Sunday, March 25, 2007

on passing by- again
Isn’t Brian Cowen only brilliant. One hundred and eighty four billion euro about to be spent on us all. Novel plans to bring us screaming into the twenty first century and a shining example to all our European economic allies on how to get the job done. Well, kind of. Unfortunately some of the grandiose plans seem very familiar. The Minister tells us breathtakingly that almost twenty per cent of the money is to be spent on transport infrastructure. But sure he told us all about that back in September 2005. Then we have the 2.4 billion for hospital development, except that 500 million of that has already been announced and earmarked for the National Childrens Hospital. We are also told about funding for a National Cancer Strategy. Was that not announced last June?. Hundreds of millions announced for sport except that a large proportion of it has already been promised for Lansdowne road and Abbotstown. Yet another return to the lies, damn lies and statistics.

But even if we were to fall for this deception does the Government really expect us to believe that all of this is going to happen on time and on budget?. Much publicity has been gleaned for the likes of Martin Cullen over recent months as some road projects have come in on time and budget. Martin is less voluble about all the things in the last plan which did not meet the criteria, or for some things which are still not finished. Maybe he could tell us why the Luas budget went from 279 million to over 750 million, and even at that was four years late. Or why the Port Tunnel went from 222 million to just under 1000 million and was also late. Maybe it was because the builders wanted extra money because they struck rock. God what a novelty, drilling eighty feet under ground and hitting rock. Sure how could you foresee anything like that. The last plan told us that 5.6 billion was to be spent on developing five major inter routes. Cost now expected? 16 billion. And they are still less than half way through the work. What about the PPARS computer Martin?. Estimate: less than nine million. Cost when stopped in 2005? over 180 million. And just to add insult to injury the person who stopped it, HSE supreme Professor Brendan Drumm, has just announced that he is ordering staff to work to “realise the benefits” of the system and is considering if more money is needed to get it right. Or maybe he doesn’t want to scrap it just before an election. Clever.
One thing that I am at a loss to understand is how in a rare time of plenty we should need thirteen billion of the total to come from public/private partnerships. Surely the Minister for Finance is capable of raising the full amount from the taxes he is raking in and thus ensuring that whatever we get is ours and not a licence for some private operator to print money at our expense, a la the Westlink bridge. If one was to apply a cynical eye to the process one could surmise that this is nothing more than another excuse for Fianna Fail’s builder supporters to enjoy yet another visit to the trough , as has become their custom.
Then again if you regularly splash out the entrance fee to the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races sure wouldn’t you expect a little something back, and no need to be worryin about brown envelopes. Sure its just an exercise in mutual back scratching, only with our money instead of their own.

What to make of Junior Minister Tony Killeen? Personally I have always had a problem with the title “Junior Minister”. Have we not got enough proper Ministers without letting them have assistants. Maybe it’s a good way to keep aspiring talent away from your own job while throwing them a few extra bob.
So just what was the Junior Minister up to. First we find out that he made representations to the Minister for Justice on behalf of a convicted paedophile, and not just once. When brought to task over this Mr Killeen said that he had never seen the letters, never signed the letters and assumed that a member of his office staff had sent them. So his office staff had carte blanche to send out any kind of representation for anyone that asked.
Next we find out that another member of his staff has made multiple representations on behalf of a convicted murderer, a man guilty of a particularly foul assault with a knife which left an innocent young man dead. Again Mr Killeen knows nothing about the letters. In mitigation he tells us that in fourteen years his office has sent out over two hundred thousand letters( thank God for the free postage) and he cant be expected to know what’s in all of them. Why the hell not?. He then goes on to tell us that just because a letter from his office has his name on it this wouldn’t necessarily mean it had anything to do with him. Why the hell not?.
Instead of coming out and making a clean breast of it he tries to brazen his way out by blaming office staff , asserts he knew nothing of the ten letters sent and that he is too busy concentrating on legislation and policy to keep his office the way it should be kept.
What is as troubling about all of this is the almost total silence from the opposition benches. Fine Gael had no official comment to make, the Labour party felt it was up to the Taoiseach to deal with it and the Greens were looking for “further clarification”.
Why the silence? Is it possible that other TDs, of all parties, have similar letters lurking on their files ? Given their reticence to indulge in point scoring I’d say that’s more of a certainty than a possibility.

In the last few months we had been treated to the unseemly row between the Minister for Justice and the Judiciary over the way the courts hand down sentences to people convicted of criminal offences. Mr Mc Dowell was particularly incensed that despite a mandatory ten year sentence for certain drugs offences the full sentence was being given in less than twenty per cent of cases. The Judges got huffy and replied that it was nothing to do with the Minister and that they were not going to listen to him. While technically correct because of the separation of powers they did look as if they were in kindergarten. I have long believed that judges inhabit some sort of ivory tower where the outside world never impinges, and unfortunately this type of action just reinforces my belief.

All for now. M.E.

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