Article from the October 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Joe Higgins Column
THE FIANNA Fail/ Progressive Democrat government has just paid €29.9 million for a farm called Thornton Hall in the heart of rural north County Dublin for a new prison to replace Mountjoy jail. The land is currently being farmed and at agricultural prices should earn around €5 million! Just another example of how this increasingly arrogant government has no problem squandering taxpayers' money.
Minister for Justice McDowell had established an "expert" committee to look for a site in early 2004 and this committee had examined a few dozen sites that had been on offer. Thornton however was first introduced at a committee meeting on 18 June this year and a decision was taken at that same meeting to pay €29.9 million for it. Only a very preliminary engineering examination of the site had been carried out. Questions abound but the government adamently refuses a transparant way to get answers.
This is an unsuitable location for a prison. Unfortunately, many of the prisoners in Mountjoy are from parts of Dublin that are referred to as deprived and it will involve considerable hardship for relatives to make their way to a location which is not now served by public transport. This is apart from the fact that a small but vibrant rural community including the local national school will be grossly impacted upon.
Since I went into the Dail in 1997, I have called again and again for legislation to control the price of building land. Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats have of course rejected this out of hand. As a result, their speculator friends make an obscene fortune from land speculation. Young workers attempting to buy a house or apartment are already the victims of this greed.
Now a new round of speculation at the expense of the taxpayer is well underway. This arises from the government's plan to decentralise 10,000 public service workers to 53 locations in 25 counties. The Office of Public Works has just reported that it has paid €20 million for sites for new buildings at an average cost of €430,000 per acre. No wonder Fianna Fail and Progressive Democrat politicians rushed back to their local areas two years ago when the decentralisation announcement was first made! Many of their supporters are getting very rich at our expense. However ordinary taxpayers are growing more cynical and angry as each week brings new revelations of their money being misspent by this government.
The incredible situation in the health service is the latest scandal whereby consultants Deloitte and Touche have been paid a massive €50 million to develop a computerised system for staff records that has turned into a botched job. The system, known as Personnel, Pay and Related Systems (PPaRS), has cost €116 million to date. Clearly consultants have been ripping off the public purse. This is an inevitable result of the increasing drive by the government to privatise areas of the public service. There is no reason why the development of a comprehensive information technology system could not be developed by public service workers.
A major question should now be raised against the decision by the Minister for Education to build 27 schools through Public Private Partnerships (PPP) over the next 3 years by giving over to private companies contracts to design, build and maintain these schools far into the future. The Comptroller and Auditor General investigated a pilot PPP scheme of six schools that was found to be more costly to the taxpayer than if the State had built the schools itself. But what do Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats care when big business, including multinational corporations, are creaming it? After all, that is who they represent.
All these issues sharply raise the need for working class people to have a political party that represents them as strongly as the right wing parties represent the rich. No significant forces with real social weight have yet moved in this direction, but it is only a matter of time before the rabid neo-liberal agenda of the establishment pushes workers in this direction.