If it’s a good ‘wasting taxpayers’ money’ scandal you’re after then the choice these days is immense. You could hang your hat on embattled Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue or perhaps the board of Fas; rich pickings there indeed. Maybe we could bring in a few bankers and developers who seemed to be well in with our politicians. We could choose to scrutinise and gripe about the bonuses and pay of senior civil servants, but with so much choice the game suddenly becomes very unappetising and isn’t funny at all. When we just ‘suspected’ there was something rotten in the State of Irish politics we could entertain ourselves with speculation, cynical views and poor opinions. Now that we have proper evidence of the festering mess, trying to find a little good in the centre of it all will be the new challenge.

We also have to contend with the hypocrisy of it all and that’s a very hard pill to swallow. On the one hand we are being asked to pay our taxes, pay more taxes and put up with ‘feeling the pain’. On the other hand we read daily about excess, greed and squandering of public money. The same people that boasted about the country being ‘awash’ with money and took credit for the abundance, blew the reserve, claim it’s not their fault (it’s the world economy!) and are claiming they can steer us safely out of the wreckage. It isn’t about party politics either as while the opposition calls for heads on plates and general elections, I haven’t heard them come up with a proper strategy for change. I haven’t heard details of massive reform that would save us billions and turn our fortunes around.

Shoulder shrugging

I’ve also noticed another very dangerous shoulder shrugging attitude from different quarters. Somebody will suggest a way to save money and you hear people saying, “ahh, shure that wouldn’t even put a mark in the debt”. Just because it wouldn’t have an instant impact, over time and with several other small adjustments, things would change. We all know the stories of companies in the private sector who remove one sweet or one biscuit from a pack in order to save the company thousands; small measures that ultimately create big change. Admittedly there will have to be quite a few of them, but there are plenty of areas to choose from in the convoluted, behemoth of a public service that exists in this country. Sadly the Bord Snip report just picked on the easy targets where once again, the ordinary man on the street gets screwed. How about a serious cap on ministers’ and TD’s expenses? They have expense accounts, so how about reducing their salaries to a modest capped figure for a few years? While it may not save us billions it would shave a few million off and it would certainly send us a much needed positive message.

It is also shocking that ordinary nurses, gardai, firemen and teachers are denied a decent rate of pay and yet an entire group of people who make up the top brass at FAS are not instantly sacked when revelations of waste come to light. The lunatics are definitely running the asylum. We run a very interesting system in this country where the self employed are severely penalised for late revenue payments and yet there is no punishment or penalty for spending collected monies so carelessly.

We need to restore balance as the ship is listing precariously to the side. It is of little use for our Taoiseach to sit on a light entertainment programme like The Late Late Show and expect a 15 minute interview to clear everything up. We have very real problems on our hands and we need proper, responsible solutions. I personally couldn’t care less if John O’Donoghue apologises. Shouldn’t the penalty for such careless spending be immediate removal from office?

Five-star hotels, etc

The same goes for the board of FAS. Their defense is that they didn’t do anything illegal, but surely their lack of supervision on spending renders them all ill suited to such positions? If you have an executive in the private sector blowing company money they are often removed immediately. I personally know of a managing director in a private company who started treating himself to 5 star hotels and first class flights on his expense account. The investors in his company were happy to pay for 4 star hotels and business class flights so when the receipts for the high end stuff started to appear they instantly pulled the plug. They didn’t wait around to see what he did the following month. Their reaction was swift and very decisive.

I would have thought that the politicians would have seen by now the absolute necessity of leading by example. We all remember the guy who told us to tighten our belts and yet continued to swill champagne and wear expensive shirts. We shouldn’t have to put up with such blatant arrogance and disrespect anymore. We need leaders. We need honourable people who are willing to upset their banker and developer friends to do what is right. It’s just not right to have a system where you can borrow indiscriminately and then move your assets into your wife’s name while the taxpayer picks up the tab for your risk taking. Meanwhile if Johnny and Mary Ordinary Taxpayer don’t pay their modest mortgage on their equally modest semi, they find themselves homeless.

While FAS and John O’Donoghue have been very publicly outed in the last few days, I think they are just pinheads on the tip of the overspending iceberg. These revelations have the power to make one cynical towards government, to destroy one’s faith in democracy and possibly kill off any honest person’s political ambitions. In the face of such loss, suddenly the actual financial losses become less important. Those that squandered the resources shouldn’t be apologising for wasting money; we can eventually make that back. They should be apologising for killing the faith of a nation and possibly turning a whole generation away from politics; a much more shameful crime than any wasteful spending.