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Saturday 19 January 2019

Andrew Lynch: This 'job creation' scheme is precisely why TDs are held in such contempt

ENDA Kenny raised some eyebrows when he revealed that he bursts into tears every time Riverdance comes on the television. This week it's his own colleagues who are really giving him something to cry about.

The Taoiseach has admitted that it's "not good practice" for TDs and ministers to appoint family members as their official staff -- but he's also made it clear that he has no intention of doing anything about it.

So where is the outrage in the Dail, the grave speeches about the need to stamp out cronyism, the angry demands for resignations from the opposition benches?

The answer is: "Don't hold your breath." This is a classic example of the political system closing ranks and looking the other way -- because when it comes to this kind of "jobs for the boys" routine, they really are all as bad as each other.



Compromised

Even the United Left Alliance, who can usually be relied on to kick up a stink over the slightest hint of corruption, find themselves hopelessly compromised.

Joan Collins made a name for herself just before the general election when she accosted Bertie Ahern during a radio interview outside the Dail and shouted, "You should be ashamed of yourself!"

Now this bold crusader against injustice has hired her own partner as a parliamentary assistant -- which sounds suspiciously like Bertie's admission that he appointed certain people to state boards, "because they were friends of mine".

The standard excuse offered by Collins and the other 24 TDs (that we know about) who have put their nearest and dearest on the payroll is that since they know these people are qualified for the job, why waste time looking for anyone else?

Whether or not they are deliberately missing the point, this is a pretty feeble cop-out.

Political employees are not paid out of the TDs' own pockets, they get their salaries directly from the taxpayer -- and for that reason, the jobs should be advertised just like any other position in the public sector.

Since none of the political parties has clean hands on this issue, we can be pretty sure that the Oireachtas gravy train will carry on rolling for a long time to come. Even so, TDs would be well advised not to underestimate the public's anger here.

Many of the 440,000 unemployed people in this country will have had the soul-destroying experience of sending out CVs and not even receiving the courtesy of a reply -- and to see public representatives handing out jobs around the kitchen table is hardly likely to put them in a better mood.

To be fair to the Taoiseach, he probably does understand that the optics of this are absolutely awful.

As the social protection minister Joan Burton has confirmed, cabinet ministers were warned on their first day that hiring relatives was strictly a no-no.

We don't know if Kenny issued the same instructions to junior ministers or backbenchers -- but if he did, they obviously felt free to completely ignore him.

Just take the example of Brendan Griffin, the Fine Gael TD who boasted during the election campaign that he would give up half of his €90,000 salary as a gesture of solidarity with the public.

Since arriving in Leinster House he has employed his wife Roisin as a secretary, his cousin Tommy as a parliamentary assistant and helped his cousin Mattie to take up his old council seat.

He may boast that "we're not all in it for the personal gain" -- but with such an impressive record of job creation, it's safe to assume that the Griffins will not be out of pocket over his new Dail career.

Pattern

Sadly, this is all becoming part of a pattern in which Enda Kenny talks tough but completely fails to follow it through.

After all but promising that he could negotiate an interest rate cut on our EU bailout, the Taoiseach is now forced to admit that the French are not so keen.

If he cannot stand up to his own backbenchers, it's increasingly hard to see how he can be expected to face down Sarkozy.

Not for the first time, TDs have chosen to treat the public with contempt. They can hardly be surprised if those feelings are returned with interest.

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