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Consultants controversy proves there’s always a bit of a bad taste in the water

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The controversy that has arisen over the €50 million spent by Irish Water on consultants in the first year of its operation follows a long – if not particularly distinguished – tradition in Irish political life.

During the long tenure of the Fianna Fáil-led Government that lasted three terms, there were a number of similar situations that arose.

Remember the Bertie Bowl? That was never a humble project to begin with – a new national stadium would be the legacy that Bertie Ahern would leave to posterity – but what modesty was attached to it at the start soon disappeared. Within months the overall costs of the project was being ratcheted up from a few hundred million and soon talked turned to the 80,000 capacity stadium costing anything up to €1 billion.

When politicians and journalists began probing the detail, it emerged that consultants to the project were being paid enormous fees. A feature of their contracts was that the more the project cost they more they would make.

Some of the people who were centrally involved with the project included people who could loosely come within the category of ‘golden circle’, a group of people favoured by Government.

Some €43 million had already been spent before the scheme was abandoned in 2002, with the Government rowing back and announcing two more modest projects – the Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road and the national sports campus in Abbotstown.

Then in Fianna Fáil’s second term we had PPARs. That experience has strong resonances now. A little like Irish Water, or Uisce Eireann, it was a case of a new body being created and amalgamating other bodies. In this case, it was the HSE which was taking over the functions of 11 regional health boards.PPARS was an attempt to take the 11 separate payrolls and human resource functions and centralise them.

Look, such an undertaking is no cakewalk. Nobody even knew at that stage how many people were employed in the health services. Was it 100,000 or 140,000 employees?  And every health board had different pay rates, different grades, different holiday arrangements, overtime arrangements and local agreements. And all of the health boards used different payroll and computer systems. So trying to amalgamate all that was never going to be easy.

But then outside companies were brought in to give advice and suddenly there was rampant spread of consultant-itis.  The job of work became ‘change management’ and the costs began to ramp up, from an initial €9 million to €140m when the scheme became the subject of public scrutiny in 2005, and hit the buffers. A few years later, and behind the scenes, the scheme was resuscitated under a new title and its costs had risen to €200m by 2011.

The one that came to be most damaging politically was e-voting. Martin Cullen, then Minister for the Environment, announced in 2004 that we were getting rid of the peann luaidhe and ballot paper, and all voting in future would be done electronically. Before you could say ‘but is this good for democracy?’ he had gone off and bought the machines and software and the devil and all.

But then a concerned group of computer experts did a forensic examination of the software and uncovered some problems – the e-voting equivalent of the hanging chads. There was no paper trail for one and therefore no completely transparent way of verifying that the computers were counting votes correctly when an audit was conducted.

To cut a long story short, the project itself was postponed pending a review and was eventually shelved. In the meantime, the computers for casting votes were stored around the country. That created its own controversy with questions being asked about how certain individuals in certain places got the contracts for storing the computers, as well as the amount that some of them charged.

The overall cost amounted to €50 million before it was all called to a halt. By that time Cullen had moved on to another ministry and eventually to early retirement.

Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Trimble leaves a legacy of peace to be proud of

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David Trimble...lasting legacy.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The death of David Trimble brought back memories of the time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize almost a quarter of a century ago, along with John Hume, for their efforts in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

It could be argued that others should have been also on the plane to Oslo that winter, namely Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness also played an important role by steering the hard men of the IRA on a path that saw them end their campaign of violence and accept a political solution achieved by solely democratic means.

Of course, it would have been a blatant contradiction to award a peace prize to Adams and McGuinness given their instrumental roles in a republican movement that prosecuted a ruthless armed strategy for almost 30 years right up to that time. The Damascene conversion in 1998 did not erase what had gone before.

Certainly, Hume and those around him from the SDLP – particularly Séamus Mallon – deserved all the praise they got for their selfless pursuit of a political pathway and their brave eschewal of all forms of violence as they grappled with the unique set of circumstances of Northern Ireland.

That said, Trimble showed a huge degree of personal courage and resilience in facing down his critics and enemies – and there were many loud and bitter voices condemning him on the unionist side – and persevering with the talks that culminated with the historic agreement in Hillsborough Castle on that Good Friday in early April in 1998.

But it would have been unimaginable for him to be in that position three years before hand or even three years afterwards when the UUP began imploding around him. The important thing was that he stayed the course during that crucial period.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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