You’ve heard of the ‘Deep State’ — now meet the ‘Shal­low State’

There’s a place where the politi­cians meet lob­by­ists to dis­cuss how to make things bet­ter, says Gene Ker­ri­gan

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Comment -

YOU’VE heard of the “Deep State”? It’s an al­legedly sin­is­ter hid­den state-with­inthe-state, up to all sorts of carry-on. In­tel­li­gence agen­cies, groups of higher civil ser­vants — that kind of thing.

We have a lit­tle yarn here about some­thing we might call the “Shal­low State”.

This con­sists of a layer of non­sense grafted onto the public ser­vice by min­is­ters who’ve seen too many episodes of The West Wing.

For years now, Min­is­ters have loved hav­ing “spe­cial” ad­vis­ers, their own per­sonal James Bond, to lean on. These “spe­cial” peo­ple are paid by the State but loyal to the boss.

Last week it emerged that jour­nal­ist Ken Foxe got stiffed by one of the agen­cies of our Shal­low State.

I’ve never met Mr Foxe and I know noth­ing of his back­ground — but he ap­pears to be one of the most ir­ri­tat­ing peo­ple in the coun­try. And I mean that in a good way.

He’s cu­ri­ous. He wants to know what politi­cians and other public ser­vants do all day and he seeks out that in­for­ma­tion and passes it on to us.

And some peo­ple, who are used to be­ing un­touch­able, find that ir­ri­tat­ing.

This me­thod­i­cal mon­i­tor­ing of the ac­tiv­i­ties of the State — some­times known as jour­nal­ism — is done through care­ful use of Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion (FOI) re­quests. Of­ten, the in­for­ma­tion re­turned is rou­tine, noth­ing to get ex­cited about — and that’s fine. It’s good when the State ticks over, pro­vid­ing the ser­vices it’s sup­posed to pro­vide, with­out lar­ceny, mis­be­haviour or fuss.

At other times — well, at one stage Foxe as­sem­bled vol­umes of de­tail on politi­cians’ ex­penses, and we dis­cov­ered these peo­ple were qui­etly re­ward­ing them­selves in line with their ex­trav­a­gant self-re­gard.

As a re­sult, some of them were highly em­bar­rassed.

These days, some gov­ern­ment of­fices have ther­a­pists on hand to cope with Min­is­te­rial dis­tress when­ever any­one ut­ters the words, “Min­is­ter, Ken Foxe on Line Two”.

Enda and his cronies had a lot of good­ies to hand out to party loy­al­ists af­ter the 2016 elec­tion. Paul Ke­hoe and Regina Do­herty were to be Su­per Ju­nior Min­is­ters, al­lowed sit at Cab­i­net. And the in­de­pen­dents wanted a sim­i­lar plum for Finian McGrath. Nice work if you can get it. You get your TD pay, which is €87,258.

Plus your ju­nior min­is­ter pay, €34,381.

And the three Su­per Ju­niors were each en­ti­tled to a €15,829 bonus on top of all that. To­tal: €137,468 each. The three Su­per Ju­niors were set­tling in when some­one no­ticed the leg­is­la­tion al­lowed for only two Su­per Ju­niors. The Su­per Ju­nior Bonus was stopped for all three, while Enda and Paschal and the lads thought about it.

Those three bonuses were part of a mas­sive ar­ray of fringe ben­e­fits that politi­cians pay each other. From May 2016 right up to four days before Christmas, civil ser­vants worked hard at match­ing the lucky ones with what­ever ti­tle they were given, and match­ing that with the ap­pro­pri­ate bonus.

There’s nine grand for chair­ing this and three grand for at­tend­ing that, and 13 grand ap­par­ently just for the craic — and on and on. Santa doesn’t have as long a list of good­ies to dis­pense as an in­com­ing gov­ern­ment.

With some pres­sure from Paschal’s of­fice, the civil ser­vants strug­gled to get the work done so the bonuses would kick in by Christmas 2016.

What to do about Paul and Regina and Finian?

Even­tu­ally, some whizz-kid came up with a plan: Paul and Finian would be Su­per Ju­niors, sit­ting at Cab­i­net. And Regina would get the short straw.

But — and here’s the clever bit — she’d also sit at Cab­i­net, not as Su­per Ju­nior but as Gov­ern­ment Whip.

And — what a co­in­ci­dence — they de­cided that the Gov­ern­ment Whip should have pre­cisely the same bonus as the Su­per Ju­nior gig — €15,829.

