Sunday, February 10, 2008

Irish Politicians and Fact-Finding Junkets

Mary Harney, T.D, then Tánaiste, Leader of the Progressive Democrats and Minister for Health and Children addressing the 2nd Annual Conference of the Rehabilitation and Therapy Research Society at UCD on Friday, May 26th 2006

I had a boss once who liked to send floral bouquets to business contacts' wives but when he was signing off on a petty cash list with a £5 contribution that was made to two nuns who had called at the office, it was as if someone had given away the company cheque book.

It struck me that it's always easy to be generous with other people's money and "fact-finding" trips by Irish politicians are obvious examples.

Eleven years as a minister with all and sundry tugging the forelock, it's not surprising that the sense of entitlement grows bigger the longer the tenure lasts.

Health Minister Mary Harney presumably had her staff pulling the levers with the US embassy for Super Bowl tickets prior to last week's junket trip to the United States. It's hard enough for the average punter to get tickets for an All-Ireland at home but Harney and her entourage that was ferried from places like Washington DC to Arizona on the Government jet, managed to get tickets for herself, her husband, press secretary and special adviser.

The rest of the trip to cancer and dentistry facilities by the former school teacher and the rest of the non-medical professionals, was simply a freebie week away from grim Dublin in cold February.

Irish-born Tom Keane has been recruited from Canada to establish Irish "centres of excellence" for cancer treatment. So what benefit could Harney garner from visiting American centres for the well-off?

Wouldn't it have been a surprise if a medical centre in some place like East LA, was on the schedule of the junket?

As for Harney's husband who retired in 2006 from the business lobby group IBEC, being on the junket, a spokeman was quoted as saying that when a minister is on a long overseas trip i.e a week, it's normal for the spouse to tag along.

Harney who was awarded a 12% special salary increase last October, should bother to check out how life in the private sector is sometime, for both most SME owners and employees. Up to 900,000 workers don't even have a basic occupational pension.

We have 35 ministers and four in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Most of them have non-jobs and while the great unwashed can worry about greenhouse gases, the big ministerial getaway for St. Patrick's Day is already being planned.

Besides the overworked politicians dividing up the destinations across the globe, it's a handy number for all the hanger-ons that they will have in tow.

Where is the Outrage? Gombeenism thrives at home while in Paris, OECD staff work on proposals for Irish public service reform