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Pigs at Feeding Time: Leinster House Parties at Budget Time

15/12/09

At the troughThe five political parties in Leinster House have all played their part in bringing the state to the brink of economic disaster.

Whether directly, as in the case of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, or through their support for the ‘need’ for cuts in public sector pay or services, as in the case of the Fine Gael and the Labour Party, or through their support for the bank guarantee scheme, as in the case of Sinn Féin, the entire political establishment in Leinster House bears some responsibility.

Brian Lenihan has acknowledged the consensus that exists within Leinster House about cuts in public sector pay and services: “It is of enormous benefit that the main political parties in this House share a common understanding of the extent of our difficulties. And even if we disagree on how to solve our problems, our agreement on the amount of savings required sends a powerful signal to the rest of the world that we are able and willing to put our own house in order.”

Last week’s budget has confirmed the Twenty-Six County government’s determination to steal from blind people, young people, carers, educators and people with disabilities so they can rescue the bankers, developers and stockbrokers. A case of robbing from the poor and giving to the rich if ever was one. And all to keep their masters in the International Monetary Fund and European Commission happy.

Spokespeople for the Dublin government have being lining up to defend their savage budget, claiming that, while they really, really hate having to implement cuts on the most deprived people in society, they just have no option. Indeed, according to them, ‘there is no alternative’. At the same time, they are more than content to fill a large trough of money for their own political party machines to gorge on.

Standards in Public Office CommissionFigures from the Standards in Public Office Commission will surely leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the unemployed and others welfare payment recipients. In 2008, the five Leinster House parties received over €5,600,000 (£5 million) in funding directly from taxpayers and a further €8,132,241 (£7.3 million) in the form of a Party Leaders Allowance. This figure represented an increase of €200,000 (£180,000) on the 2007 figure. No recession for the political golden circle then.

So, how did the political class spend all this money which the tax-payer has so generously conferred upon them? Did they, for example, splash out on bringing citizens closer to the political system? After all, the establishment parties consistently claim they are deeply concerned about what they call a ‘disconnect’ between citizens and the political system. Perhaps they organised public engagements the length and breadth of the Twenty-Six Counties telling citizens all about the wonderful work that’s being done in Leinster House and asking people what they think should be the political, or policy priorities of the day.

Hardly. Instead, they spent quite a substantial sum on ‘general administration’. In other words, they spent the hard pressed tax-payers’ money on running their own much valued ‘political machines’. It takes a lot, it seems, to administer the Fianna Fáil party; a whopping €1,547,050 (£1.4 million), to be exact. While €1.5 million (£1.3 million) was spent on administration, the rather paltry sum of €40,000 (£36,000) was spent on encouraging youth involvement in politics. This is not altogether surprising from a party that has shown absolute contempt for young people, as evidenced by Brian Lenihan’s decision to cut social welfare payments for young people by at least half and the reduction in the third level student maintenance grant.

Fine Gael is not too far behind the Soldiers of Destiny. The Blueshirts shamelessly spent almost €630,000 (£565,000) of working peoples’ taxes on what is termed ‘Co-ordination of Branches and Members’ and a further €840,000 (£753,000) on the political establishment’s much cherished ‘general administration’. With all this money swilling about their organisational structures, is it little wonder that these parties show contempt for the poor and the hard working who, they argue, should be made to pay for the greed of the business class.

Unfortunately the excesses don’t end there though. Both the Labour Party and the Green Party require substantial amounts of your money to ‘generally administer’ their collective party ‘machines’.

Labour, it seems, required €481,902 (£432,000), while the Green Party, one of the smallest political parties in Ireland, and clearly anxious to replicate the excesses of their partner in government, spent just over €312,000 (£280,000).

Unparliamentary languageSinn Féin and the now defunct Progressive Democrats both shared rather expensive tastes in ‘general administration’, with both parties spending just over a quarter of million euro each. The PD’s were fond of the concept of ‘competitiveness’, ‘free-markets’ and ‘deregulation’ while in government, yet it seems these fundamental principles don’t extend to the political party system, which is a highly regulated closed shop. Little wonder there is such consensus within Leinster House.

To top it off, the parties between them spent over €61,000 (£55,000) on ‘education’ for its members. The Green Party spent €28,350 (£25,000) on this one; it could only be for a rather expensive playschool for their Dublin Mid West TD Paul ‘F**k You’ Gogarty.

