Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sean Fleming on PrimeTime

A Willie O'Dea for the 21st century? Willie spent years as a backbencher willing and able to try and defend all kinds of government nonsense on behalf of FF, now that he's a minister he can't be doing that sort of thing any more. Well apart from in the Sindo but we've covered that already. However, it seems FF have unearthed a new Willie for a new age, as seen on PrimeTime this evening in the shape of Sean Fleming

Sean found fault with the fact that the FG/Labour plan is dependent on economic performance. Of course it appeared to completely shock him when Richard Bruton reminded him that all such plans and commitments are couched in such language, even the FF plan is dependent on things like growth and the absence of recession. Not that Sean is likely to have read his party's plan. After all when you're a FF backbencher your normal tactic is to promise people whatever they want in the hope that they'll have forgotten about it after the summer.

Sean Fleming then moved on to suggest that the reason for not delivering 200,000 extra full medical cards is down to our economic performance and the fact that not as many people are on social welfare. Yet, if that was the case then why was a number of 200,000 used? Why not say everyone under a a certain income threshold or at a certain percentage of the average industry wage would get a card? They choose the figure of 200,000 and they have to judged on that.

Then he was onto the commitment that all classes for under-9s would be of 20:1 class size. I find it truly bizarre that a government would suggest that the reason for not reaching the class size figure of 20:1 is because of special needs. Was there some explosion of special needs children after 2002 that caught the government unaware? They had been in government for 5 years to that point. Did they not know how many children were in the category of special needs. Of course not, the fact is they never intended on delivering the class size changes. Why? I'm only guessing but what if someone took a look at the nature of the teaching contracts and the allocation of special needs teacher and assistants to schools. I wonder if they would find that their presence is dependent on a certain number of children requiring their assistance. Should those numbers drop then the positions might disappear. Much different to hiring a permanent full time teacher who is assigned to the school for good.

I was a little annoyed (only a little mind) that Katie Hannon, even if she is FF gene pool as she admits herself in her book on the Naked politician, allowed the idea that because most waiting lists for operations are now between 2-5 months that this somehow meets the government promise of 3 months. Also it is worth noting that the clock doesn't start ticking for you being on a waiting list until you see a consultant. So the time you spend between getting sick, seeing your GP and finally seeing a consultant is apparently not waiting at all but some weird kind of limbo. Perhaps someone should get onto the Pope and tell him this is where it ended up!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Willie O'Dea - the unanswered questions

Unanswered because it seems no one in the Dead Tree Press is asking them.

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.