Your Country, Your Call: Down the rabbit hole.

As your official Your Country, Your Call news source I feel it my duty to draw to your attention the latest twist in the tale, brought to us by the Irish Times. It involves the spouse of the President contacting the then serving Taoiseach about the payment of public money to a private firm.

Longsuffering readers will recall a time- a better time in their lives- when I did not tell them about Your Country, Your Call. That time ended last February, when it launched itself onto a mostly welcoming world. It brought glamour, pizazz, nobility and hope to the nation. Or, at the very least, that’s what the glossy YouTube videos told us. Here’s Mooney!

 

(Actually, I just watched that for the first time now and my mind is boggling with non-sequiturs. I’ll struggle on as best I can. I trust you will do the same.)

Through the haze of Tubridy interviews, celebrity endorsements and unqualified praise for positivity, one question seemed a little hard to get a handle on.

Where is the money coming from?

More importantly, is this all being paid for by the taxpayer, directly or indirectly?

Former Governor of the Bank of Ireland, Dr. Laurence Crowley told us that “some €2 million had already been donated to the competition. “We need a little more than that but not a lot more.” The money came from companies mainly, but also from individuals.”

He also, “added that the Government was fully behind the project and had provided “a small amount of money””

That small amount proved to
(a) be €300,000 of public funds and
(b) not to have been provided at all.

Ah well.

Later on, we discovered that not only had the €300k not been coughed up, but that the first the Secretary General of the Department of Enterprise knew of it was when Minister Mary Coughlan dropped the news the day the competition launched. Alas, the Minister seems not to have fully understood how ‘public money’ worked.

“It took some time to establish precisely the nature of the commitment which the Tanaiste had given to the YCYC initiative. However, the Tanaiste advised the Secretary General on 17 February that, following discussions with the Minister for Finance, €300,000 was to be provided in this Department’s Vote [budget] for the purposes of supporting the initiative

This information was conveyed by the Tanaiste on the day prior to the publication of the 2010 Revised Estimates. The Department of Finance officials with whom we were in regular contact in preparing the Estimates were unaware of the arrangement to support YCYC and, given the timing, it was not possible to have an additional €300,000 included in the Department’s published Estimate for 2010.

The current situation is that a commitment clearly appears to have been given at a political level to provide financial support to the YCYC initiative. However, no additional funding has been made available to the Department to provide such support.

Helpful lesson for us all: If you’re going to get a political promise made to you, make sure it’s from someone you can rely on to deliver.

The Department of Enterprise’s Finance Officer prepared a briefing note regarding the proposal to pay the money to the Your Country Your Call organisers.

Allocation of funds to the initiative would “essentially constitute a grant to the organising body, An Smaoineamh Mór”, the finance officer stated.

And there the matter of the €300,000 of our money- all right, the ECB’s money now- rested until today’s FOI release revealed that, after the Sec-Gen of Enterprise’s frankly Neg-Head slowness in coughing up the public readies, the husband of the President of Ireland contacted him in December.

Mr Martin McAleese has confirmed to me that adequate funding for this initiative was secured from non-exchequer sources. On that basis I agreed with Mr McAleese that there was no need for any exchequer contribution and that monies from this department were not needed

Which is peculiar, because Mr. McAleese isn’t a listed as either a director or holder of any office with the company which runs and owns the your Country, Your Call competition. Though he does seem to have been rather deeply involved with it.

 

From the Irish Times today again;

Correspondence between officials in the Department of Enterprise – then headed by Ms Coughlan – reveals Dr McAleese told them he had also raised the question of funding with then taoiseach Brian Cowen.

That’s the serving President’s husband contacting the Taoiseach of the day about paying public money to a private company whose activities he was promoting.

Even I stopped for a moment when I read that.

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