The CRC: spending other people’s money like water

“The money that man got would allow me to create 50,000 nursing hours for my children. I resent that.” – Jonathan Irwin, CEO of the Jack & Jill Foundation.

So it turns out Paul Kiely, former CEO of the Central Remedial Clinic, got the guts of three quarters of a million, in a secret deal, basically to shag off. Using accountancy mechanisms which the late Father Ted Crilly might have recognised, the money was kept off the books via a “donation” from the charity “Friends and Supporters of the CRC”. By turning over this particular rock, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee certainly earned their money this week.

€700,000, as Gavan Reilly tweeted, is 233,333 of those CRC Santa Bears. Or, as many commentators have noted, about half of the money donated charitably in one year to the CRC.

An important point, which is in danger of being lost in this controversy, is that the CRC does vital work for vulnerable children and adults with profound disabilities. The money that was given to Paul Kiely had been raised in good faith by decent and kind people, and donated by decent and kind people, to provide support for people in desperate need of help. In fact, Tony O’Brien, head of the HSE, says that the money given to Kiely would have shortened waiting times for CRC patients. Go on. I suppose that’s why Tony’s on the big money himself.

Maria Nolan is the mother of 17-month-old Oisin. Oisin is dependent on the services of the Central Remedial Clinic. Maria calls the CRC “a lifeline” and “a second home”. Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she appealed to the public to continue to support the charity. I would really urge you to listen to what she had to say.

Dr Tom Clonan has also spoken and written very movingly of the care and affection given to his eleven-year old son Eoghan, who is a patient of the CRC, by the frontline staff there. “They are the reason people like me can sleep at night,” he says. He calls the CRC “an extension of the family and an oasis”. He feels that the patients and staff are the victims of a tactically-timed government leak to distract from the damage being done by Health Minister “Calamity James” Reilly and it’s very difficult to argue that he hasn’t a valid point.

Still, if not for the devastation being caused to real people, I might grudgingly like Reilly. It’s hard not to smile at a man so comically-inept he seems hardly able to answer the phone without setting fire to himself.

The CRC scandal throws up a very important question. There is a pressing need to ask what sort of a supposedly grown-up country outsources essential services to the charity sector but, to recycle the old Irish joke, if we were going there we probably wouldn’t start from here. Welcome to The Land Of We Are Where We Are.

The CRC scandal is a legacy of the nest-feathering cronyism that went on in our Ceaușescu Era, back when Fianna Fáil ran the country, possibly out of the back room of Fagan’s in Drumcondra. But not to worry, we’ve had a democratic revolution since then. Everything’s grand now.

You may, however, have noticed that the small matter of Irish Water (and the staggering €50 million which has already been spent on consultation fees) was also before the Public Accounts Committee on the same day. For instance, €4 million went to Ernst & Young to come up with a name for Irish Water. They came up with “Irish Water”. €4 million. Nice work if you can get it.

Of course you may not have noticed either, given the Augean stink raised by Paul Kiely’s pay-off. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

Unless you are a completely starry-eyed innocent, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that while the CRC was the way Fianna Fáil ran the country, Irish Water shows how Fine Gael and Labour do it. Once every five years, our ruling elite lets us change the donkeys nominally in charge and pays them well so they stay onside. Nobody is ever really held accountable. Small people suffer and the big boys, the lads who helped crash the country and their drinking buddies, retire on telephone-number pensions. Even if the money for those pensions has to be collected in buckets by the families and friends of disabled kids.

Imagine if, when nobody was looking, I dipped my hand into a CRC collection box and helped myself to half of the contents.

You’d call me a scumbag. And you’d be right. But compared to a man who would trouser three quarters of a million in charitable donations, I’d still only be the second-lowest of the low.

Donal O’Keeffe

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