The real corruption
The tribunals have revealed evidence of corruption by councillors and senior politicians on a scale unimaginable 15 years ago, with almost all of those implicated or accused being associated with Fianna Fáil. But the real scandal of Irish public life is the scale of poverty and inequality at a time of such spectacular wealth, the massive waste of public funds and the avoidance of real social issues.
In a report published on 30 April last, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) reported:
• In 2005, Ireland had the fifth highest GNP per capita in the EU 27 at 18.6 per cent above the EU 25 average.
• The employment rate in Ireland rose from 56.1 per cent in 1997 to 68.1 per cent in 2006. The rate for women increased by over 14 percentage points over that period, while the rate for men rose by around 10 percentage points.
• Ireland had the third lowest unemployment rate in the EU 27 in 2006 at just over half of the EU 27 average of 7.9 per cent. The long-term unemployment rate in Ireland was 1.4 per cent in 2005, which was lower than the EU 27 average of 4 per cent. But the same survey showed that over 6 per cent of men and 7.5 per cent of women in Ireland were in consistent poverty in 2005.
• The proportion of Irish people at risk of poverty, after pensions and social transfer payments were taken into account, was 20 per cent in 2005. And by this is meant people on incomes equivalent to €11,000 per annum for a single person and €29,000 for a family of two adults and three children. This was one of the highest rates in the EU 27 and the survey found that the effect of pensions and social transfers on reducing the at-risk-of-poverty rate was low in Ireland compared with other EU 27 countries.
• The pupil-teacher ratio at primary level in Ireland in the school year 2003/2004 was one of the highest in the EU 27 at 18.3. Twelve of the other EU 27 member states had a pupil-teacher ratio of less than 15 at primary level.
• Early school leavers represented 12.3 per cent of the 18-24 age group in Ireland in 2006. The unemployment rate for early school leavers in this age group was 19 per cent in 2006 compared with an unemployment rate of 8.2 per cent for all persons aged 18-24. The confirmation that one-fifth of the population (ie 848,000 people) is living in the category “at risk of poverty” (that is on incomes the equivalent of €11,000 per annum for a single person) in a society that is so hugely wealthy is startling.
A Bank of Ireland Private Banking report published in 2006, ‘Wealth of the Nation', stated: “Irish wealth now ranks second amongst leading developed countries. With a decade of wealth accumulation behind it, the Irish economy's total wealth per head places the country second amongst 8 leading OECD countries, behind Japan and ahead of both the UK and the US. Total wealth per head in Ireland stood at €148,130 at the end of 2005.”
It stated: “We estimate that the asset base (excluding residential property) of the top 1 per cent of the population is approximately €86bn. And we forecast that this asset base of the top 1 per cent of the population will increase to €129bn by 2010, a 50 per cent rise on this 2005 level and to €214bn by 2015, an increase of a further 67 per cent.” In other words, confidence that the disparity in wealth in Ireland will grow exponentially.
The report addressed the issue of how many millionaires are in Ireland with the bland response “how long is a piece of string” but went on: “There are no definitive numbers about the number of millionaires within the Irish economy, with some estimates as high as 100,000. This number would suggest that the percentage of millionaires in the total population would be as high as 2.5 per cent. In contrast, the percentage of millionaires in the US and the UK stands at around 0.7 per cent.”
But excluding the value of private residences, the report estimated the number of millionaires at being “somewhere in the region of 30,000 millionaires in the country”. It continued: “Based on international evidence we estimate that there are over 300 individuals with a net worth in excess of €30m within the Irish economy and a further 2,700 with a net worth of between €5m and €30m. The remaining 27,000 have a net worth of between €1m and €5m.”
The consequences of this are growing disparity in opportunity, welfare the condition generally. Meanwhile the scale of inequality has been highlighted in reports published by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland. It has found, for instance, that:
• Between 1989 and 1998 the death rates for all causes of death were over three times higher in the lowest occupational class than in the highest.
• The death rates for all cancers among the lowest occupational class is over twice as high for the highest class, it is nearly three times higher for strokes, four times higher for lung cancer, six times for accidents.
• Perinatal mortality is three times higher in poorer families than in richer families.
