Thursday, January 23, 2014

Make 2014 – the year of change

Two weeks ago citizens in the Irish state discovered, courtesy of the Sean O Rourke programme on RTE radio, that it was going to cost €180 million to establish Uisce Éireann – Irish Water.

This is a semi-state body whose remit is to take responsibility for water out of the hands of local councils, centralise control, and to introduce water charges for households. Like many others I also believe that the underlying agenda for the Irish government is the eventual privatisation of the water service.

Bad as this was the news that consultants were paid €85 million of the total outlay caused outrage. For 18 months Sinn Féin’s Environment spokesperson Brian Stanley and other Dáil TDs had been asking questions of the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan about how much Irish Water was costing the taxpayer, and who was being paid what and how much? The Minister and his Deputy Minister Fergus O Dowd had refused to answer.

Within days of the story breaking it was also revealed that 299 Irish Water staff are to be paid significant bonus payments of up to €7,000 in breach of existing government guidelines. Two government Ministers attacked the move. But then media reports confirmed that the Department of the Environment and Department of Public Expenditure already knew of these plans.   

Sinn Féin demanded that the Minister should go. He had deliberately withheld information that the public and their Dáil representatives had the right to receive. But it didn’t end there.

But Irish Water wasn’t the only agency where secret and shabby deals hit the spotlight. The Central Remedial Clinic, which provides support to disabled patients, many of them children. It had already emerged last November that the CRC was using money raised by its charity arm to top-up allowances to senior staff. Last year this amounted to €250,000. In December the CRC’s former chief executive – a former constituency worker for Fianna Fáil’s Bertie Ahern – told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee that he was given €200,000 when he left the organisation. This came from charitable donations.

Families who raise hundreds of thousands of euro each year to supplement the money the clinic receives from the Health Service were shocked, angry and some were heart broken and fearful that citizens would become sceptical about giving to a charity which was paying a significant amount of the charity money raised into the pockets of officials. Instead of the money raised by ‘Friends and Supporters of the CRC’ going to buy equipment, provide transport for disabled children or training for staff a huge chunk of it was used to pay off the chief executive.

All of this reached new heights of outrage when it was revealed that the former chief executive had actually received a severance package of €740,000. It is estimated that half of the one and a half million euro raised from charity work by CRC was used to pay top-ups and their former chief executive.

People were furious, incensed and angry. Here was evidence of cronyism at its worst; of money being taken off disabled children, of charities failing to regulate their business. The Taoiseach Enda Kenny bemoaned the scandal. It was he said, ‘indicative of a time’ which he hoped ‘was long gone in Irish politics.’ Who is he kidding?

Self-interest and greed are alive and well within the body politic in the Irish state. The Irish government has breached its own rules to pay more to its personal advisors. Ministers receive salaries that are the envy of their opposite numbers in other European states. The government has taken a succession of decisions since coming to power that have inflicted cuts and hardship on citizens, especially the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable.

The CRC and Irish Water scandals are part of a toxic political culture, marked by 'jobs for the boys', contracts for a small group of consultants and insiders who are closely linked to the establishment.

It is part of a culture of greed and cronyism that came to dominance after partition and the defeat of the revolutionary fervour of 1916. It is the outworking of the coming to power of conservative right wing elements within Irish society. It is classic neo-colonialism. The colonial power leaves and is replaced by an indigenous elite that seeks to advance its own narrow interests. The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties, occasionally supported by Labour or Greens, or when they existed the PDs, created and oversaw a culture of corruption and of golden circles involving bankers and developers and politicians who looked after each other to the detriment of ordinary citizens. These are the people who collapsed the Irish economy five years ago.

2014 – the Year of Change
Should we despair? No. Is there an alternative to this toxic culture? I believe there is. It lies in the growth of a radical republican alternative. It is evidenced in the changing political landscape brought about across this island by the peace process and the growth of Sinn Féin.
In the south the dominance of the two major parties has been broken. Fianna Fáil will never again be the political force it once was. Sinn Féin is now a major player in both jurisdictions on this island and with each passing day our membership numbers increase, we build our organisational capacity, and our policy development is evolving to meet the needs of Ireland today.
Sinn Féin is for a realignment of Irish politics across the island.
We believe that fairness and equality must be central to government policy.
We are for core republican values which are about defending public services.

Sinn Féin believes that citizens have fundamental rights, including the right to a wrap-around health service; to a decent education free and accessible to third level; to a home; to a clean environment; to a fair wage and to a job.

 Why should gender be the basis for the exclusion of anyone? Or disability? Why should race or class or skin colour or creed give one group of human beings the ability to deny other human beings their full rights or entitlements as citizens?

Society must be shaped around these rights. Society must be shaped around people – citizens – not elites or hierarchies.

In May there will be local and European elections in both parts of the island. Sinn Féin will be the only party contesting these in both parts of the island. We will have candidates standing in all of the European constituencies and for the first time since 1918 there will be Sinn Féin candidates in every local council on the island.
There are 42 councils. There are eleven in the north and 31 in the south. Almost 300 candidates have been selected by Sinn Féin of whom 30% are women.

For those who want to look to a different, better future – who want hope for themselves and for their families – then the choice is obvious. In May make 2014 the year of change and vote for Sinn Féin candidates.



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