It was soon after completing my leaving certificate that I first encountered cronyism in Ireland. I had applied for a position in a local technical college, to do a course in electronics but was lacking the necessary funds to attend, so had applied for a scholarship with the VEC (Vocational Educational Council). I had high hopes as my grades had been quite high, far better than the entry requirements but were quashed when I learned that the place had been given to a fellow member of my class. It was much later when I learned why he had been given the place in my stead. It certainly wasn’t because he had gained a greater academical grade. He had not, in fact he had failed the maths exam, a course requirement. He gained the place because his father was on the board of the VEC. So with his father’s intervention a lesser student went on to college to study electronics, a course he failed to complete, dropping out 9 months later.
My next encounter came a few years ago. My circumstances had changed due to ill health, I had been prescribed a morphine derivative for pain relief and was no longer fit to work. At the time we were in rented accommodation and had put our names on the local councils waiting list for a house. The small village in which we resided had a batch of newly built council houses. We had hoped that one of them would be allocated to us. Alas, we were not one of the lucky ones. However I was soon to discover that one of the houses, a 3 bedroom dwelling had been given to a 19 year old single man. We contacted the local county council with a complaint about the allocation and received the response “we cannot comment on individual circumstances”. Not at all happy with this we arranged a meeting with our local county councillor and the local TD. At this meeting it was admitted in plain English that it was a clear case of corruption, that the gentleman in question should never have been given tenancy of an 3 bedroom house. My wife, quite the detective in this whole affair, found out that another local councillor had been the one involved, a “brown envelope” had been received by him from a certain family. When accused of this he denied any involvement, but did go on to say that the the 19 year old had been on the councils waiting list for four years, a claim that is quite improbable as the age limit to apply for council accommodation is 18. A few months later and having had no response from the two politicians we had contacted, I decided to write to the minister for housing and the ombudsman. I had almost given up on getting a reply when letters from both arrived about six months later. I opened the letters immediately, my anticipation palpable only to have that initial eagerness dashed as soon as I had read their response. They advised that we should contact the county council in question, the same county council who had responded with “we cannot comment on individual circumstances”.
Sometimes I feel like a hamster who has stepped onto the revolving wheel of accountability, destined to go round and round forever.