I was drawn a fortnight ago to the Minister of Defence Willie O’Dea's entry in the register of Oireachtas members interest. The minister as many people will know has a weekly column in the Sunday Independent. Now, politicians writing the occasional column or making the odd television appearances is not uncommon nor should it be discouraged. However, a weekly column is a platform for promotion of his electoral chances much like any other piece of advertising and it suggests employment. So why is there no reference to this engagement in his return.
The absence to any reference to his column begs the following questions.
Is the minister actually employed on contract my Independent News and Media and is he paid the going rate for this column? – and why is this not listed on his return?
If not then does he pay a market rate for the advertising space he is being given to convey his political message to the public each week?
If not then this space is being given as a gift from Independent New and Media to the minister and why was it not noted as such on his return?
Those are the only real options.
A senior minister takes up an offer of assistance from a major commercial organisation. An offer that will assist his re-election chances and he then doesn’t declare it in his entry of the register of Oireachtas members’ interests. You would think that this would be headline news, right? Well, while we’ve had the usual prurient interest in who owns how many houses and perhaps the exotic shareholders of some Oireachtas members, there are been no mention of this cosy relationship.
Why is this? It would seem that we have a media that will, rightly in my view, highlight any and all juicy morsels that a TD or Senator may be offered except when the sweetener is from the media itself. The declarations are to inform the public of what interests members have and how they may influence the decisions of Oireachtas members and most especially cabinet members. In the case of Minister Willie O’Dea and Independent News and Media we have a situation where a minister appears to be able to avail of free print space, no favours asked or expected.
In order to cover all the possible forms of inducement the form that members have to return has entries for contracts, gifts or other remuneration. but where is the questioning from our friends in the 4th estate? Could it be that in the case of their own industry that they feel themselves to be outside the intent of the legislation?
The annual focus on share and property ownership in the returns is regarded as good clean voyeurism but free gifts to ministers in the form of print space from media organisations goes to the heart of what the declarations are meant to be about. Exposing the links to and influences from organisations on our paid public representatives.I suppose it is much better in the public interest to look at who might have a interest in conflict diamonds. That is much more Hollywood.