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Tag Archives: professional

I find it unacceptable that work-related pensions are paid to public servants who have failed to do their jobs or who have broken the law or rules specific to their jobs.

This week in the Irish Times Cllr. Dermot Lacey talks about appeals he has made and won to overturn planning decisions made by professionals “in defiance of good planning and in some cases at least the democratically adopted development plans”. [i] Reports of flooding, bizarre building in remote areas and small towns, and structural and safety defects in buildings all point to many public service professionals failing to do their jobs. [ii]

In the Irish Times of Oct. 13th Conor Brady takes former deputy commissioner of An Garda, TJ Ainsworth, to task for failing to do his job adequately. However, he also talks in the plural of Gardaí who in doing the bidding of Charles Haughey and his henchmen, failed in their duty. [iii]

I’ve been arguing that teachers who systematically broke the rules laid out by the Dept. of Education should be denied a pension. [iv]

I’m sure the list of wrongdoers and chancers who enjoy pensions is a long one. That makes it all the more important that something be done about this scandal.

I am informed by the Dept. of Education that the courts have ruled that pensions are private property and cannot be touched. If this is the case, it is worth asking the Criminal Assets Bureau to take a look. CAB have recently expanded their operations to look at tax and welfare cheats. However, it cannot be the case that civil service pensions are untouchable private property, given that they are not paid out of a fund but are paid out of current spending and very significantly they have been touched: they have been reduced in the current fiscal crisis. [v]

Many citizens are deeply offended by the handful of very rich chancers who have retired from public service, walked away from the damage they have done and who now enjoy extraordinary pension payments. The scandal, however, extends far beyond a handful of rich people and into a considerable number of wrongdoers who should not be rewarded for their failure to perform or their active breaking of the rules.

 [v] I’ve reopened correspondence with the Dept. of Education. Having been given the run-around, I’ve now asked formally as a citizen if they will refer this matter for legal advice.


The essential thing that is particularly annoying citizens right now as “austerity” bites is inequality of income or, rather, hideous levels of income inequality, the very structure of inequality. Now one way that the political right seeks to maintain the structure – with all its relativities – is to talk about inequality between groups. They’ll have a go with age vs. youth, public sector worker vs. private sector worker, rural vs. urban etc. It is a conservative position; the idea is to have no change or very little change in relativities while reducing wages and welfare payments to the poor. Against that, far too many on the left advance an argument whose effect is also conservative. They identify the very rich (the 1%) as opposed to the merely rich (let’s say, the 10%) and argue that if the 1% could be soaked, then all else could remain the same. This is a conservative stance.

Minister of State, Brian Hayes has been targeting pensioners for cuts by pointing out that some pensioners are well-off. [i]  Michael Taft is a socialist economist but in responding to Brian Hayes, even he argues that rather than pursuing pensioners, a “better” target would be the management-and-professional category/interest group. [ii]  Now this comes close to demanding change but the conservative flaw remains. Most of those in this category are rich but not very (1%) rich. However, as Michael concedes, not all are rich. That’s too much like the argument that Brian Hayes makes in relation to pensioners. It diverts attention away from “rich” and towards an interest group and so implicitly supports a view of society made up of competing interest groups, a view which papers over the inequalities of income within many of these groups.

For as long as the democratic left defends or attacks the economic positions of pluralist groups, the structure remains unchallenged and the right wins. Let’s face it there are rich managers, there are rich pensioners, there are rich public sector workers, there are rich farmers etc. All that separates these groups is the proportions of rich within them.

It would be far better to call the right’s bluff on each and every sectoral target. Let’s define rich in income terms (Yes, of course I realise that income is not the only measure!) and say that below that point income will not be touched but above that point, “Go ahead, cut!”[iii]

It would appear that at Bloxham Stockbrokers accounts have been falsified for several years and that the problem involved enormous figures. Now, reassurances have been issued to investors who might be worried. Little is heard, however, of the Bloxham staff who will lose their jobs.

This wasn’t an accounting error. This was wilful. This wasn’t a little backstreet, fly-by-night “enterprise” in fear of being audited. This was a prestigious company which was regularly audited. The fact that the auditors failed should lead to some very hard questioning.

