First up: get out your wallet, I want your money!
The Story is a new Irish political blog, one which has set itself up in the Woodward and Bernstein mold, and which has so far trumped the press here on pointing out the true depth of the financial mismanagement in FAS. While the newspapers and RTE concentrated on the €600,000 spent on an advert that was never aired and on the €600,000 or so that was simply unaccounted for, The Story dug into the records and pointed out that in fact tens of millions had been misspent due to mismanagement on a level corresponding to gross incompetence. They’ve also dug into the budgets of the Houses of the Oireachtas and found not only that the budget for the Oireachtas is monumentally huge (€654 million over 5 years) but that they’ve also been growing at an alarming rate (the per-annum cost rose by 125% in that 5-year period).
But the initial story which started the blog is a Freedom Of Information request.
For anyone in the US, a quick explanation – you, in the US, own every document your government produces and are entitled to a copy of it, barring national security classification and nominal reproduction fees. We in Ireland do not enjoy this entitlement. We can request any record produced by various branches of the government since 1998 under the Freedom of Information Act, colloquially known as an FoI request; but that Act excludes certain records and allows for the charging of fees to cover compilation and research costs.
Back to the story. The original FoI request was for all TDs and Senators expenses records since 1998.
I think half the Irish audience just started drooling at the prospect, no? Seeing what certain infamous TDs charged us for the free phones they bullied out of carphone warehouse and the like? Seeing how much we paid for John O’Donoghue’s wife’s hat at a horse race, or his limousine ride from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 in Heathrow Airport (for those not familiar with this, there’s a free shuttle bus provided by the airport, but our TD charged us €472 so he could take a private limousine instead). How about Bertie Ahern’s expenses? Brian Cowen’s? John Gormleys?
So far, in the first two hours that that blog post has been up, readers of the blog have used its paypal donations button to donate the first €240 of that.
So, got your wallet out yet? We may get the government we vote for, and we may not get to vote that often, but we can at least know just how bad they are by paying for some transparancy here.