• Women in the unemployed socio-economic group are more than twice as likely to give birth to low birth weight children as women in the higher professional group.
• The incidence of chronic physical illness has been found to be two and a half times higher for poor people than for the wealthy.
• Men in unskilled jobs were four times more likely to be admitted to hospital for schizophrenia than higher professional workers
• The rate of hospitalisation for mental illness is more than six times higher for people in the lower socio-economic groups as compared with those in the higher groups
• The incidence of male suicide is far higher in the lower socio-economic groups as compared with the higher groups.
• On average 39 per cent of people surveyed in 2003 identified financial problems as the greatest factor in preventing them from improving their health.
The Institute of Public Health compared the health of people in Ireland against that of the 15 other EU states (pre-enlargement) They found that Irish people compare badly with the experience of citizens in other EU counties. These findings included:
• Mortality rates in Ireland are worse than the EU average for a range of illnesses, particularly diseases of the circulatory system, breast cancer and death from smoking-related illnesses.
• Irish women have almost twice the rate of death from heart disease as the average European woman. • The incidences of mortality for Irish women for cancers of the breast, colon, larynx and oesophagus and for ischaemic heart disease are among the highest in the EU
• At the age of 65 Irish men have the lowest life expectancy in the EU. (Aside from the reports mentioned, the CORI report: ‘Addressing Inequality' has also been used as a background text for this article.)
Under the 2000-2006 National Development Plan (NDP), the government assigned €5bn for the development of the national roads. The National Roads Authority (NRA) charged with implementing the plan estimated that it would cost €7bn. In the end, the road improvement has cost over €17bn. In 2004, the Comptroller and Auditor General examined the scheme and the overruns. A Comptroller and Auditor General report on the NRA's Primary Routes Programme found problems with their cost-estimation process. He concluded that 40 per cent of the increase related to inflation increases and also a “systematic failure to fully cost certain project elements”. A quarter of the overrun related to “an underestimation of prices at the beginning of the programme”. The rest of the increases came from non-standard costs like the increases in cost of the Port Tunnel and the M50. In general they underprovided for elements such as earthworks, slide roads etc, in the original estimates for roads. The report also found substantial delays in the completion of projects and major cost over-runs, many due to a lack of expertise in the NRA in the early years of the roads programme.
The M50, envisaged as a ring road around the capital for long-distance rural traffic, took 17 years to build and has cost €936m to complete. The most troublesome part of the motorway was the South Eastern Motorway (SEM), from Rathfarnham to Shankill originally estimated to cost €153m. In the end the SEM cost €595m. The NRA says that the actual construction cost was €195m, one third of the total cost; land costs accounted for €300m and the other €75m was for planning, design, archaeology and legal bills.
The NRA has begun an upgrade on the M50, widening 32 km of the motorway from four to six lanes and upgrading 10 interchanges. In 2003 the NRA said the upgrade would cost €318m; the most recent figure was €810m. This is an increase of €419m in two years.
Dublin Port Tunnel
The Dublin Port Tunnel cost three times its original estimate and was three years behind schedule when it finally opened last December. When the Port Tunnel route was announced in 1993 the estimated cost was £100m. It was approved by government in 1999 and already the cost had doubled to £204m. The final bill will be €715m, says Dublin City Council, although many think it will be closer to €1bn.
The Comptroller and Auditor General has concluded that the state paid “at least twice the market price” when they purchased land in North County Dublin for a new super prison containing the relocated Mountjoy and Central Mental Hospital. In the report, published in September 2006, it said that agricultural land in the area was selling at between €20,000 and €30,000 per acre, at the time of purchase in 2005. But the government bought 150 acres at €200,000 an acre for the prison complex site. The report also said that sale process was badly managed by public officials.
The original estimate for a new prison site in 2003 was €10m. In the end the government forked out €29.9m for the site in 2005. A Village investigation found that lands in the area, which have been sold since the purchase of Thorton Hall, sold for eight times less. A 238-acre Grange Farm at Kilbride, just ten miles from the city centre and four kilometres to the west of the Thornton site at Kilsallaghan, was sold at public auction for €6.2m or just over €26,000 an acre.
