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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 19 April, 2014

Column: We’re all in this together? Yeah, right.

Politicians tell us we’re all in the same boat – but their expenses and other wasteful decisions tell a different story, writes former trader Nick Leeson.

Nick Leeson

I’VE WRITTEN BEFORE about the strange willingness of the Irish public to accept their lot.

There has been little organised protest to effect change or rebel against increased austerity. The lack of any visible displays of discontent or unrest is really quite strange. There are always injustices in society which a traditional opposition or socialist party, look to champion – but without an effective opposition party in this country the injustices are mounting.

Granted, the ‘Occupy’ movement may have taken control over very small areas of certain cities, but they are far from representative and even further from succeeding in any of their aims. I genuinely believe that the general apathy that exists is because there is no real opposition voice in government. Fianna Fáil shot themselves in the foot repeatedly over the last ten years, lack any credibility for the repeated abuse of the nation’s trust and will likely not be a worthwhile voice in opposition for many years to come. There are a number of good, hard talking sensible TDs but as they are Independent they lack the cohesion to really be heard.

That leaves us with a coalition government that is failing us all, because it is just that: a coalition. Whether it’s in the United Kingdom or here in Ireland, a coalition government promotes consensus rather than meaningful debate. That is why the opposition party takes on far greater importance, to really be the voice of the people and challenge everything that is happening by consensus. How often do we hear that ‘We are all in this together’? How on earth can they possibly understand what the majority of people are experiencing in this country? Financially, politicians all exist on a very different level and none experience the day to day struggle to provide for their families.

The average salary for a TD is €92,672. This is roughly four and a half times the average yearly income in Donegal, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office. There is only one group of people in danger of transgressing that demoralising breadline status. These same politicians claimed €6million in expenses in only nine months last year. While the rest of us are being urged to take the pain of the austerity cuts, you have to question where the pain is for our TDs.

‘Phoney men of the people’

We should be far more upset than we are letting on! They are phoney men of the people, and unless our voices are heard the injustice will continue for many years to come. The taxpayer forks out more than €20,000 for every day the Seanad sits. The 60 senators, many of whom have only spoken in a handful of debates, managed to share a staggering €1.65million in expenses in just eight months. None of the senators have designated constituencies and as long as I have lived in this country I have struggled to fully understand the purpose that they serve.

So as the majority of us count the pennies and suffer the strains and stresses of austerity, we have to demand that the Government do better. We know that the Government’s hands are tied where the bailout is concerned, but by turning their attention closer to home there are many things that can be done better. While many struggle to make ends meet, there are still thousands being paid salaries by the now defunct Anglo Irish Bank. Many still receive six figure salaries to sit at the same desks where they presided over a decision making process that was at times questionable, and more often than not reckless in the extreme.

There has to be a better solution. I’m told that there are two types of bankers at the defunct Anglo – those that play golf, and those that go to the gym. Anglo should be firmly and finally consigned to history. There is no incentive for any of the employees that remain to fulfil their job efficiently. Winding down the loan book will ultimately see them losing their own jobs. The government should be looking to advance this process considerably as well as advancing the redundancies at the other state owned bank, IAB. Why pay salaries to bankers that the country no longer needs?

In times of austerity we all have to make tough decisions. TDs’ expenses should have tougher scrutiny – nobody else gets paid for going to work – the existence of a costly Seanad should be severely questioned, and the state should stop paying out for bankers that are surplus to requirements. Transfer the remaining loan book to Certus or a similar organisation to clear the remaining portfolio and be done with the legacy of Anglo, once and for all.

Read more from Nick Leeson on TheJournal.ie>

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