Cu­ri­ous, Ken Foxe put in some FOI ques­tions and got back 361 pages of te­dious de­tail, through which he plod­ded to find out how the three-into-two prob­lem was solved. Last March he wrote a piece on this.

In June, Bren­dan Howlin pointed out in the Dail that three min­is­ters into two can’t legally go.

The prob­lem was sent to the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral, for a le­gal opin- ion. In July, the AG ruled that Regina Do­herty wasn’t en­ti­tled to the money.

Be­hind closed doors, Fine Gael wor­thies hud­dled. Regina agreed to re­pay the money. And on July 26 ar­range­ments were put in place for this.

Al­most three weeks later, on Au­gust 14, the ir­ri­tat­ing Mr Foxe — who had found out that the AG was in­volved — sent an email to the De­part­ment of Public Ex­pen­di­ture, ask­ing if they’d had a le­gal rul­ing.

And here’s where the Shal­low State comes in.

The query was that day passed on to Stephen Ly­nam, an ad­viser to Paschal Dono­hoe. He sent an in­struc­tion to the civil ser­vants: “Sit tight on this for now”.

The fol­low­ing day, Ly­nam gave civil ser­vants a re­ply to send to Foxe: It said the AG’s ad­vice “was re­cently re­ceived by the De­part- ment and is now be­ing con­sid­ered. The mat­ter will be dealt with in due course”.

This was un­true. The AG’s rul­ing had been re­ceived weeks ear­lier and had al­ready been acted on.

The un­true state­ment, Ly­nam wrote, was to be cred­ited to an anony­mous “spokesman for the min­is­ter”.

Why Fine Gael wanted to hold back this in­for­ma­tion is un­known; as is who else was in­volved in the de­ci­sion to tell the re­porter an un­truth.

Last week, Harry McGee re­vealed in The Ir­ish Times that no fewer than “two for­mer Fine Gael sen­a­tors and four spe­cial ad­vis­ers to min­is­ters” have been lob­by­ing the Fine Gael gov­ern­ment on be­half of the drinks busi­ness.

Among those work­ing to make Ire­land safer for al­co­hol ped­dlers is Ciaran Con­lon.

Ciaran worked for Fine Gael, close to Enda Kenny, for years. He then be­came an ad­viser to Richard Bru­ton. On ar­riv­ing, he was told the pay was €80,000; he said he un­der­stood it to be €127,000.

Bru­ton sought that salary for him; Michael Noo­nan said no, as did Bren­dan Howlin. Enda Kenny, while im­pos­ing a dam­ag­ing aus­ter­ity pol­icy on the rest of us, per­son­ally in­ter­vened and got the €127,000 for Con­lon.

(How do I know all this? I re­mem­bered I’d saved a story by Ken Foxe in 2011, when he used FOI to dig out the emails.)

Ciaran Con­lon is now lob­by­ing for Re­spon­si­ble Retailing of Al­co­hol in Ire­land.

Also lob­by­ing for the drinks busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to McGee, is Ross MacMathuna, for­mer spe­cial ad­vi­sor to Si­mon Coveney (salary capped at €92k, Ross was al­lowed breach the cap, to €118,000).

Ross now lob­bies for the Al­co­hol and Bev­er­age Foun­da­tion of Ire­land, which is a crea­ture of Ibec, the busi­ness pres­sure group.

And re­mem­ber Stephen Ly­nam, who told the civil ser­vants to tell Ken Foxe that Regina Do­herty’s Su­per Bonus is­sue would be “dealt with in due course” — even though it was dealt with weeks ear­lier?

Well, it turns out Stephen used to work for Fine Gael. In Enda’s of­fice.

Then he went to — you’ll never guess — the Al­co­hol and Bev­er­age Fed­er­a­tion of Ire­land (Hi, there, fancy meet­ing you here!) before he be­came a spe­cial ad­vi­sor to Paschal.

The Shal­low State is that in­ter­sec­tion where po­lit­i­cal par­ties and lob­by­ing com­pa­nies and Ibec and busi­ness meet to dis­cuss how to make Ire­land a bet­ter place.

‘Nine grand for chair­ing this, three grand for at­tend­ing that, and 13 grand just for the craic...’

HERE’S WHERE THE SHAL­LOW STATE COMES IN: From left, Finian McGrath, Regina Do­herty, Paul Ke­hoe, Ciaran Con­lon, Stephen Ly­nam and Ross MacMathuna

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