On the way into work yesterday I was listening to The Breakfast Show on Newstalk. They were covering political expenses, Fionnan Sheehan was being interviewed again, he mainly reiterated the same points he made previously elsewhere. He was followed by Fianna Fáil’s Ned O’Keeffe.
The presenter, Claire Byrne, grilled O’Keeffe while he ducked and dived, spun and purposefully avoided almost every question put to him.
Have a listen… or read the transcript below without the audio, I think it illustrates his flailing rather better…
Claire Byrne: Ned, I want to come back to you on your own expenses: €147,000 seems like rather a lot, eh, in the space of a short period of time since the 2007 election – what was it all for?
Ned O’Keeffe: Well, you know it’s all printed in black and white and last week, you know, the Oireachtas sent out a sheet of paper showing the adjustments in expenses. So what did I get the expenses for? Let me be quite clear because, ah, eh, this is public money and there’s – as far as I’m concerned there’s no – secrecy about this but of course anyone and everyone never wants to disclose their own expenses or their own personal wages so th–th-this has all been a big secret no matter what you get…
CB [Interjecting]: Do you agree, Ned, with the system of unvouched expenses?
NO’K: Well, th-there’s little unvo… we’ll go through it now, Constituency Travel Allowance bonus – you have to be in Dublin and the number of trips you’re allowed, you’re only allowed so many trips, so in actual fact – you have to come to Dublin anyway -in my constituency you get two trips per week up [to Dublin] and two trips down. So if I come up to Dublin 15 times – and I could come up maybe, maybe more than that [number of] times, eh, that’s eh… miscellaneous expenses is €5,400 that’s eh, eh, an allowance that’s in there since the State was founded.
CB: Do you agree with that though, that there should be miscellaneous [expenses, they] could be anything?
NO’K: I’m, eh, I’m not a shop steward. I’m not, I never go after all the expenses […incoherent…] I mean if I was a trade unionist and worked on the factory floor I’d be a disaster shop steward, I can tell you, the guys would go home with no wages…
CB: I know but it’s fair to ask you whether you agree with miscellaneous expenses which could be used for absolutely anything, or indeed nothing… em, to ask whether you agree with that system or whether it should continue…
NO’K: Well, you know it’s there, it’s there and all of my colleagues have accepted it and I’m not going to opt out, I’ll be straight about it.
CB: So you’re not, you’re not going to stand up and say ‘we should receipt everything that we get’?
NO’K: Well fair enough, w-that’s another issue ehh, but anyway, ehh, the telephone allowance doesn’t go near covering the cost of a telephone and that’s unvouched, I mean the, I mean the day, I mean how many phone calls by-and-large does a TD make in the day? I mean it’s unreal to the world. In actual fact it’s embarrassing in times to be out with a TD, to be, for people to be out with a TD because they so many calls – and you know mobile phones today are not transparent – everyone has your number, and they’re all ringing including all the journalists of this country…
CB [laughing]: Just, just one more question Ned O’Keeffe before we let you go. Do you think politicians should have a certain salary that allows them a standard of living that gives them some sort of standing in the community?
NO’K: Well, look eh, politicians were very poorly paid up to ten years ago, as I understand it, and it led to a certain amount of corruption in politics because they weren’t able to maintain themselves and their families and educate their families. And there’s a huge cost factor. And it has upgraded, arising from that, into our being classed as respectable. Then we had the Public Office Commission forming, formerly… the Public Office Commission where subscriptions and that are all today vouched and have to be, eh… people, eh, have to, eh, people eh, are aware of what the TDs and what the politicians get and the parties get from people who subscribe to parties. So I mean we are trying to get away from that system and we’re trying to be a more transparent [so] that politicians can’t be switched or pulled in any direction by any person or firms or organisations. And if you reduce their expenses or reduce their – expenses are different to salaries – you will a new situation again where they won’t be able to maintain themselves.
From the outset Deputy O’Keeffe lied. “It’s all printed there in black and white”, well no Ned, it’s not, much of it is unvouched. He then uttered some truth “this is public money” before managing to devise one of the most fantastically contradictory sentences I’ve heard. “There’s no secrecy about this”, he said, “but of course anyone and everyone never wants to disclose their own expenses or their own personal wages so th-th-this has all been a big secret, no matter what you get…” It just about makes sense, I think.
In my interpretation Deputy O’Keeffe has just said “there is no secrecy about this, but nobody wants people to know what they claim on expenses so we keep parts of the expenses system secret”, is that fair take on it? Thoughts in the comments box.
The claim is quite laughable, especially when “most people” wouldn’t get away with not telling their boss what a big chunk of their expense account was spent on. In fact, if they tried, they’d get sacked.
Then onto question two: O’Keeffe takes a quick duck past the nub, says something about a “bonus” then moves onto some excuse about miscellaneous expenses being as they are because they have been that way since the foundation of the State. Breaking news, Mr O’Keeffe, things change and your job is to change things for the better.
His reply to the third question isn’t even worth analysing, absolute bluster.
Clare Byrne puts it to him again at the first opportunity and he finally gives a straight answer – “it’s there so we use it”. The Deputy fails completely to give the taxpayer the respect of looking at the situation objectively. The issue is not whether the allowance is available, it’s whether it should be available and in what form.
Another bit of question dodging follows. He avoids the issue again and brings up something about telephones, it seems they’re awful expensive, especially when everyone has your number and all the journalists are calling you. Is Deputy O’Keeffe on another billing scheme to the rest of the country? No one else I know gets charged for the calls they receive.
The Fianna Fáiler’s reply to the last question is sadly hilarious. He opens by saying we’ve had corrupt politicians but doesn’t name names and while doing so he insults every other politician by saying they would be corruptible if their salaries were reduced. Then he gets onto something about the Public Office Commission, which was replaced by SIPO more than seven years ago.
He then starts waffling about “subscriptions” by which I think he means donations, saying all “subscriptions” are “vouched” and public. If he is talking about donations, well there’s another lie. Not all donations are public, there is still a minimum declaration limit which is more than €5,000 for donations to the party – a shamefully high amount. He soon moves onto talking about the Government wanting to get away from “the [current] system” and make things more transparent, as if publishing expenses would be a massively time-consuming chore. And finally, the cherry on top, he says if expenses were reduced politicians wouldn’t be able to maintain themselves… while I’m not Joe Higgins’s biggest fan, I believe he managed to “maintain himself” in the Dáil for a few years on circa €38,000. Food for thought.
The strange thing is, it really should be about the transparency of the system, not level of expenses claimed. Not that a TD would let you have it like that.
Spin and bluster from a politician on the issue of expenses and transparency, who’da thunk?
The Breakfast Show is presented by Claire Byrne and Ivan Yates, you can tune in between 630am and 9am Monday to Friday on 106-108fm.