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Sunday 17 December 2017

Terry Prone: Lessons must be learnt on flushing cash away

When someone walks into Leinster House for the first time and progresses up that velvety-carpeted staircase, they're usually silenced by the grandeur of it.

It speaks of the respect we have (or maybe don't have) for the political process.

On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland will never set foot inside those buildings, and, right now, their money is extremely tight, not to say non-existent.

In that context, to hear that €9m was spent in the past few years on those buildings makes the average citizen want to grind their teeth down to little stumps. Especially when they read the details.

Take the two toilets in the list. Two toilets? Some of us could fit out two toilets for at most a couple of hundred euro in B&Q.

A toilet is a toilet, whether the user is a minister or an ordinary citizen. Unless you want gold-plated taps and a bidet, plus a heated floor and towel rail, it's quite difficult to spend a lot of money on a toilet, unless you floor it with tiles retrieved from a Roman emperor's villa.

Much of this expenditure happened when Tom Parlon, who's now the top bod in the Construction Industry Federation, was in charge of the Office of Public Works (OPW to you and me.)

It was also done at a time when the State was rolling in money and some of the Government buildings were suffering from stone-rot and structural defects.

Now, Tom Parlon is a guy who gets things done. In this particular case, he seems to have got things somewhat expensively done.

In a sad irony, one of the suppliers who did well out of the deal, taking home more than €60,000, was Waterford Glass, who put in a chandelier and other lighting upgrades -- before going belly-up and throwing a lot of skilled long-term employees on the dole.

No doubt some of those former craftspeople have visited Leinster House since, seeking political help to keep their factory afloat.

You have to wonder what they thought, as they walked underneath the expensive chandelier.

Was there a tender process? I'm sure there was. But in the good times, prices rose everywhere, and anybody in the OPW who, based on long experience, muttered "There have to be ways to get this cheaper" would have been shrugged off as an old-fashioned penny-pincher.

Was there a gain out of the spend? I'm sure there was. According to the data released (very slowly) to this paper, we all gained bollards and decking. Plus we got our rotted stone replaced. Not to mention the chandelier.

So it may be unfair to grumble about lashing out a bit of cash when Ireland was flush with cash.

But could we learn, please? Pretty please? Next time we have some money -- around the year 2030, I figure -- could we be a bit more cautious about spending it?

Because not many of us will ever get to walk under that chandelier. Or use those expensive loos.

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