Vincent Browne tackles the auditors.  He writes about very well-known companies who – despite repeated failure – continue to be taken seriously. Indeed they continue to be awarded work by the state, i.e. the state gives them official recognition of suitability and confidence.

However, because he focusses on these large accountancy/management consultancy firms Vincent doesn’t give due recognition to a couple of issues. Firstly, these failures go to the heart of auditing and its professional status. Secondly, the problem extends beyond the large private firms

The issue of professionalism is at stake here. An essay might be written on its definition which might refer to payment as opposed to being an amateur or to dispassionate as opposed to involved but there is another crucial part of the usual understanding of what it means to be a professional.  Here is the crux of the thing:  if auditors are to be regarded as professionals in the usual sense of the term, they must face their responsibilities individually. In short, when there are failings and problems, questions should be asked not only of the company which employs the auditor but of the auditor himself/herself.

Financial auditing is too important to allow failed practitioners to hide behind their employers. If an auditor has been irresponsible, negligent, incompetent he/she should face sanctions right up to being struck off. Indeed such a level of personal responsibility would countervail the risk that an employer might want a particular outcome.

The second issue absent from Vincent’ piece is that the nonsense extends into the state auditors, the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. When it was reported that a former member of the board of Fás said that he’d been given assurances by staff of C&AG that all was ok, I wrote to the C&AG to ask if this had been investigated. I also asked had anything been learned from the years of failure to uncover wrongdoing at Fás, had auditing procedures changed, were the staff who had worked on these audits still in place? Many e-mails later, I’m still none the wiser. Well, that’s not entirely true; I was given the run-around rather than an answer but it is clear that nothing changed after Fás.

There seems to be a cumbersome route for initiating complaints against a professional auditor. What is not clear is whether  complaints are accepted from members of the public as opposed to clients and if this route is open, what is to be done when a member of the public doesn’t know the name of the professional beyond his/her employer.  What is needed is for auditors is something akin to the Irish Medical Council’s approach:

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone gets through life without occasionally having their integrity tested. ( There are rare situations where showing integrity might bring appalling consequences – even death – and in such a situation fear unto dishonesty is understandable and forgivable. In most other situations the risk is small. Indeed the most common motivation for failing to act or speak with integrity is an ambition for career advancement. Now, let’s be quite clear here. If someone feels compelled to dishonesty for fear of being sacked, then that may be forgivable if the matter is relatively minor. However, a person who abandons their integrity for the hope of career advancement reveals a paradox: They progress by being precisely the kind of person who is unsuited to a position of trust or of any importance.

It is true too that in our times a calculating, professional, strategic way of thinking tends to be lauded and this provides a ready cover for acting without reference to good or bad.

Today there are calls for the resignation of Cardinal Seán Brady who acted in a professional manner rather than doing what was right. ( As a mature man of 35 years, well into his career, his integrity was tested. He failed the test and is proven to be “the wrong stuff”, i.e. a person lacking in integrity and unsuited to a position of responsibility. The consequences of his failure were dire for a number of abused children. The risk to him of acting with integrity was slight. His life, his family, his livelihood were not on the line. All that was at risk for doing the right thing was a petty hope of promotion.

There are ordinary people who pass such tests. They are rarely dealing with matters so serious. They do however speak up and/or act according to what is right – either morally or for the good of the organisation that employs them. In the short term they accept that they will anger the boss and their career will stall. In the long-term they may never recover that impetus for promotion or they may come to be seen as having integrity, precisely what is required in a more senior position.

Integrity is at the core of another, older post on this blog. ( ) As the Irish property bubble/scam was developed with deliberation, there were those in banking, management generally, media, politics, the professions, education, public service, consultancies etc. who knew that it could end only in tears. Few of them passed the test: They lacked the integrity to speak up time and again. They preferred to take their chances by pretending that they believed in nonsense.

It is true that chancers lacking in integrity often make career progress. However, when they are found out, it is right that they be identified as “the wrong stuff” and asked to go.