00:00 Saturday 18 June 2011  Written by Archon

Keeping it in the family

'NEPOTISM? What's dat, boy?' was the politicos' reaction as they struggled last week to rebut allegations that favouritism was shown in giving publicly-funded jobs to sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandnephews, grandnieces, great uncles, great aunts, cousins, husbands, wives and those connected by marriage.

Cork Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy told the local press there was nothing wrong in employing his wife, Tanya, as a personal assistant. It was simply down to choosing the best person for the job.

'She knows more about my work and the constituency than anybody else. The public know and trust her and she is best able to assist constituents,' he said.

East Cork's Sean Sherlock (Labour) had a similar argument. His sister was the best person available, and his first choice, because she had also worked for his father, Joe.

Minister Kathleen Lynch defended the employment of her husband, the redoubtable Bernard (a former Workers Party activist) as a ministerial assistant. The job required 'a huge amount of knowledge and not everybody could do it. Anyone who rings the office knows who he is', she explained.

Kerry North's new boy, Arthur Spring, who once worked as a parliamentary assistant for his Uncle Dick, now employs brother Graham in the same position.

Minister Willie Penrose is giving an auld start to brother Johnny. Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett's daughter works as his assistant, Bernard Durkan's son Tim is likewise favoured. Waterford TD Paudie Coffey (FG) employs his lovely wife Suzanne, and Louth FG deputy and county football manager, Peter Fitzpatrick, has found a nice little number for daughter Grace.

Kerry South TD Brendan Griffin (FG) has hired wife Roisin as his secretarial assistant, made cousin Tommy his parliamentary assistant and helped Mattie, another cousin, get his old council seat.

Employment agency

The list goes on and on. In fact, 25 of the 166 TDs have employed relatives to carry out administrative and other duties, about 15% of the Dail. (A FG spokesperson declared that these people were better employed working for their kith and kin than being on the dole - an argument that brought tears of joy to the eye!).

What's more, the Coalition's exercise in creating jobs for the family is a delightful twist to the Kenny and Gilmore pledge to cut unemployment figures, particularly since junior ministers are allowed to hire five people in their private offices and another three in their constituency offices.

Indeed, Fine Gael and Labour have become the most successful Employment Agency in the land; and they're providing jolly good jobs.

Minister for Skills Ciarán Cannon, for instance, slotted the missus into a secretarial job (€47,00) while making his brother-in-law a chauffeur (€35,000). Interestingly, Cannon had earlier promised that once in government Fine Gael would 'sweep away the culture of cronyism.' Of course, that was before he realised charity began at home.

Needless to say, Enda's grossly overpaid stable of spin doctors didn't take long to tutor the Taoiseach in how to justify the complete opposite of what he promised.

'It was not good practice for TDs or Minister to hire family members in their staff,' declared a frowning Dame Enda before adding that that Fine Gael pledges to abolish cronyism related only to state board appointments and not the hiring of family members by TDs.

Big Brother

The jobs were 'personal rather than party appointments' and thus, while he disapproved, he could not stop them. His comments were a classic manipulation of the truth - a 'doublespeak' of the kind George Orwell's Big Brother would have been proud.

Supporting him was his very best Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, who trotted up to give his 'spake': 'Such appointments were a breach of a direct instruction from Labour headquarters,' Gilmore announced, his trademark scowl sending shivers down the backs of erring TDs

'Oh dear, we're in for it now' groaned The Cloth Cap Brigade until some of them began laughing up their sleeve, mindful of recent revelations concerning Gilmore's 'principled' opposition to Lisbon II and his secret confession to the American Embassy that his principles were only a 'posture'. As a result, none of the guffawing TDs took him seriously (and never will).

So is cronyism such a part of Irish political life that nothing can be done? Certainly not! Any eejit could tell Dame Enda and The Secret Yank that an open competition in which members of the public were permitted to compete for the lucrative jobs would help establish some kind of fairness. At least it would be a first step.

And, let's not forget the Oireachtas Committees. Dame Enda's persistence in keeping things in the family with his appointment of 13 Fine Gael chairmen to his 16 Oireachtas committees had a whiff of Don Berto about it, although in the Don's case committee positions were handed out to almost everyone in the FF audience.

But, while Kenny attempted a kind of restraint by cutting the number of committees, he still rewarded the lads (no ladies) with chairman jobs that individually amounted to nearly €10,000 a year on top of regular TD wages and other concessions.

With Fine Gael and Labour TDs and Senators hoovering up 70% of the chairmanships, a miffed Fianna Fail complained that 'most people would be happy to fill the role without any extra pay.'

We all sniggered because in Don Berto's time not only committee chairpersons were handsomely rewarded but also vice-chairpersons and convenors. Yet no Fianna Failer ever squeaked in protest.

Tilting at windmills

Éire, of course, is not alone in constructing a sham. Our European masters do the same, a fact made clear by the European Parliament's fierce resistance to make public an auditor's report into its financial affairs. That was until the General Court of the EU ruled that Irish barrister Ciarán Toland, the Defender of Transparency, was entitled to see its contents.

The existence of the report was first leaked in 2008. It detailed the scandal of MEPs using the allowance system to rip off millions of euro by claiming cash for fictitious staff, family members, non-accredited staff, and for spurious attendances. It also focussed on a number of Irish MEPs who employed non-qualified family members as assistants.

The European Parliament refused Mr Toland access to the report on the grounds that disclosure would seriously undermine the Parliament's decision-making, an argument rejected by the court.

Mr Toland declared that when the European Parliament pulled down the shutters, it effectively said that the people of Europe, who fund the parliament, couldn't be trusted to know how their money was being spent by that parliament.

Hopefully, in the interests of Irish parliamentary transparency, perhaps the barrister will turn his attention to the Oireachtas when he's finished sorting out the European Parliament? We'd be most grateful.

Or, is it that as far as the Dail is concerned, there's no point. He'd simply be tilting at windmills? Probably.

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