Outrage at Dublin’s ‘Disneyworld government’
There have been calls for 26-County health minister Mary Harney to resign after it emerged she used the state jet and expense accounts as part of a thinly-disguised six-figure vacation in Florida.
Al least three senior Fianna Fail government ministers have now been implicated in the scandal over the Florida trips -- organised as part of a so-called ‘Science Challenge’ project -- which involved visits to NASA and Disneyworld.
The director general of the Fas training and employment authority resigned this week amid a mounting scandal over the science training fund apparently being used to treat Fianna Fail cronies to luxury sunshine vacations.
The outrage comes as the Dublin government struggles to implement major budget cutbacks and tax increases, while science education in Ireland has foundered.
Ms Harney travelled to Florida on the 26-County government’s jet, along with a party of seven others in July 2004 at a cost of $70,000. The group had also booked first class tickets, at a cost of a further $37,000, as a contingency against the government jet not being available. However, they forgot to cancel the first class tickets when the party had been able to travel by government jet.
“What happened shouldn’t have happened and we have to take responsibility for that,” said Christy Cooney, assistant director general of Fas.
Ms Harney admitted Fas paid a hairdressing bill for a wash and blow dry during her trip to Florida. However, a spokesman said the bill did not amount to $410 and denied she also partook of manicures and other services.
A debate in the Dublin parliament about the Florida controversy was ruled out of order on Wednesday by the Ceann Comhairle, John O’Donoghue. “I have no intention of spending the Order of Business discussing hairdos, pedicures or manicures. I am not doing that,” said Mr O’Donoghue in response to a question from Labour finance spokeswoman Joan Burton.
The Taoiseach Brian Cowen initially sought to justify the trips and defended Fas and its director, Rody Molloy. However, he later criticised what he said was ‘profligate’ spending by the state body, but denied the scheme was a Fianna Fail slush-fund.
Reacting to Molloy’s resignation, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the Taoiseach had seemed indifferent and unaware of the seriousness of the matter. “The real issue remaining is the Taoiseach’s clear lack of judgment in relation to this matter.”
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD described the Florida trips as “gross wastages of money, particularly at a time when thousands of jobs are at risk and public sector workers are being attacked.
“Rody Molloy has made the appropriate decision to resign amid these revelations. However it is quite clear that Mr. Molloy has become the scapegoat for a culture malpractice within the hierarchies of FAS.
“What is quite worrying about this ordeal is the Taoiseach’s declaration of confidence in Mr. Molloy ahead of his resignation.
“His standing over of Mr. Molloy is akin to his presiding over the running down of the Health Services under HSE Chief Executive Brendan Drumm.
“We must remember that Rody Molloy is not the only Senior Civil Servant who has presided over massive wastages of money and mismanagement of a State Body.”
Meanwhile, former government press secretary and lobbyist Frank Dunlop has finally been charged with 16 counts of corruption.
Mr Dunlop, who featured heavily in the recent corruption tribunals, is accused of handing ‘brown-envelope’ bribes to several politicians in the 1990s to have land rezoned for development.
He appeared before Dublin District Court this week after being arrested by members of Garda police Criminal Assets Bureau.
The court was told that when charged, Mr Dunlop replied: “We always knew this day was coming and I will not be contesting the charges.”