And so, after a long and protracted illness, the mercy killing of the nation’s e-voting machines has come to pass. The job lot of 7500 machines, which have cost the state in excess of € 55m. over the past ten years has been offloaded to the scrapheap for €70,000. Back to Bertie’s derided peannluaidh again, but an end to the nightmare which still haunts Martin Cullen.
The spectacular incompetence which marked a succession of public projects when money was squandered like confetti in the good times was matched only by an indifference to the incompetence which was breathtaking. Maybe it was that the public was punchdrunk from one revelation of bungling after another, or maybe it was that we had become inured to the truly massive sums which were so casually frittered away, or maybe we collectively have a very short memory. Whichever it was, however we allowed such negligence and waste to go unchecked and unpunished will give food for examination for generations of future analysts .
A disregard for public funds, and a lack of accountability when - as so often happened - ambitious projects went completely out of control, was added to a smug infallibility among senior politicians that they could do no wrong. Hence the outrageous waste on a variety of projects such as the Bertie Bowl, costing €100m on consulting fees and site acquisition before the PDs scuppered the grand plan in defiance of their coalition partners.
Throw in grandiose follies, like the PPARS, the infamous HSE information technology project whose estimated cost of €9m had ballooned to €130m before the plug was pulled and it was quietly stored away in a sealed basement. There was a project called Media Lab Europe which soaked up €150m of government funding before being wound up ignominiously after a few years with consultants describing its output as “dismal”. There was € 150m. spent on Metro North, the rail project which was finally abandoned and whose losses included compensation payments to the project bidders; €42m on plans, designs and land acquisition for the Dart underground , now in indefinite cold storage ; not to mention the € 30m. on architects, engineer and consultant fees for the initial, now abandoned, plan for the Children’s Hospital.
And then, there was Thornton Hall, the new superprison with €30m spent on acquiring the land and €12m on preliminary plans before it too went the way of all the others. Thornton Hall was the folly of all follies, decided on by Ministerial whim, a prison to replace Mountjoy, even though a decision had been reached earlier, and after much deliberation, to revamp the ‘Joy and continue with its use as the country’s main prison.
John Lonergan, former and much respected governor of Mountjoy, has written of the abrupt and inexplicable policy u-turns that marked the Thornton Hall saga. A decision by Minister John O’Donoghue to revamp Mountjoy was overturned, without notice or consultation two months later by his successor, Michael McDowell. Mountjoy was to be demolished, went the Ministerial decree, and a new prison would be buit on a greenfield site. Lonergan heard the news on the radio.
And as a further indication of Ministerial decision-making, the Aire in his wisdom opined that it would be a seriously astute move to purchase Egan’s Cash and Carry, next door to Mountjoy, thus greatly increasing the resale value of the prison site. The price paid was reportedly in the region of €28m Guess what it’s worth now?