does on pavement repair.

Nobody is held responsible when a dangerous hole in a footpath goes unrepaired for months or years. Pay the compo and collect the pay and bonuses! This isn't a caricature.

The Taoiseach's pay and that of ministers has almost trebled in ten years. In addition to pensions which kick in immediately on losing office, ministers get a gift of one and a half times salary. So when Bertie Ahern leaves office as Taoiseach, his gift will be worth gross more than €300,000 even while remaining as a TD and drawing a pension.

The Taoiseach - man of the people as he claims to be - racks up more than €30,000 in costs for make-up every year. 

Ahern's salary increase to €310,000 marks a 177% advance since 1997.The increase in average weekly wage in manufacturing was 109%.

There is a fund that is currently valued at €21 billion to pay Ahern and co-public sector retirees.

The majority of private sector workers have no occupational pensions while public sector staff from the Irish Pensions Board on gold-plated pensions themselves, implore those with none to start saving before it's too late.  

The following is the raft of hikes for the Insiders in Irish society - people who claim to have created the Celtic Tiger as detailed by The Sunday Business Post:

Minister Dempsey said that on performance, they should be paid more. So what should the Outsiders be paid and that's ignoring the gold-plated pensions of the Insiders?

Pay increases awarded to the Taoiseach, Tanaiste and ministers since the 1997 election under national wage agreements, the Review Body on Higher Remuneration and benchmarking:

July 1997: 2.5 per cent (subject to maximum increase of IR£5 a week), Partnership 2000

April 1998: 2.5 per cent (also removal of IR£5 per week ceiling), Partnership 2000

July 1998: 2.25 per cent, Partnership 2000

July 1999: 1.5 per cent, Partnership 2000

April 2000: 1 per cent, Partnership 2000

September 2000: 5 per cent (of ministerial salary only),Review Body

October 2000: 5.5 per cent, Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF)

March 2001: 5 per cent (of ministerial salary only), Review Body

April 2001: 2 per cent, adjustment to PPF

July 2001:5 per cent (of ministerial salary only), Review Body

October 2001: 5.5 per cent, PPF

December 2001: (backdated from 2003) 2.75 per cent (of TD's portion of salary only), benchmarking

April 2002: 1 per cent lump sum, PPF

April 2002: 5 per cent, Review Body October 2002: 4 per cent, PPF

January 2004: 5.5 per cent (of TDs' salaries only), benchmarking

January 2004: 3 per cent, Sustaining Progress

July 2004: 2 per cent, Sustaining Progress

December 2004: 2 per cent, Sustaining Progress

June 2005: 1.5 per cent, Sustaining Progress II

June 2005: 2.5 per cent (of TDs' salaries only), benchmarking

July 2005: 7.5 per cent (of ministerial salary only), Review Body

December 2005:1.5 per cent, Sustaining Progress II

June 2006: 2.5 per cent, Sustaining Progress II

December 2006: 3 per cent, Towards 2016

June 2007: 2 per cent, Towards 2016

September 2007: 5 per cent, Review Body

Source: Department of Finance


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