A couple of months ago I started working for the West of Ireland children’s cancer charity ‘Hand in Hand’.  I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a job so much, nor ever had a boss that I actually liked so much; or at all, come to think of it (take a bow, Jennifer Carpenter).  In fact, it’s not a job, really.  Rather, it is doing something that is truly important:  providing practical support for children diagnosed with cancer and for their families.

If you wish to learn more about the charity then go to www.handinhand.ie 

I’ve been contributing the occasional piece to the site and newsletter and here is one from 22nd November.


No Escape From It:

Two More Reasons To Be Furious


So:  certain health executives have been taking nice little ‘top-ups’ from hospital facilities as diverse as the sweetshop and the car park.  It should, quite frankly, beggar belief but of course it doesn’t.  Not really.  We’ve been punch-drunk from scandal after scandal for years now.  There’s not much left that can shock us.

We’ll get used to it; and in the end we will probably just file this away as another case of people who already enough money believing that they are ‘entitled’ to yet more.

Indeed, just as the word ‘entitlement’ has entered Ireland’s Dictionary of Shame, so we can now look forward to ‘top-ups’ joining it.

Or…will this one go away quite so easily?  Because this one is linked to that emotive word ‘charity’.

Where this is so much more damaging than the usual Irish scandal is that genuine charities, which put a lot of work in all year round and no more so than at Christmas, are going to be brutally affected by this.

I’ll get back to that in a moment, however; because I’m writing this on Thursday evening (November 21st) and this one has a while to run yet.  We’ll see what happens when the culprits have put forward their excuses next week.

Instead I’m going to veer off on a slight tangent and have a look at that astonishing statement from Labour Chief Whip Emmet Stagg on Wednesday night:

“If a TD has a pint or two I don’t think that’s a problem for me and I don’t think that it’s a problem for the citizens of the country either.”

Well, quite.  I’ve been known to have a few myself; but, Emmet, this is in relation to entering your place of work with drink taken!

This was in answer to a survey being done by TV3 Midweek.

Now I accept that certain of our ‘entitled’ politicians to some extent exist in a parallel universe, where it is quite acceptable to have alcohol taken before voting on…oh just off the top of my head…an Abortion Bill.  However, TD Stagg’s blithe, take-it-for-granted statement that the public don’t have a problem with this illustrates perfectly how utterly divorced many of our representatives are from those that they supposedly represent!

What would Mr. Stagg’s reaction be if the guy that he had contracted to fix his roof walked in and garden flowers started wilting at the fumes from his breath?  Would he say:  “Ah sure, the poor fella’s only had a couple of pints.  I better give him a hand with that ladder.”

If he was getting into a cab and finding himself half-cut on the breath from the taxi driver would he still point him in the direction he wanted to go, with a gentle reminder to put on his seat belt?

I honestly don’t know why the devil we are having this discussion.  In every job I know, having drink taken when you go on duty is a sackable offence.  And yet our TDs can not only drink, they drink at enormously subsidised rates!  Seriously, the mind boggles.  And actually, come to think of it, doesn’t it contravene the Health and Safety Act?  Could you get a bill overturned on this basis?


Now maybe you’re saying:  “Fair enough, but what has this got to do with a children’s cancer website?”  In my opinion it has plenty.  When I think of the amount of decisions that have been made in this country– many of them decisions relating to health and health budgets— by people who are under the influence and in some cases don’t seem to be able to get through a working day without a couple of belts, I think that my head is going to explode. 

When some scenes of Dail mayhem went worldwide—to our complete embarrassment– some months ago (as a politician pulled a female colleague onto his lap) I wrote in the Irish Examiner USA, in part:


“Despite an initial reluctance [Fine Gael back bencher Tom Barry] admitted that he had drink taken.  And it was easy for him to have as much drink as he wanted because—just as it was when it stayed open late for the banks bailout—the Dail Bar was open last Thursday until five that morning. [Actually I got that wrong:  it was in fact six in the morning before it closed.  Apologies.]

“Still, it’s not as if he was legless.  As he says himself he ‘wasn’t drinking excessively’.  He doesn’t say what he means by ‘excessive’ but I have to wonder.  I mean, my ‘excessive’ may not be his…and why are levels even being discussed in the first place?  They were supposed to be working—and voting on Enda’s most serious Bill ‘in the last 40 years’.

“Nor was it confined to Fine Gael. 

“United Left Alliance’s Joan Collins says that several of them were ‘a bit wobbly’.  A bit  wobbly; as if this is acceptable behaviour by those that have been put into their privileged positions by voters who expect them not to be half-cut at such a time.


“Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen says that he didn’t have anything ‘out of the ordinary’.   Again, what does he consider to be ‘ordinary’?  These guys are downing heavily subsidised booze so I would think it likely that their tolerance levels may be higher than the ordinary punter WHO DOESN’T ACTUALLY HAVE A BAR IN HIS PLACE OF WORK!  And his fellow party member Dara Calleary says that he only had ‘one or two’.


“Dara, seriously; how do you think we feel at hearing you being so damned dismissive when we were under the impression that this was an important vote?


“I wonder how many of you drove home when the Dail Bar finally closed at five [six!] in the morning.  After all, you weren’t drinking ‘excessively’, or ‘out of the ordinary.’  And why, whilst I’m on the subject, was it necessary to continue on until such a time?  Given the tiny attention span of some of you, couldn’t you have just finished it the next day?  Or would you have been too hung-over?”



You know, it’s not that many years since those heady days when Bertie Ahern boasted to an interviewer that six or seven pints of Bass didn’t have that much effect on him.  This drinking culture amongst working TDs isn’t exactly new.  Times have changed for the rest of us, however; so why is it that our lot can’t keep up?  Why do some of them still insist on seeing themselves as beings apart?

So here we go again.  As evidenced by Emmett Stagg’s comments last night they genuinely don’t see what the big deal is.

Just as an attempt will eventually be made to tone down the whole disgrace of the hospital executive ‘top-ups’.

This time will it work, though, I wonder?  There will be much more to say on this next Wednesday or so, as the HSE Executive has been asked to appear before the Public Accounts Committee; and since you have probably overdosed today on this, as I have, then it will be time to comment then.

Sadly (but understandably), several people that I have met this evening have already said that this is why they don’t give to charity or won’t give in the future.  They are disgusted and lashing out at the only target they believe they can.

The Children’s Medical And Research Centre said last night that there is a serious risk that it is the sick who will suffer because of this.  Economist David McWilliams was a little more scathing and declared that linking ‘the sale of Mars Bars, Crunchies and Twixies in the hospital shop’ was ‘a smart stroke to get over government pay lines’.

Yes, it is going to be enormously detrimental to various charities and those working for them who are trying to do a decent job.

And I find myself thinking of a remark made at the news by Deirdre, one of the volunteers here at Hand in Hand.  She was speculating on what kind of a person sees nothing wrong with ‘topping up’ an already acceptable salary.  In fact, some of these payments about cover the wage for another nurse!

Yes, I kind of wonder about that myself.