While the political parties received over €5 million (£4.5 million) from the Political Party Fund, the tax-payers’ generosity doesn’t end there. While the rest of us are told to ‘tighten our belts’ and are assured that we are ‘all in this together’, there appeared to be little by way of belt tightening from the portly political set.

That’s because there is a second money trough available to them. This particular slush fund is termed Expenditure of Party Leaders Allowance. While the vast majority of tax-payers are probably unaware that such a fund even exists, the political parties aren’t shy about dipping their snouts in it. It is, after all, quite a substantial trough, an €8,132,241 one to be precise.

The appetite for ‘general administration’ it seems is insatiable: all the parties combined received just shy of €4 million (£3.6 million). Fianna Fáil’s voracious membership gobbled up another €1,923,683 (£1.7 million). It’s hungry work taking money off blind people. Given the substantial sums of money involved, it wouldn’t be outrageous to assume that ‘general administration’ actually means that the parties employ people to count all of this money that the tax-payer has kindly, if unknowingly, donated.

Fine Gael is a big spender here too. Their cashiers, or, as they prefer to call them, ‘general administrators’ cost the taxpayer over €740,000 (£663,000) in 2008. But at least the Blueshirts are keen to hear the views of voters. So much so that they spent €266,000 (£239,000) on ‘polling’ or trying to find out what we are all thinking. It’s probably safe to assume that a lot of people are thinking that they want their money back.

Will not have to go to St Vincent de Paul this ChristmasThe cash registers were ringing over at Ely Place and Parnell Square too. Over on the southside, the Labour Party Headquarters at Ely Place ‘generally administered’ over €1.1million (£986,000) that could have been spent on health or education. In comparison, it is a little cheaper to ‘generally administer’ a political party from the northside of the River Liffey, with a mere €168,182 (£151,000) finding its way into Sinn Féin coffers at Parnell Square.

The downtrodden TD is never shy of telling us how generous they are to various causes. The same seems to apply to their party leaders. Perhaps they donate large chunks of this taxpayers money to worthy causes.

Maybe the National Society of the Blind or St Vincent de Paul are worthy recipients of the party leaders’ fondness for charitable causes. Well, actually, they’re not.

The largest and, in fact, only recipients of ‘donations’ from the party leaders fund are, surprisingly enough, their own political parties. Except, when giving your money to their own parties, they like to give it a nice technical or, one might say, accounting term, such as ‘purchases for party services’. You might be surprised to hear that the tax-payer through the political party leaders purchased €1.5 million (£1.3 million) worth of ‘party services’, with Fine Gael, at €1.1 million, benefiting the most from this handy little accounting device. If that wasn’t enough, Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny threw himself €48,344 (£43,000), for what is not entirely clear.

With their minds so full of euro signs, they are obviously unable to do any thinking for themselves, so the Leinster House political parties have to hire PR consultants, policy analysts and ‘technical’ specialists to do it for them. And, once again, the tax-payer has come to the rescue: to the tune of €870,143 (£780,000). One wonders did these policy and technical whizz-kids come up with the plan to take €8.37 (£7.50) per week from those on blind pension?

According to the Twenty-Six County Department of Social and Family Affairs Annual Report 2008, there were a total of 1,472 recipients of the blind pension who each receive a paltry €204.30 (£183.10) per week. By taking €8.37 off them, Brian Lenihan will ‘save’ the taxpayer a total of €640,673 (£574,186), which is actually €229,470 (£205,651) less than what the tax-payer spent on technical specialists, policy analysts and PR consultants for the political parties.

Brian LenihanThe pigs at the trough of Leinster House have been doing a lot of grunting recently about the public sector. According the vast majority in the Leinster House piggery, public sector workers are overpaid and underworked. And, as such, the lowest paid of them deserve to have their wages cuts by five per cent. Unemployed young people should be forced to get by on €100 (£90) per week, while blind people will just have to survive on €194 (£174) per week and be content to know that, according to the minister of finance, “we are all in this together”.

Everyone, according to the Twenty-Six County political establishment, are taking the pain ‘equally’. The figures from the Standards in Public Office prove that some are more equal than others. By taking €13 million (£11.7 million) worth of tax-payers’ money to fund themselves and screw the most vulnerable in society, they are effectively telling us in the words of one of the more ridiculous of the Leinster House ‘pigs’ to go and ‘f**k ourselves’ because there is only enough room at the trough for the political class.

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