I’ve got a lot of time for Minister of State and Tipperary South TD Martin Mansergh.
He’s a man of immense political and diplomatic experience and the role he played behind the scenes under different Taoisgh during the Northern Ireland peace process cannot be underestimated.
In a 2002 general election piece for The Irish Times, the venerable Kevin Myers described Mansergh as “Special Adviser To The Taoiseach On Everything”.
His elevation to the Office of Public Works was heralded throughout his constituency, just as it was in Waterford 11 years ago when Martin Cullen was appointed to that particular post.
He’s been a firm supporter of the arts in Tipp South and his efforts in aiding Carrick-on-Suir Musical Society’s redevelopment of the Strand Theatre have been lauded locally.
He’s an intellectual heavyweight and one of the most learned individuals to ever occupy an Oireacthas seat, a point few, if anyone, would attempt to counter.
But his contribution to Today FM’s ‘Last Word’ programme on Friday last is unlikely to rank as one of his finer political moments.
When describing the €220,000 spent on refurbishing an office near Leinster House for former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as not a particularly large sum of money, Minister Mansergh own-goaled and spectacularly so.
In referencing the hundreds of millions spent on the new Scottish parliament as some means of minimising another bad news day for the Government, the Minister made a poor media performance even worse.
As an Irish citizen, I don’t give two haggises how much money was spent on the Scottish parliament, which I’ve seen in the mortar and wasn’t exactly bowled over by (how it cost over £400 million Stg escapes me).
As an Irish citizen, I am rightly concerned by how our tax money is spent. And no one person on this island is worthy of a €220,000 office refurbishment.
Yes, an office – not a house – but let’s not get into money, houses and Bertie as we could be here all millennium.
Which brings me onto my next point: according to the latest permanent tsb/ESRI House Price Index, the average Irish home in May sold for €275,176.
Read the previous sentence again. Compare it to what’s been spent on the Molesworth Street office for Bertie Ahern, who did his best to stay out of the nearby Dáil chamber as much as he could during his days as Taoiseach.
Minister Mansergh attempted to justify the expenditure by citing the need to re-enforce and respect parliamentary democracy which, sometimes, involves spending money.
Parliamentary democracy is not in one iota disrespected by opting not to spend almost seven times the average industrial wage on an office unlikely to be graced by Bertie’s shadow all that often.
What the despicable Robert Mugabe is up to in Zimbabwe of late is a disgusting demonstration in disrespect for democracy, so it’s important that we don’t lose the run of ourselves here.
However, in attempting to defend what appears to be completely indefensible, Martin Mansergh misread a public mood which has surfaced in the light of the Lisbon Treaty referendum.
Cynicism in politics and politicians is nothing new, but when some Ministers speak about their misfortune in assuming a particular brief at a particular time, then that Minister’s advisers need to polish up their acts.
As we the people are told to tighten our belts, then those elected by we the people shouldn’t accept pay rises, at least until such time as we the people can loosen our buckles again.
Make no mistake, €220,000 is a lot of money, Minister and to spend it on a single office space for anyone is just wrong, wrong, wrong.
Describing politicians, especially those on the governing side of the house as being “out of touch” is also nothing new; it’s a catchcall for headline-grabbing opposition deputies.
But it’s hard to avoid the sentiment regarding a cabinet, which has occupied by many of its current incumbents since 1997, and some, one could ague, appear in desperate need of a reality check.
It’s also a tad worrying for some in the electorate seeking an alternative that no-one in opposition ranks can be said to be hitting home runs at the moment either.
Public fatigue with ruling parties is as inevitable as an Eastenders character being barred from the Queen Vic: just look at the battering the British Labour party is currently receiving.
Now is surely the time for a Government under a new leader to restore confidence and inject new energy into the body politic, rather than looking gruff and sounding put down about it all.
Yet when the political news agenda of one particular day focuses on a ludicrous waste of taxpayer’s money spent on an office for the ex-Taoiseach, it’s difficult not to feel a little weary and despondent about it all.
Surely we the people deserve better from our elected representatives.