In September 2005, Minister for Justice McDowell claimed that the Thornton Hall site represented value for money. But John Purcell, the Comptroller and Auditor General, told a Dáil committee last October that “value for money wasn't achieved in this particular incident”. There are other problems with the site. The road leading to the site is unsuitable is for the amount of traffic accessing the prison complex, which will hold up to 800 people. There is no public transport for the families of prisoners. The site has no water mains or sewerage supply.
In 2002, the Rail Procurement Agency (RPA) was given the responsibility of overseeing an integrated ticketing system for Dublin. In 2002, the RPA prepared a budget of €29.6m for the four-year project starting in 2002. By January 2006, the budget had risen to €42.7m. The key reason given for the increase in the budget was a longer implementation period, and the costs associated with that. At the moment it looks like there will not be an integrated ticket system until at least 2008.
So far the roll-out of electronic voting has cost the state €51m, almost double the original estimate of €33m. The machines were used in some constituencies in the last election in 2002 but their roll out was halted in 2004 amid concerns from the Commission on Electronic Voting about their reliability. The 7,500 voting machines ordered by government are currently sitting in a warehouse. Storage costs alone for the machines cost €696,000 in 2005. Ironically, a long-term aim of the scheme was to save money on election counts.
The Comptroller and Auditor General said that there should have been a “more rigorous cost-benefit analysis” done in relation to electronic voting and criticised the government's purchase of evoting machines when they were already aware that modifications were going to be needed on the machines.
Bertie Ahern's pet project, Medialab Europe, ended up costing €35m. At one stage it was costing a whopping €500,000 a month to run. Medialab Europe was envisaged to be a hi-tech hub attracting foreign investments in technology in Ireland. It had the backing of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But Medialab's success was hampered by a downturn in the technology industry post-September 11. But despite clear problems with the scheme the government continued to plough money into it. Although the Dáil Public Accounts Committeee (PAC) has said it was “burning cash” and that is productivity was “very low”, the government maintains that Medialab helped attract technological companies like Google to Ireland.
The payroll computer system for the health service was originally estimated to cost €9.1m. In the end the project actually cost €220m. The system was plagued by technical faults during the roll-out phase. Famously, one health service employee was paid €1m in error by the system. As well as this, the computer system cannot handle sick pay, annual leave, bank holidays or sick leave for 70,000 Health Service staff. The system's roll-out was halted in 2005 because of escalating costs. The HSE are still are hoping to continue the roll-out once a report is issued on the system in the summer. A Comptroller and Auditor General report concluded that the system did not have a clear enough remit from the outset and was poorly managed.
Child sex abuse
According to the SAVI report: Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, one in five women reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood.
One in six men reported experiencing contact sexual abuse in childhood. The government has done little to address the problem of child sexual abuse. Several recommendations that were made in the report five years ago have not been implemented. The SAVI report recommended that a comprehensive public-awareness campaign on sexual violence be developed; that barriers to disclosure of sexual violence be addressed; and that a consultative committee on sexual violence be established. These recommendations have not been acted on. A key recommendation in the SAVI report was a national helpline, which has not been established.
As well as this, the government's roll-out of Garda vetting, which entails Garda clearance on all those working with children, is not complete. At the moment only new employees who work with children are being vetted. Existing employees working with children have not been vetted and this will not even begin until 2008.
The government had promised to reduce class sizes for children under nine to 20:1. Currently the average class size in primary schools is 24 and over 73,000 primary school children continue to be taught in classes of more than 30.
Since they came into government, the number of students failing to transfer from primary to secondary education has soared by 30 per cent. The number of children who fail to sit the Leaving Certificate is 18 per cent every year. I
n 2000, the government made several recommendations in relation to adult literacy in their White Paper on adult education. Three of the major recommendations have never been implemented. They have since been re-recommended in an Oireachtas committee report on adult literacy in 2006. A major recommendation was that a National Adult Learning Council be set up. This has not been done. Only €3 in every €1,000 given to adult education goes to literacy.
The government also promised that every school building would attain modern standards. This has not been done and many schools are still accommodated in inadequate buildings or even pre-fabs.
