The head-honcho of the beleaguered HSE just told a shocked Nation that he hasn't a clue what to spend next year's €13bn on. He simply said when asked, "I have no plan."
Perhaps the Christmas fairy has waved her magic wand and every single HSE problem has ceased to exist? It's as good an excuse as any, isn't it. "It's right up there with the infamous, "I won it on a horse." However, if Tony O'Brien, Chief Executive of the HSE has gone into brain meltdown then the entire horrible edifice might finally crumble.
Where though, will that leave the multiple quangos? There are over three thousand of them sucking at the HSE teat at present in a valiant effort to support the six-figure salaries of their own home grown heavyweights. A few of them probably even nod in the direction of their raison d'être from time to time. But those 3,000 quangos are in the frame for a quarter of Tony's €13bn budget for next year and they must be hoping that this lack of planning on his behalf won't change their, ahem, allocation.
Michael Brennen in the 'Indo' puts the spotlight on these tit-men when he writes that, "These groups and bodies are all operating independently from the HSE with their own boards of independent members, their own management teams and external auditors." What Michael doesn't say is that none of them are accountable either to us or the HSE itself. Grants from as little as €100,000 up to €10,000,000 are doled out by the HSE to these tax-free operations to do as they please with.
What he does say, by way of example, is that, "The HSE is funding five groups dedicated to helping older people, with €498,000 paid last year to Age Action Ireland, €562,000 to Age and Opportunity, €234,000 to Active Retirement Ireland, €352,000 to the Ballincollig Senior Citizens club, and €104,000 to the South Dublin Senior Citizens Club." You could add also that older people fund most of their own care, pay for their nursing homes and use the HSE directly through their hospital visits.
But the article cites so many duplications of so-called services that Michael rightly points out, "The HSE are not legally required to provide."
I recall Stubbs Reilly stating forlornly that 70 per cent of the HSE budget is instantly gone on salaries before he even starts. With a further 25 per cent gone on quangos there is five per cent left to care for the ill taxpayer who funds this abominable merry-go-round. Lately Leo Varakar is wearing a hunted defeated expression as he stumbles blindly from crisis to crisis. Real people are having real deaths in the meantime even as the HSE commissions more expensive ads in the media to warn you of very oblique risks that you are highly unlikely to ever encounter.
And we are told that they need a huge budget to pay massive salaries to attract the right intelligent people to run the HSE brilliantly. Where do I even begin to comment on that? It's hard to know whether the HSE is a hoax or a farce but it remains the country's biggest budget item every year. The portly Tony who heads it all up is doing pretty nicely for himself also as the rest of us suffer. Not only is he knocking down the guts of half a million a year allegedly, but he's already on the lucrative international conference circuit for lazy medics. Up on that podium he can instantly forget the squalor that is our hospital service and wallow instead in the adulation of the recipients of his largesse with our state funds. Oh! And he gets a few bob on the side for himself while he's at it.
But back to the quangos though! Overseas readers will be shocked at how easy it is to get tax-free charitable status in this laughable Republic. Just write some pompous nonsense on the back of a cigarette box and title it "CHY application," then drop it in the taxman's letterbox. That's practically it! Really!! OK, so you do have to have some wink & elbow connections in the corridors of power. But as we saw on TV last week, there's a queue of politicians with their hands out for as little as ten grand, as long as it comes in small untraceable denominations. In return, something like charitable status for you is well within their remit behind closed doors.
That CHY status is like a winning HSE lottery number when you get it. You negotiate free money annually with them in return for vague promises to do something or other. Then you have a licence to tap the gullible public on flag days also to rake in more dough and the beauty of the scam is that the taxman can't touch a penny of it. So Tony may not have a plan but 3,000 different leeches around the country certainly do and the real go-boys among them will see Tony's dithering as their opportunity to get even more out of him next year.
Plans are nothing, planning is everything!