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Nolan stokes up the fire to keep John McGuinness controversy rumbling on

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Political World with Harry McGee

Just when we thought the John McGuinness story had finally run out of fuel Derek Nolan threw another tenner’s worth of petrol into the tank to give it a bit more mileage.

McGuinness is the chairman of the all-party Public Accounts Committee, otherwise known as the public spending watchdog.

It’s an unusual committee in a number of respects. It’s the only public committee where membership is confined to TDs – no Senators need apply.

Its main task is to ensure the taxpayer is getting value for money from State departments and institutions. Its hearing are based on annual (and other reports) prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy. He is an independent State officer whose office conducts audits of all Government departments as well as other central government bodies and agencies (local authorities don’t come under the C&AG’s remit just yet). Most PAC hearings are based on a C&AG report, although the committee itself can also request that an investigation be carried out.

And there are many State institutions that have been spendthrift with other people’s (ie the taxpayers’) money. And many government policies that seemed a good idea at the time but  ended up costing the taxpayer millions. Examples? The wanton waste of public monies by FAS executive who jetted all over the world on expensive trips that had no obvious benefit to the State. And then there was one of those wink-and-nod side-deals during the benchmarking process (and it shows how deeply flawed that whole exercise was). The SIPTU skills fund had a waffly function, upskilling of some kind. But what it seemed to be was a slush fund – operated by a single SIPTU officer apparently without the knowledge of anybody else – which funded pointless junkets and jollies all over the world.

That’s what the PAC does well. It takes the accounting officer of whatever Government Department or State agency is involved and gets them to account for – and justify – overspending or a budget that spiralled out of control or inadequate checks on costs. Often that involves a grilling and a public dressing down.

The PAC has build up a big reputation over the years as the stand-out committee in Leinster House. For a backbench TD, to be chosen as a member means you have got the imprimatur of the leader. It has also built up a reputation (but there’s a bit of myth-making there) for its independence and robustness. The idea is that because it’s public money and because none of them want to see it being wasted unnecessarily and because it’s civil servants rather than politicians, sure don’t we all row in together.

Not partisan nor political? You must be joking. It is both but with maybe a small p. Sure, you do get the unusual phenomenon of government TDs criticising their own administration in reports, but not to the extent that you are saying: that guy is a rebel. It’s always been political.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

O’Malley left a lasting mark on Ireland’s political stage

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Bridie O’Flaherty with Des O'Malley and Bobby Molloy at the Progressive Democrats launch in Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Desmond O’Malley was not a typical politician. He was never a glad-handler; not a fan of canvassing or indulging in small talk or being all things to all people.

He smoked like a trooper until he had to give up. He could be abrupt with people, to the point of rudeness.

When his successor Mary Harney was a Minister in the Coalition that banned smoking in pubs and other indoor areas, he told her straight out: “I never thought you would become a member of a Taliban government.”

But he was a remarkable politician. They talk of the best hurlers and footballers who never won All Irelands; O’Malley was certainly among those select few politicians who could have been – and perhaps should have been – Taoiseach.

He entered politics as a young man, succeeding his enigmatic uncle, Donagh O’Malley as a TD for Limerick East at the age of 29. And from the outset, he was a favourite of Taoiseach Jack Lynch and was made government chief whip in 1969.

Inevitably, when the arms trial erupted, he sided with Lynch and against Charles Haughey and Niall Blaney. Even in the weeks before his death, he vehemently contested claims that Lynch must have known of the arms plot long before the date set out by him in his public statements.

As Minister for Justice from 1970 to 1973, he established the Special Criminal Court, giving him a strong reputation as a politician who was adamantly opposed to the Provisional IRA and all it stood for.

Within Fianna Fáil, O’Malley was intimately associated with the Lynch and George Colley wing of the party. He himself was deeply involved in the three unsuccessful heaves and campaigns against Haughey that took place during the tumultuous years between 1979 and 1985.

But Haughey had the whip hand in the party in those days, no matter how flagrant the abuse or how big the scandal.

Read Harry’s full column in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Housing policy can make or break Fianna Fáil’s future

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Faded glory...the Corrib Great Southern Hotel.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When you approach Galway City from the east, you come across it as soon as you clear Merlin Park – standing out like a sore thumb; a sentinel warning us that buildings like humans fall victim to the ravages of time and to fortune.

The Corrib Great Southern Hotel is the city’s biggest eyesore and has been for many years. It’s a huge hulk of a building; vacant for many years, heavily vandalised, its windows smashed or boarded-up, its once-pristine grounds now overgrown.

Built in 1970, it’s long way away from its heyday when, in an era of optimism, it became the CIE-owned Great Southern Hotel Group’s most modern hotel.

We were kids when it was operating fully and it seemed to be thriving, as a hotel, wedding venue and for dinner dances.

All of that seems a long time ago now. The hotel has been vacant for a hell of a long time (since 2007) and in a way has become a symbol of Galway’s housing crisis.

All the more so because it stands across a roundabout from the gleaming new Garda headquarters and also the wonderfully revamped GMIT.

It’s been due for demolition for a long time and has been on the derelict site register since 2015 – but no action has been taken despite statutory orders on the registered owners.

In one way, the hotel is a symbol of the inertia of successive governments in tackling the housing crisis in Ireland. The inaction in relation to it is replicated across the board in Galway and in all other Irish counties.

The roots of the current housing crisis have its beginnings in the Celtic Tiger years when local authorities stopped developing their own housing and left it to the private market.

A big part of the strategy was Part V housing, where developers had to earmark ten per cent of all new developments for social housing.

The second hammer blow was the recession. When the money ran out after 2009, one of the first casualties was capital funding for housing.

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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Connacht Tribune

Labour’s awakenings will take time to reap any real reward

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Passing of the baton...Michael D Higgins with his successor Derek Nolan at the Galway West count at Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The film Awakenings was based on the experience of the psychiatrist Oliver Sacks with patients who had contracted a disease called encephalitis lethargica during and shortly after World War I.

Thousands contracted it around the world. How they got it has remained a mystery but it could have been connected to the Spanish Flu outbreak at the time.

It essentially left them in a catatonic state, sleeping, unmoving, like zombies for decades. By the time Sacks came across a group of them in New York, they were all residents of an institution called the Beth Abrams Home for the Incurable.

That did not leave much to the imagination. Some of these people had been essentially sleeping for over 40 years.

He experimented with a drug called L-dopa, which had been used successfully for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

The effect was extraordinary; the drug was like an electric shock that jolted the patients back to life and to sentient existence.

The ‘miracle’ had its drawbacks, however. After a while, it became difficult to control the patients as they became increasingly manic. Ultimately a tough decision was taken to withdraw the drug and the patients relapsed into their catatonic states.

All of that is a bit of a stretched way of saying ‘flash in the pan’, but life sometimes teaches us that success can be very temporary indeed.

There is a long pattern in Irish politics, for example, of a winner in a by-election going on to win a seat in the subsequent general election. However, less than six months after winning a by-election in Wexford, Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil got turfed out in the general election.

Look at it the other way. Sinn Féin were the big losers of the 2019 local elections but turned the ship around completely less than nine months later. The lesson to be learned is success or failure is never a permanent phenomenon in politics.

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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