Friday 28 November 2008

This kleptocracy is not a true republic

This blog focuses mainly on the northern quarter of the country, but there are times when events in the southern three-quarters cannot be ignored. The current stream of revelations concerning the moral corruption at the heart of FÁS and indeed certain members of the Dublin government is one of those times.

Rory Molloy, ex-Director General of FÁS, appears to have treated that state-funded organisation as his personal principality for years, spending enormous quantities of other people's money on first-class air travel, hotel rooms, meals, and games of golf. To add insult to injury, on occasion he even brought his wife at the taxpayers' expense. When confronted with his arrogant misuse of the public purse he actually tried to argue that this was OK, because he had 'traded down his first-class ticket for two business class tickets'. Did it never occur to Mr Molloy that as his trips were funded from the taxes of ordinary people, he should never have even thought about travelling in First Class or Executive Class? The costs of his wife's holidays should have been paid through his salary, not imposed on the taxpayer.

While this was going on FÁS instructors on a course for people with disabilities were instructed by a representative from the organisation that any student absent from class for a day, with or without a doctor's certificate, is to have 80 cents deducted from their €4 trainee weekly meal allowance!

At least Mr Molloy has had to resign. But the news that Mary Harney, when Táiniste, went on some of these trip again at taxpayers expense, and worse yet, insisted that the government jet be used for at least one of them, at huge additional cost, is a scandal. It seems that while on one of these trips she went to a beauty salon – and charged the $400 cost of this to the taxpayer! The sheer immorality and arrogance of this is one of the most shocking aspects of the story. If a woman is so vain that she wants to pay someone to file her nails then she should pay for this out of her own salary. If she is so stupid as to pay $400 for whatever hairstyle she got, then she is unfit to run a modern economy. If she dares to charge the costs to the taxpayer then she is immoral and should be thrown out of office. If she fails to resign she is shameless in addition.

This whole sorry episode is yet another example of why the current set-up, south as well as north, falls short of the republic that many of us are committed to creating. It is a common mistake to assume that the 32 county republic that we are trying to create will simply be an extension northwards of the existing 26 county version. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is not the place, or the time, to describe the outlines of a future republic, but one of the essential features of it must be morality in high places. Public servants must be keenly aware that they are being paid by the public to serve the public. They are not medieval princes ruling over personal fiefdoms – their contract with the people must include a reasonable salary and working condition, but these must be in line with those of the general population. A sense of morality and personal responsibility must be expected from them, and if not provided, then they must be removed. The days of abusing their positions to enrich themselves, to enjoy luxuries paid for by other people's taxes must end, and it must become an engrained and automatic reflex in the whole public service, from top to bottom, that the money they are spending is someone else's money and must be spent carefully, with full accountability.

The republic must be a true res publica, or 'public thing', not a private playground for an elite who have risen to the top and use the resources of the state, paid for by everyone, as their personal property. Such a state is not a republic, it is a kleptocracy.

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