Omens and Openness:

More Top- Up Revelations

 In these dark times I’ll take my laughs where I can get them.  In theory you should be able to find humour in most things but in reality it doesn’t quite work out like that, does it?

When it comes to Irish Health Care the last time that I found myself spluttering into my porridge in demented but mirthful disbelief was on the morning after the latest proposed cuts to frontline services were announced.  I mean, 666 million Euros?  Was that amount some kind of a joke?  Where did they pull that so-precise figure from?  Had they never read their Bible?  They could have dampened the disbelief somewhat perhaps, if they had made it 665 or 667; but no! The number had to be the beastly figure of 666.

We know that most of these bean counters are irony free zones at the best of times; but even by their standards it was pretty hideous.

Still, the Revelations (geddit?) since then have taken the spotlight away from that somewhat, as in the past week we hear more and more of the health manager ‘top-ups’ that have been taking place behind our sleeping backs.

As I’ve said before, this has had a truly detrimental effect—and one which can only get worse—on those who are working hard in order to raise money for their various charities.  It’s an unfortunate fact of life that people will see all of us in the same light and all of us will be tarred with the same brush.

No one ever said that this world was fair, not without sniggering they didn’t; but it shouldn’t have to get harder either.

The funny thing is that I doubt that most people would have been all that put-out if they had only known it was going on.  If those who were this week appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (another hilarious title that has proved time and again to mean nothing at all) had been open about believing that they should have been better paid from the start, then they could have avoided this entire mess.

It’s only fair to see trained professionals being paid what they are worth; but no, as usual this had to be done in a totally and quite despicably underhanded way.  It’s once again the Mushroom Theory as regards the electorate:  ‘Keep them in the dark and feed them —‘. This is a family site so feel free to fill in the missing word yourselves.

There seems to hardly be a government put into power in recent years—not Fianna Fail, not Fine Gael, not the Labour Party– that has not contrived to somehow forget that famous dictum:

“The people should never be afraid of its government; the government should always be afraid of its people.”

In truth, we probably can’t complain:  we are the ones who voted them in and then let them renege on their promises without consequence.  To keep with the Biblical references, we are reaping what we have sowed.

Listening to the government spouting outrage on the top-ups… well, to say that I find this a bit disingenuous would be to put it mildly. They didn’t know it was going on? Really? And if they didn’t, don’t you think that they should have?

For years now—literally for years—we have allowed the Usual Suspects to stand up there with a straight face (but with fingers crossed behind their backs, no doubt) and waffle on about Openness and Transparency.

Serioulsly, Openness and Transparency.  They actually seem to think that we will listen with all due solemnity to this nonsense and then go away and think to ourselves that Well, this time they have learned their lesson.  This time they actually mean it.

Of course there are decent politicians out there—of course there are, and in fact this week has also shown that—but just as all charities are now finding themselves lumped together in one great big mass, so this has happened to our Beloved Elected Representatives as well, many of whom seem to have forgotten that they work for us. It’s not the other way around.  They work for us; when did we forget this?  And why did we let them forget it?

And so, many times in the past week when a politician has spoken of his ‘shock’ at the top- up figures coming out, I’ve heard the old joke:

How do you know when politicians are lying?  Answer: Their lips are moving.

Don’t shoot the messenger. I have no doubt that some (probably with a vested interest) will find my comments unhelpful; but I live in the real word, not in the Ivory Tower that many of them lay down their heads in.

Hand in Hand’s Contribution to Openness and Transparency.

I work with Hand In Hand, which as you know if you are reading this, is the West of Ireland’s only charity for children with cancer; and over the last couple of months I can tell you that I have become more and more proud to work with it.  I think that what we do is valuable; I think that it is important.

So in the interests of Openness and Transparency I will tell you that I take home €208 at the end of the week.  (Although I’m writing this on a Sunday so what constitutes that week is kind of problematic.)  And that princely sum—exactly twenty Euros more than I would be getting if I was signing on the Live Register—does not come out of the charity’s budget.  It’s because, like a lot of people, I found myself falling on hard times and so I’m here on a TUS scheme and very happy to be so.  Sure, I could just put in the hours and then go home.  But there’s something about Hand in Hand.  For me at least, it could never just be a job.

As to those on the Hand in Hand Board, that is completely voluntary.

The Development Manager Jennifer Carpenter has given me permission to tell you what she earns:  €27,000 a year.  And anyone reading this is more than welcome to come in here to see just what the work for that amount of money entails; and to see that every Euro raised is accounted for.

That is Openness and Transparency.  That is why we feel hurt, angry and betrayed by the revelations of the last week: not by what people were being paid, but in the fact that they felt that they had to make up their perceived shortfalls by clawing and gouging extra money from—heaven help us— such outlets as the hospital sweet shop.  How sad is that?

And because of this culture of secrecy so endemic in Ireland we will suffer for that.

It’s probably unfair to single out one individual—especially since there are so many involved here—but as we have learned, it’s not a fair world.  So step forward, if you will, former Central Remedial Clinic boss Paul Kiely.  He’s not usually shy about the limelight so I’m sure he won’t mind this time.

In 2012 Mr. Kiely was paid a very acceptable salary of €106,000; but it doesn’t seem to have been acceptable enough.  So money raised by the Friends and Supporters of the Central Remedial Clinic was used to top up on this by nearly €140,000 —more than he was getting paid in the first place!  And if we feel angry, I can only imagine what those honest fundraisers are feeling at the moment.

Independent TD and journalist Shane Ross, speaking on RTE’s Prime Time, accused the clinic of using charity money to ‘line the pockets of its top earners’.

Well, in fairness, you can kind of see where he got that notion from.

And with even more admirably direct bluntness Shane Ross said today: “Kiely charged a lot to look after sick children.  Five grand a week to be precise.”

If that doesn’t turn your stomach I don’t know what will.

As I was going through the various figures on Friday with my mouth hanging open, Jennifer put it into some kind of perspective for me:

“The top up alone is actually more than we had to spend this year.  In fact, that figure would actually allow us to expand into four more counties.” [Currently we do eight.]

It was probably the wrong time to mention it but I thought that I would drop the hint to her that I normally bring in my own lunch with Sandwich and pintme.  She saw my point and with enormous generosity told me:

“Look, tell you what:  before we knock off for Christmas I’ll buy you lunch.  How does a two- course meal sound to you?  A sandwich and a pint, I can’t say fairer than that.”

Jennifer, it sounds good– and thanks; but I think that I’ll pass and let you donate it to Paul Kiely and company instead.  It sounds as if they think they need the money more than we do.

Charley Brady