Nothing but the best
Earlier this year, while working on a story regarding services for the elderly in Limerick city, I tried to get an interview with Deputy Jim Daly of Fine Gael. Given the nature of my queries, Deputy Daly was the go-to guy, the primary source of information. He is the Minister for Mental Health and the Elderly. However, despite repeated, concerted efforts, I was unable to speak with the minister before the deadline for my story had passed.
You might think this was because he knew better than to talk to a gobshite like me. And that may well have been the case. But the main reason he couldn’t speak with me was because of the timing of my request. My initial phone call was made on March 14, a Wednesday; a seemingly unremarkable day in the middle of a humdrum, working week. I spoke with his secretary, who informed me that the minister was away, out of the country in fact, and on very important business.
“Where’s he gone?” I inquired. “Australia,” came the reply, “he’s over there for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.” “And when will he be back?” “Oh, not till the end of next week, or maybe the start of the week after.” Resisting the temptation to mutter, “isn’t it well for him,” I thanked the woman and hung up.
Eventually, on March 27 I was asked to email my questions to Minister Daly, and, a short time later, I was sent back what I’d describe as an unsatisfactory set of replies. Thirteen days. That’s how long it took him, that’s how long it took the man tasked with representing our oldest citizens to reply to a journalist working on a story regarding the discontinuation of an important service for the elderly. Now I’m a realist, as much as you all love the Limerick Post, we don’t quite have the same pull as the Irish Times or the Independent, and I’m sure Jim Daly knows that. He knows that putting a lowly regional journalist on the long-finger won’t have too much of an impact on his career, that anything I say here won’t matter a jot when it comes to him being re-elected.
Anyway, he didn’t really do anything wrong, neither he, nor his colleagues, are under any obligation to talk to me or respond to my requests for an interview. But this annual St Patrick’s Day exodus, the downing of tools by the most important men in the country, came as a surprise to me. I knew the Taoiseach would be over with The Donald, festooning him with shamrock, pressing the flesh, strengthening relations with the biggest superpower in the west. But the rest of them? The 30 odd ministers who jetted around the globe, strengthening relations with the likes of Norway, Oman, Cyprus, Vietnam, and Kenya? I had no idea their presence in such far-flung, exotic locations would help to bolster our economy, create business opportunities, and lower unemployment.
But look, this is just one of the perks of the job, a reward for reaching the pinnacle of your profession, acceding to the inner-circle of Irish politics. Our top brass work hard, they work long hours, and if that means they get a little jaunt somewhere nice every Paddy’s Day then so be it. Besides, it’s not like they’re sunning themselves on a beach all day, scoffing lobster at night, pickling their livers with the best of champagne – they only do that every second day. So we’re giving Minister Daly a pass, and we’ll give all of them a pass, so long as a shedload of Kenyan multi-nationals set up on our shores in the coming months.
Where does it end though? How many of our politicians really need to go abroad during the national holiday? Does the Mayor of Limerick, Stephen Keary, need to go to New York? Does he need to bring four of his mates with him, stay at a €340 per night hotel, and eat at a restaurant where the bill comes to €581? All at the cost of the taxpayer? I’m not so sure. The mayor is unrepentant though, stating that he has, “no qualms about the money spent. The benefits of such trips will be repaid one-hundred-fold to Limerick in the years to come.”
The total cost of the trip was €15,000 which, when you multiply it by one-hundred, comes to €1,500,000. Not bad. But nowhere near as good as the €2,800,000 the mayor earned for us last year when he and his companions ran up a bill of €28,000 during a similar trip. Given the math we should really sending him over there more often, in fact we should probably make him live there, insist that he occupy the penthouse at the Lexington Hotel, and be given his own table at the Toscana restaurant. A few years down the line, thanks to Mayor Keary’s excesses, we’d have a city to rival anything New York could offer, and the world’s most important politicians could all come here for Paddy’s Day.
It’s understandable that local politicians, councillors and officials, want to take advantage of all that goodwill and bonhomie, that they want to spend our national holiday in a country where more than 30 million people class themselves as Irish. And I’m sure there are huge benefits to doing so; partnerships cemented, deals rubberstamped, connections made, and so on. But where does the line between business and pleasure end, does it even begin? Is it possible for an Irish politician to make trade deals without going on the piss afterwards? Or is the drink part of it, are those papers only going to get signed once the target of their affections is half-cut? And why can’t they stay in a normal hotel like the rest of us, book well in advance and get a nice three-star place using their genius points on booking.com?
I know the mayor wants to portray himself as a man of taste, as an urbane socialite who knows all the best joints in town, who isn’t afraid to flash the cash, a man for whom no expense is too great. And I know that stuff plays well with the people who Mayor Keary has promised will invest heavily in Limerick in the coming years. But is it not just a little excessive? Does it not serve to heighten the lack of trust between the elected and their electorates, make us think that these people exist in a world far-removed from our own, a cosseted, pampered environment, its occupants protected from the ails and travails which concern the rest of us?
And does it not make their words ring hollow? Make their attempts at empathy for the downtrodden, their promises to alleviate poverty, to eradicate homelessness, and provide better living conditions for us all seem that little bit insincere? Because you know when that money comes, when the fruits of Mayor Keary’s labours are realised, it won’t be seen by anyone who really needs it, it won’t go towards making Limerick’s unemployment blackspots that little less blacker. It’ll be used to attract new graduates, highly qualified individuals who can push this city onwards, people who, in time, will come to understand the benefits of a good liquid lunch in a nice, fancy restaurant.
FRAGILE, please handle with care
I’ve always thought of Limerick people as being particularly hardy, a stoical, weather-beaten race who take life as it comes. Not so. Ye are actually the most fragile feckers going. Weak-limbed and delicate, ye have the constitution of a new-born lamb and can’t be left alone lest ye take a tumble and graze your poor little knees. If you don’t believe me look at the figures posted by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, figures which show that, over a ten-year period, Limerick residents had more successful claims than any other county in Ireland.
Adjusted per head of population, the figures reveal that Limerick received 388 awards per 10,000 people between 2007-2016, just edging out Longford (352) and Louth (319). Unsurprisingly, Kilkenny had the lowest number of awards (122) – after all, marble doesn’t break easily. And there’s more; data relating to compensation payments made on behalf of local authorities between 2012-2017 reveal that Dublin City Council received the most claims (1,024) with, in second place, you guessed it, Limerick City Council (924).
One of two things is happening here. Either you’re all show and underneath that tough guy exterior lies a rather dainty, somewhat misunderstood, soul, or, worse still, you’re a shower of degenerates, turning up in court with bad backs, sore necks, and chafed thighs, hoping that the judge will take pity on you, and maybe pay for your mortgage while he’s at it. So, what’s it to be? Are ye a bunch of lily-livered softies, or a crowd of devious schemers? I’ll let you decide which you prefer.