There is also a significant unmet demand for assessments for children with special needs. There are 956 children on the early intervention waiting list awaiting assessment. Over 2,800 school-age children are awaiting assessment and 19,000 children awaiting speech and language therapy assessment.
Almost all of the promises made by the government in their 2001 health strategy have been broken. The government had promised to reduce hospital waiting lists, and improve Accident and Emergency facilities. According to estimates from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) in 2006, around 29,000 patients could be on hospital waiting lists across the state. It said there were 11,250 patients “actively” waiting for surgery, and 5,442 who were scheduled to have their operations within three months.
The government also promised 3,000 additional hospital beds, only 724 of those have been delivered. Accident and Emergency is massively overcrowded. In 12 January 2005, Ireland recorded the highest number of people on trolleys – 422. In March 2006, Mary Harney declared the A&E crisis a national emergency.
The rollout of Breastcheck, the national breast-screening programme, had been promised for 2005, but it has still not happened. As well as this, many cancer patients have to travel long distances to receive cancer treatment.
During the FF-PD government, the health service has become increasingly privatised. A recent report shows that many public hospitals treat more than the 20 per cent of private patients allocated to them. In some pubic hospitals half of the patients being treated were private.
Ireland has one of the highest rates of infection with MRSA in Europe – in 2005 there were 600 reported cases in Ireland, with 11 in Denmark and four in Norway.
The government had promised to expand social housing to meet the needs of 15,000 households per annum. A total of 7,191 social and affordable housing units were provided in 2003 across all the various schemes and programmes. In 2005, the latest year for which total figures are available, 13,100 social and affordable housing units were provided.
In order to tackle the social housing problem the government brought in the Planning and Development Act 2000 in November 2000. Part V of the act said that all residential housing developments in zoned land would have to provide 20 per cent social and affordable housing. However as a result of amendments brought in by the government in 2002, under pressure from the building industry, 14,000 potential social and affordable housing units were lost. A third of the housing planned under the scheme has been delivered in 2005 and 2006.
Threshold, a national housing organisation, says that commitments in the National Development plan 2007-2013 of 60,000 additional social housing units are not enough. They say that at least 10,000 units are needed a year.
Since 1988 there has been a six per cent decline in the amount of funding given to mental health, as compared with the overall health budget. Many of the mental-health services are out-dated and in need of modernisation.
The most recent report by the Inspector of Mental Hospitals listed 10 mental hospitals that were “unacceptable for care and treatment of patients”. The inspector highlighted the Central Mental Hospital, saying: “The Inspectorate had year-on-year described the intolerable conditions that pertained in parts of this hospital.”
Despite government promises to end the practice of accommodating children and adolescents in adult psychiatric services, this still continues. This is because of a shortage of appropriate units for these children. At present there are five beds in Galway and five in Dublin, but the Dublin ones are just from Monday to Friday. In general there is a problem with available beds. According to the Inspector of Mental Hospitals report for 2005, there are now fewer than 4,000 acute beds in the country, compared with over 11,000 in 1987.
Lack of resources in mental-health services has also been affecting the new mental-health tribunals. As of 1 November 2006, all people who are involuntarily detained must have their case reviewed by a tribunal after 21 days, under part two of the mental health act 2001. By 1 November 2006, 21 additional psychiatric consultant posts and eight child psychiatrist posts promised by the HSE as part of the tribunals implementation had not been filled.
Over 1,000 Traveller families remain in emergency accommodation; more than 70 per cent of Travellers are unemployed. They have a much shorter life expectancy that their settled counterparts – Traveller babies are almost three times more likely to die in their first year and the life expectancy of Traveller men is nine years less than the average, while for Traveller women it is 12 years less. Travellers can now expect a life expectancy comparable to that of the settled community in the 1950s. Travellers are eight times more likely to be unemployed. In 1995, the report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community recommended that 3,100 units of Traveller specific accommodation be provided by the year 2000. By the end of 2004 only 98 units of this accommodation have been provided.
They also suffer widespread racism. The Irish Traveller Movement conducted a survey and found that 70 per cent surveyed said they had been refused a drink in pubs because they were Travellers. Over 60 per cent said they had been “made a show of” in shops.