04 March 2009

The Government is really a travelling Circus

Since Monday's strange incident, when a door fell off an Aer Corps helicopter in mid-flight over Co. Kerry (see my entries of March 2nd & 3rd), the eyes of many Irish people have been opened to the strange and scandalous travel habits of our government ministers.

It appears that Martin Cullen's extravagant helicopter trip from Waterford to Dublin via Killarney, which cost the taxpayers at least € 8130 and created additional costs of around € 35,000, was not at all unusual. Most of our ministers are using the Aer Corps' aircraft regularly for all sorts of trips and don't mind what it costs, because for them it is all free.
In fact, our government has become a real travelling circus, with each minister trying to out-do the others in extravagancy and waste of taxpayers' money.

But since Monday the nation is aware of that and has shown remarkable feats of vigilance and observation.

It has been reported - and meanwhile confirmed by a government spokesperson - that the Tánaiste (Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister) Mary Coughlan (photo), who is also Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment, took a flight in one of the government's two main jet aircraft from Dublin to Shannon last Friday.
There she was met by her ministerial Mercedes car, which her Garda chauffeur had brought empty from the capital to Shannon earlier.
Coughlan, who is Ireland's answer to Sarah Palin and nicknamed 'The Cow', was driven over a very short distance from the airport to a nearby industrial estate, where she officially announced the creation of a few new jobs.

Not that this will make any difference to our current recession, as unemployment in Ireland has just risen to a record 10.2%. But the government is now so beleaguered and desperate that every single new job is announced with pomp and circumstances (while job losses are treated rather with a deafening silence).

After a brief stay at the industrial estate, and having performed her PR job as bland as usual, the Tánaiste was driven back to Shannon airport, where she boarded the government jet again and returned to Dublin Airport. There presumably a second state Mercedes was waiting for her, and the one used at Shannon was driven back to the capital, once again empty.

What this bizarre escapade has cost the taxpayers could not be specified at this time, but using the government jet alone for a single flight creates expenses in the range of € 25,000 to 30,000.
At least that was the information received when the same jet was used last year to transport the Taoiseach and three of his ministers - Willie O'Dea (Defence), Batt O'Keeffe (Education) and the ever-present Martin Cullen (Arts, Sport & Tourism) - from Dublin to Shannon. They were then driven in two state cars to Limerick, to watch a Rugby match.

If the government, which keeps telling us now on a daily basis that "we have no money" and that "we all will have to make sacrifices", would be serious, these extravagant journeys would cease. As Ireland is a small country, most places can be reached by car in acceptable times. And when a flight is really necessary, local transport at the airport of arrival could and should be used.

But there is an even better - and much cheaper - way to handle ministerial addresses, speeches and announcements. After all, we live in the 21st century and modern communication technology is available to every government department.
Instead of having ministers rushing around the country like a travelling circus in order to give a string of usually boring speeches to equally boring gatherings of all kinds, these addresses could be given by video link from the minister's office.
This would cost a small fraction of the amount clocked up each year by ministerial journeys. The same message would get across, and the government would also be seen as being serious when it comes to saving money. On top of that it would also show the government as a modern entity that can and does use the latest available technology.

There is no need to provide a separate state car - each with a Garda as full-time chauffeur - for every minister and junior minister. In most of the other EU countries - many much larger than Ireland - there is a government motor pool with a limited amount of cars, which are shared by all ministers. Ireland should follow those examples.

But so far there seems to be no will to reduce the lavish travelling circus. While ordinary people are going to face ever higher taxes and levies, the government continues to behave like a bunch of medieval princes.

Meanwhile another - and even more bizarre - case has been reported. According to information received by Ireland's national broadcaster RTÉ a ministerial car and its driver were used for the purpose of transporting a minister's private dog over a distance of 250 miles. This apparently occured "during the Christmas holidays" and it has not yet been established which minister was responsible. (But given the current political climate and public mood, it might well be revealed soon. If so, I will of course tell you.)

However, the attitude alone speaks for itself. And so does an official statement, issued today by the Department of Justice. It says plainly that "any minister is free to do with the official state car whatever he - or she - likes".
On that basis one has to presume that the government's official fox is in charge of the nation's hen houses...

The Emerald Islander

No comments:

Post a Comment