Friday, June 29, 2012

Irish politicians’ gravy train intact despite escalating debt burden

The proposed €120 billion plan proposed at the two-day summit in Brussels last night is relatively modest when compared to the National Debt of Ireland, which nos stands at  €129 billion

While the Government wrestles with its conscience about the phenomenal debt burden on Irish taxpayers’ and the implications of the personal insolvency of many of them, one facet of that burden which seems utterly immune from the conscientious distress of the Government is the quantum of taxpayers’ money paid to political parties and Independent members of the Oireachtas under the Electoral Acts.

The sums involved are additional to the very substantial tax-free payments in respect of the Parliamentary Standard Allowance, the Travel and Accommodation Allowance and the other direct supports provided through the Oireachtas Commission at a cost of €130 million in 2011. They are simply outrageous, unconscionable and, in a society bearing a cumulative exchequer deficit well over €82 billion and a titanic National Debt, unaffordable.

The standard of accounting is risible in the case of political parties and non-existent in the case of Independent politicians. The quality of oversight reporting by the politically-compromised Standards in Public Office Commission is opaque, shoddy, wretched, inconsistent and disregarding of basic accounting conventions.

Thanks to the bountiful munificence of Charlie McCreevy in 2001 political parties have been granted over €78 million of taxpayers’ money since 1 January 2007 under the authority of the Electoral Acts to meet reported expenditure of under €64 million with €14 million left in their balance sheets. Last year 29% of the €13.3 million paid to political parties was carried over to 2012, probably as a consequence of the vast sums spent paying a myriad of ministerial political advisers.

The scale of these payments escalated since 2002 by 47% in line with increases in public sector pay but it is most noteworthy that payments to political parties did not reduce when public sector pay reduced from 2009 onwards.

Do taxpayers really need to: pay Fianna Fáil €28,542 in respect of depreciation, (a non-cash charge); pay Fine Gael €18,657 to spend on ‘donations’; pay the Labour Party €44,000 to spend on ‘international affairs’; provide €28,700 to the Sinn Féin ‘national finance department’ and leave €90,000 in the balance sheet of The Green Party, which has no Oireachtas membership? [/over]

Fine Gael and Labour voted against the appointment of a politician (former Fianna Fáil minister, Michael Smith) in a Dáil vote on 19 December 2007 to membership of the Standards Commission, a curtain-raiser initiative of the Ahern Government that preceded the publication of tribunal reports. It is interesting that only 15 of the 73 TDs who supported that motion are in the current Dáil and they include the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness, Independent Deputies Noel Grealish, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath and Michael Lowry.

Both the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and the Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore,  participated in the Níl vote against that motion. If the Governing parties position in 2007 opposed the principle of a politician, or former politician, becoming a member of a commission whose mandate is to oversee the ethical standards of politicians and public officials’, why has this Government not already removed political influence from the Standards Commission, especially in the light of the tribunal reports’ findings and instructed it to improve the quality of its published reports rather than tolerating its interminable excuses for inertia and weakening moral authority?

Will the Government’s ambition to reduce the debt burden on taxpayers’ include a dramatic reduction in the amounts of State money paid to political parties to a level that is affordable and demand a more transparent and credible regime of accounting for this money, or does the Government merely intend to haunt society with threats, innuendo and rumours of more taxation, new charges and cuts in public services?

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