Cost of lavish excursions should be put into the public domain
INEVITABLE howls of indignation from concerned citizens greeted the revelation that our treasured President, Michael D Higgins, is thought to have spent €6,000 on a hotel room in ‘one of the most expensive hotels’ in Geneva (the Beau-Rivage).
Particularly from one chap, the independent Senator Gerard Craughwell who had some Fine Gael associations and who, for a short spell, was himself a candidate for the presidency.
In another life, Craughwell had been a proud member of the Royal Irish Rangers, which amalgamated with the detested Ulster Defence Regiment. The outfit’s weird marching song goes like this:
‘We’re the Irish Rangers,
The boys who fear no danger,
We’re the boys from Paddy’s Land,
Shut up you buggers and fight.’
And, although the ex-British squaddie from Paddy’s Land wisely issued no invitation to the office of the President to ‘shut up and fight,’ he expressed mental unease about a visit to Geneva made by An t-Uachtarán during which he took temporary lodgings (allegedly) in a ‘luxurious’ hotel.
Craughwell argued that although it was extremely important for the President to travel to different countries, especially when promoting trade, the financial details of his excursions should be put into the public domain. He had a point.
But then, suddenly, Craughwell withdrew from the presidential election contest, explaining that he could not afford to campaign. In the meantime, President Mick refused to say yea or nay as to whether he used our hard-earned spondoolicks (€6,000) on extravagant luxury.
Of course, there’s nothing new in the fact that the plain people of Ireland love reading about the spending habits of our politicos.
For instance, way back in 2004, a certain Mr Michael Martin (the name on the invoice), who was representing the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations, stayed at the Hotel des Bergues, in Geneva.
He had a suite of rooms similar to those enjoyed by President Higgins, which were described by fashion writers as having ‘styling’ suitable for rock stars and African dictators!
The bill for Mr Martin’s two nights’ B&B was a trifling €4,100.69 but sure, nobody cared. After all, in those halcyon, FF-dominated days, public money flowed like water, as writer Ken Foxe revealed in his book, ‘Snouts in the Trough.’ Nor did anyone ask if the Mr Martin mentioned in the bill was Our Mickey from Cork, the then FF Minister for Health.
And, whereas a sumptuous B&B may well be socially-obligatory for very important politicos, the ‘good life’ also extends to our soldier-boys. A recent Department of Defence audit showed that high ranking members of the Defence Forces spent in excess of €310,000 hiring a super luxurious taxi in Brussels. The €35-an-hour car was needed in order to facilitate Irish military attendance at meetings held by the controversial European Union Military Committee.
The auditors advised scrutiny of the car hire service, particularly with respect to the renting of opulent and sybaritic-style automobiles. Interestingly, the Department killjoys said nothing about delusions of grandeur.
Which is not to say that the Department of Defence, or our politicos, do not suffer from shameless obsessions involving wealth, power, gluey self-importance or cravings to rule the world. Ten minutes attendance at a Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle convinces the observer that indeed they do!
Problem is that as far as Óglaigh na hÉireann (the Irish Government version) is concerned, our fighting force is dying on the vine thanks to the grandiose, NATO-style military ambitions of the Colonel Blimps and a cheapskate government that refuses to pay a decent wage to Our Boys.
For instance, although the Defence Forces need 750 recruits to bring numbers up to what Europe wants it to be, young people (according to a recent University of Limerick report) prefer to work in hamburger joints, such as McDonalds, where the pay is better.
The Fisheries Protection Service (the Navy) on occasions doesn’t have an adequate number of crew members to carry out routine fishery patrols and has to call up naval service reserves. Even more embarrassing is this: after a recent recruitment drive for the Navy, of 65 people called for a medical test just six turned up. Lamentable too is that many recruits for the Defence Forces have severe learning difficulties, are chronically unhealthy, or have been in trouble with the law.
Perhaps, as a way to boost recruitment, Taoiseach and Minister for Defence, Vlad the Impaler, should return to the old days when dealing with young villains. Back then, a thug hauled before the beak was offered a simple choice: ‘will you join the army, or do you want to go to jail?’
Such an option offers alternative actions and possibilities that might do wonders in undermining the influence Dublin crime families exert on their communities. However, it’s debateable if a judge nowadays would or could recommend someone to join the Defence Forces as an alternative to criminal prosecution; or if the Defence Forces could ever be required to accept such people.
Yet, the idea that ‘gutty-boys’ (as Seán Beecher in his excellent ‘Dictionary of Cork Slang’ described young offenders) could repay their debt to society by serving in the Defence Forces has its supporters, particularly if an informal use of the judge’s discretion prevailed.
After all, the courts occasionally listen to a legal plea that advocates a stint in Alcoholics Anonymous in return for a lighter penalty.
So why not offer the choice of joining the Defence Forces, which might produce a productive outlet for both the offender and society?
Because, as matters stand, the Defence Forces are drifting from their traditional roles.
PDFORRA complains that soldiers are obliged to accompany commercial vans that transport cash to post offices and banks, act as screws (jailers) in Portlaoise prison, extinguish gorse fires started by lunatic farmers, deploy sandbags to limit flood damage and, after storms, cut back fallen trees that impede traffic – activities that properly fall within the remit of the civilian authorities, not the modern version of what used to be called the Free State Army.
All of which reminds us (we don’t know why!) of the old chestnut about the scoundrel who, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, saw the light, was converted and hurried to the nearest church to seek absolution for his many sins.
In the darkness of the confessional box, he uttered a piteous groan and muttered: ‘I’m desperate, Father.’
The priest, anxious to help him and to put him at ease, quietly said: ‘Call me Dan.’
‘I’m desperate Dan,’ said the penitent.
The priest fell out of his confessional, totally unable to control his laughter. A true story.