I wrote recently about the missing link that marks the difference between how things are done in Ireland and how they’re done in functional democracies.
When suspicions of corruption are raised in functional jurisdictions there usually follows an investigation by an independent authority.
If the suspicions are confirmed consequences follow such as sackings, heavy fines or perhaps a trial followed by appropriate punishment.
All this is done under the principle of justice being seen to be done and the whole matter is usually followed up with new rules/regulations to prevent such events from happening again.
All these stages of accountability are also carried out in Ireland with the notable exception of holding anybody to account.
The recent scandal at Tallaght Hospital, as reported in the Irish Examiner, is a great example.
The hospital is unable to explain why five senior officials received almost €700,000 in non-salary ‘top-up’ fees between 2005 and 2010.
Ernst and Young carried out a financial investigation last year as a result of concerns raised by the Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA).
The investigation found:
The hospital was unable to provide any documents showing why the large payments were made.
The hospital was unable to explain why the supplementary payroll, under which the payments were made, was set up or what approval procedures were followed.
Board members at the time provided inconsistent recollections as to the existence and approval of the fund.
One individual received €225,833 in extra pay. Four other staff members received €104.667, €61,250, €24,000 and 259.000 respectively.
This was all taxpayer’s money at a time when Tallaght Hospital was making severe cutbacks to its budget.
We have now reached the critical point where, in a functional democracy, stronger action would ensue – police investigation, courts etc.
In Ireland this stage is skipped completely and replaced by an excuse stage.
Significant management structure changes have been carried out at the hospital – we’re told.
The new management has ‘noted’ the findings of the investigation.
The external payroll system responsible for the payouts has been abolished.
The new board has appointed a new remuneration and terms of services committee.
The new board said they were disturbed and upset by what happened.
So, no further action, no police, no investigation, no courts.
And, we can ask, is the new board a genuine improvement on its predecessor. Will this ‘new broom’ sweep all the old habits away and act in a professional and responsible manner when it comes to accountability?
No, is the emphatic answer.
When asked if the five members at the centre of the scandal were still working at the hospital and whether any of the paid out money can be retrieved they declined to comment.
Or, in plain English – Take a hike, we’re saying nothing.
The only reason, I suspect, the board of Tallaght Hospital can feel confident in refusing to answer this most basic of questions is because of the missing link in Irish accountability.
It there’s no system of accountability – there’s no need to be accountable.