Since the early 1980s I have been writing, some would say ranting, about corruption in Ireland.
One of the things that has always struck me is just how deeply ingrained the corrupt system of government is within our culture.
There was a depressing example of this ignorance of corruption on Today with Pat Kenny last Friday (1st Feb.).
Roisin Shortall, one of the very, very few politicians who holds, understands and has the integrity and courage to stand by democratic standards, bravely fought against a disturbing ignorance displayed by journalist Tom McGurk and former Fine Gael Justice Minister Nora Owen.
The issue under discussion was the parish-pump politics of James Reilly and Brendan Howlin regarding the upgrading of hospitals in their constituencies.
It is clearly evident that McGurk and Owen see nothing wrong with TDs and ministers abusing their power by taking resources from more needy projects in order to bestow favours on their constituents (my emphasis).
Nora Owen: It does look as if both of these hospitals needed work.
Pat Kenny: But Nora, as a former Cabinet minister, let’s be honest, isn’t if expected of you that you deliver for your constituents?
Kenny: Is that right, moral and ethical or is it simply politics?
Owen: Look it, from time immemorial I was victim of it when I was a backbencher. (The culture of politicians competing with each other to claim favours for constituents).
The difficulty that people have now is that there was a commitment by this government that politics wouldn’t be the same as usual.
Shortall: Do you not think that the public has moved beyond politicians in this regard? The whole thing of pork barrel politics has done so much damage to this country.
Owen: These hospitals needed work.
Shortall: Other hospitals need work as well. What this is about is the basis on which decisions are taken in relation to how money is spent in health.
So do you do it by having a prioritisation system where you identify the areas that are most in need or do you engage in parish-pump politics?
Tom McGurk: Why else would we vote for you unless you got our local hospital sorted, that’s what you’re there for, you’ve got nothing else to offer really.
Shortall: Is that what your want Cabinet ministers to do?
McGurk: Yes, it is.
Kenny: Here we have the naked voter, Tom McGurk, saying why would I vote for you unless you can help me.
McGurk: Yes, that’s what you’re there for.
Shortall: Ok, so what happens to some very disadvantaged constituencies where there are huge problems and never had a Cabinet minister?
McGurk: Historically, culturally, traditionally Irish politics has been about patronage.
Shortall: Hasn’t that got us into an awful lot of difficulties?
McGurk: It’s also been very successful.
Shortall: Wouldn’t it be much better if we used the evidence that’s there, where there’s the greatest health need, do it in that transparent way, isn’t that what the public wants us to do?
John Mooney: I think the electorate is having a slightly allergic reaction to this type of activity by FG because it’s reminiscent of FF.
Shortall: Same old, same old.
Owen: The primary care centres that Roisin had sadly to resign over is slightly different from this, these hospitals were in the capital programme list.
What has come out through a freedom of information request is that James Reilly wrote a letter saying he’d like the two hospitals to be moved along the line and then Brendan Howlin’s department approved the €12 million.
The reverse of what Roisin is saying is that once there’s a minister in a constituency that those constituents are going to suffer because no government would be able to make a decision on that.
Shortall: What I’m saying is you do it in an objective and transparent way.
Owen: Yes, but it looks as if this was done in an objective way.
Shortall: when you look at the situation in relation to these two hospitals the agency that’s responsible for deciding on investment in health facilities didn’t know anything about this.
Owen: That’s not true, I checked that out and they did know about it.
Shortall: Well the minutes of the HSE board meeting…interrupted.
Shortall: In other countries they have what they call a resource allocation model that’s agreed, open, objective and transparent.
Owen: Clearly these hospitals got onto that model in 2010.
Shortall: Nora, we don’t have that capital model as you well know.
What determines spending across all government departments is whether there’s a minister there or not. And that means that areas that have far greater need lose out.