I remember years ago covering Western Health Board meetings in far flung corners of the province where the matron of the hosting hospital would provide fine fillets of salmon and local sean nos singers to entertain the councillor-filled Board so that they wouldn’t starve on the return leg of their expenses-paid journeys.
The Health Boards were a microcosm of the political culture that we sometimes think is a thing of the past. Among those members was a councillor from Mayo called Padraig Cosgrave whose riposte to every Board request for funding for experts was to say "sure what is an expert but a local lad who went away and came back."
Experts are back in the news this week — courtesy not of our parliamentarians but of journalism which finally forced the vulgar figures from the mouth of Irish Water CEO John Tierney, no stranger to us here in Galway — and no stranger to the use of consultants himself, I say as I look out across the former green swath of Eyre Square, a location that has known its fair share of experts and consultants in its time.
That was another project that started out as one figure and ended up considerably more than it ought to have, but one would have thought that after a few years of the Troika, that sort of fiscal inexactitude was behind us. The ‘ah, sure it’ll do” attitude that makes fools out of the lot of us and makes millionaires out of experts, consultants, engineers, IT specialists, auditors.
In recent weeks, we have heard several city and county council managers vocalise their frustration at the goalpost changing of Irish Water with regard to taking over the process of supply from the local authorities.
Now we know that the establishment of a new utility company requires massive resources, but people and companies who are chosen to lead this drive should bring with them a sufficient amount of knowledge to reduce the need for such ridiculous expenditure. For the rest of us on our knees seeing our wages and income decimated in the name of austerity, it is galling to hear that money hard earned are so easily dispensed of.
This farce has come hot on the heels of the Limerick City of Culture debacle which reminded us that the days of stroke politics are not at all behind us. Once again, nods, winks, friends in high places and a cavalier attitude to the possibility of this being exposed has sullied the process.
The establishment of Irish Water and the City of Culture series could, indeed, should have been something that we should be proud of, and could contribute in different ways to the betterment of life in the country. Instead, both have been besmirched, their conceptions forever associated with the greasy fumble rather than the noble procreation.