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Can you Say "Electronic Voting" Mary?

10.04.2005

Fresh from weathering a political storm over the monies spent out at Thornton Hall, it looks like the government are embarking on a strategy of releasing most of the bogeys in the closet early in order to get the bulk of bad news out of the way. If, however, the unthinkable is true and this government are simply quite bad at spending whatever taxes we give them, it looks like it might be a long Dail session (another 13 weeks off Mary?). The debacle comes in the form of over E150 Million misspent on a new payment system in the HSE.
This issue arose earlier in the year, Harney's people are quick to point out, she has been on top of this like a terrier on a ball. The report on it is somewhere in the bowels of the department. This piece of IT overspend looks likely to turn into a new "electronic voting" scenario, just as that nugget was starting to get stale.
Enda Kennys response on Morning Ireland was to lambast this waste as the 'daddy of them all'. The systems efficacy is under scrutiny, cited as being capable of only paying 33% of wages as opposed to the projected 100% of wages. Its record is equally blemished and has given Fine Gael (and by extension Labour) a stick to beat the government with. More dangerously for the government perhaps, is the fact that this saga gives the opposition an opportunity to build up a platform as a fiscally responsible prospective government (if you listen to Kenny's clip on Morning Ireland see his idea of signing off on compliance forms for Department Budgets round 4:13).
Fine Gael and Labour are now highly likely to do some running on this and formulate a bit of a reputation as economic terriers on spending. Whether or not this works is one thing, the issue at heart here underlines further still, the dodgy manner in which modern governance takes place.
Over E70 million was spent on consultants, there is little doubt that modern governance has moved from cabinet toward cabals of advisers and endless streams of consultants. The damage this does to the integrity of a political process cannot be underestimated. Issues are decided outside of any democratic forum and the control over costs and direction of the project lie more in the hands of Fortuna than the minister responsible.
Yes this is bad news but its not new news. We got wind of this ages ago, Fine Gael seem to be dragging it up again to refresh editors memories. Harney equally is less responsible than her two immediate predecessors. This wont stop a flurry of press releases from the office of Liz McManus (1, 2).
I remain to be convinced that any other party in the country would risk changing the status quo and subject themselves to genuine scrutiny of spending and genuine commitments to budget. Equally i wonder if it is such a touchstone issue to voters that they will demand guarantees on it from all sides at the next election. Government overspending is perceived as privelage of office and something we can neither stop nor control. Perhaps this is a latent issue waiting to be mobilised in a constructive manner to our governance and democracy rather than media muck-slinging and little genuine change.
RR

Update: FGs Dr Liam Twomey gets his oar in, the government sites and releases notably absent of comment on the issue. Usual bluster, still whiffs of easy pickings all round though.

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