Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue had no choice but to announce his resignation last Tuesday night. Whether he waits until next Tuesday to actually resign or decides to go now is of little importance.
Yes, he should have gone weeks ago rather than wait until he was pushed. He probably thought he could ride out the storm; that people would eventually forget all about John O’Donoghue and his lavish expenses and travel claims. He may have thought that the furore would die down and people would concentrate on other political events.
The fact that this did not happen this time shows that perhaps, at long last, the Irish people will no longer tolerate low standards in high places.
John O’Donoghue was a man I always liked but as I stated here some weeks ago, his position had become untenable and he should resign. And that was before we heard anything about the lifestyle he was leading as Ceann Comhairle.
He no longer had the confidence of the vast majority of TDs and I am fairly confident that a majority of his colleagues in Fianna Fáil are privately happy that he is going, whatever they might say in public.
He was becoming a huge embarrassment to the Government, as they were all being tarred with the same brush.
Now, by going, he will save himself and all his colleagues a few blushes as they move on to other more important matters.
I listened to Liveline on RTÉ radio on Tuesday afternoon and the only topic was John O’Donoghue and his spending of taxpayers’ money.
The programme was inundated with callers from all over the country. Every one of those callers expressed anger and outrage at the extent of O’Donoghue’s spending.
One person mentioned the fact that he had spent €11,000 – of taxpayers’ money – on a set of curtains for his office in the Dáil. The caller pointed out that, at the same time, children attending a school in Cork were being told to bring in toilet paper with them as the school could no longer afford to buy it.
Several owners of small businesses complained that they were being hounded at the present time by the Revenue Commissioners and the sheriff. What really angered them was that the revenue they were being hounded for was going to finance John O’Donoghue’s extravagant lifestyle.
A woman caller was reduced to tears as she tried to explain how difficult it was to buy the bare essentials to rear her family.
Those are only a few small examples of what people were saying to Joe Duffy on his programme. But their anger was aimed mainly at a Government, which has allowed or even fostered a culture of overspending taxpayers’ money in order to finance their own wealthy lifestyles.
The problem is that in spite of all the scandals that have been unearthed in the last decade or so, State spending on luxurious living for members of the Government and for senior public servants continues.
It is seen as one of the perks of high office that you have a licence to milk the taxpayer until he has no more to give.
That culture has to stop. If Brian Cowen wants public support for a harsh programme of public spending cuts he will have to start at the top. While politicians in general, and members of the Government in particular, have taken pay cuts in recent months, they have not gone far enough.
As far as the general public is concerned, TDs, and especially the Taoiseach and his ministers, are still paid too much. And their perks are far too lavish in a country where schools cannot even afford to buy loo paper.
They should sell off the bulk of their State cars and let their drivers carry out other garda duties. What’s wrong with travelling by train or bus or even by bicycle anyway?
Of course, as I have stated here too often in the past, there should be a radical shake-up of the whole political set-up, including State spending.
Get rid of Seanad Éireann. It is a useless institution with no powers. Sack up to half of the TDs. We did not need them at the best of times and we certainly do not need them now at the worst of times.
In a way, John O’Donoghue has done this country some service – although that was not his intention. He has put the spotlight on a culture in Irish politics that must be abolished. Never again should a Government minister, a Ceann Comhairle nor any public office-holder be allowed to spend taxpayers’ money as O’Donoghue did. If they want that kind of lifestyle, let them pay for it themselves out of their own pockets rather than expect the hard-pressed taxpayer to do it for them.
They call for patriotism from the Irish people in order to get us out of the economic mess we are in. Let them show some of that patriotism themselves.
They have shamed the great patriots of the past, including some of the founders of their own party, who were prepared to make huge sacrifices for their country.
They have shamed ordinary members of Fianna Fáil up and down the country who loyally stood outside chapel gates on cold and wet Sunday mornings in order to collect a few miserable quid to keep the party going.
They have shamed the whole darned lot of us.