When the coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour took power in 2011 they did so on a wave of voter unrest and promises of a “democratic revolution” in Irish politics. Corruption and cronyism were no longer to be the hallmarks of Ireland’s political classes. Instead the Fine Oibre alliance promised an era of “responsible” government (and unprecedented cuts in public services coupled with iniquitous new taxes but we’ll skip over that bit for the time being). Within twelve months all those promises of high standards in public life were quietly laid to one side as the two parties in power followed the traditional practice of signing up as many family, friends and allies to the state payroll as one could reasonably get away with it. The Labour Party in particular, after some years in the political wilderness, was eager to reward its members with the “perks and Mercs” that come with high office (not to mention paying the necessary dues to the former Workers Party/Democratic Left apparatchiks who fought the good fight during the WP/DL takeover of the Labour leadership).
However have the governing parties now become so immured from public opinion after years of inflicting generational harm on Irish society that they no longer care what Seán or Síle Citizen thinks? Or do they believe, as certainly some in the junior coalition partner do, that whatever actions they take in the coming months an inescapable electoral storm looms on the horizon? So feather your nests (and prepare for lost seats and influence) while you can.
In November of 2013 Hilary Quinlan, a Fine Gael member and local government councillor in Waterford, was appointed by the Fine Gael minister Phil Hogan to act as a director on the board of the controversial new semi-state body Uisce Éireann (Irish Water). The job came with an annual salary of €15,000 plus benefits. In the local elections of May 2014 Quinlan lost his seat in Waterford, though the blow was lessened with a €57,757 payout for his years of service (how many countries compensate politicians being voted out of office with hefty gratuities?). Fortunately for Hilary Quinlan his bad luck at the polls was further compensated with a new job: an official chauffeur for Paudie Coffey, a Fine Gael TD for Waterford and Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, a state-paid role which now earns the former councillor a very respectable €665 a week.
A director of a government agency acting as the hired driver for a minister who’s department partly oversees the functions of that agency, including its appointments and remuneration packages, both of whom belong to the same political party? What could possibly be questionable about that? When quizzed by the media on the propriety of the whole affair an unapologetic Hilary Quinlan quipped: “You tell me one party out there who doesn’t look after their own. I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s politics.”
However those that live by the sword…