I’m angry, very f**king angry…but I feel utterly useless. In another typical slice of Darren Skelton honesty, I’m genuinely starting to wonder what the point of this column is. In the beginning, it was about nostalgia – weekly slices of warm, fuzzy memories that brought us back to a simpler, seemingly happier time. It’s what got me this job and I very much enjoyed the weekly throwbacks. But then, I started to see and hear a lot more than I did while I was a lay person.
It’s fair to say that journalism is not the most liked career out there. One week you’re a hero, the next you’re public enemy number one. If I was given a euro for every time I’ve read – usually on Facebook – that the News & Star is the “lowest common denominator”, or “a rag”, then I wouldn’t have to write this column anymore, as I’d be living the Spain.
I’m not going to say that I got into this profession to make a difference, because to say so would be a lie. I got into it because I was going slightly mad doing two of the many thankless jobs you can do in this country (working for myself and being a stay at home parent). I wasn’t strong enough to do those two things, certainly not as strong as the hundreds of thousands of people in this country that do them both on a daily basis.
As the months passed, I started to realise that local papers had a responsibility to report far more than just local deaths and local criminals. For example, there are 209 women in Ireland who have (or had) Cervical Cancer, and some of them are from Waterford. I believe that they deserve to have their story told and it’s the local paper’s responsibility to tell that story.
Corruption is rife in this country – I think we all know this. However, there are many forms of corruption, and I would include the hiding of mistakes and stupidity as being amongst those forms. Human beings by their flawed design, are not perfect, thus we all make mistakes. History will show that when people admit their mistakes in a timely fashion, the public and often the judiciary, will look upon them with compassion. However, in the case of the CervicalCheck scandal and God knows how many other scandals, mistakes are made and then and attempt made to brush them under the carpet. This is a scandal bigger than the Maurice McCabe controversy, and yet it won’t threaten the stability of the government like that did.
What has happened in the fallout of CervicalCheck? Absolutely nothing. Nobody has lost their job and in fact, even worse than that, the Director General of the HSE is actually being rewarded. Tony O’Brien, the man who oversaw some of the most shocking scandals and controversies in the history of the Irish health system, was on a salary of €192K a year and when he stepped down after the CervicalCheck disgrace, he was promised an additional €140K upon the end of his contract (this is in addition to his contract being paid in full up to July). He also has a 96K a year pension to look forward to.
I hear people mouthing off about the media every day but it’s the journalists that are keeping all of these people to task. It’s the journalists that are standing in front of the gravy trains.
I’m angry, but I’m not too sure what to do with that anger. I’m getting so used to civil servants and politicians lying to me that I’m starting to struggle with this feeling of uselessness. We have marched the streets to try and get equal healthcare and we have debunked their rotten reviews, but still we are being ignored.
I’m going to tell you a local story now that will give you some kind of idea about what we have to deal with – although I’d ask you to remember that this is just a small local affair…when we go higher, to the Government and the HSE, the smell is an awful lot worse.
You will probably be aware of the Vans story which has popped up in the news from time to time. Waterford City & County’s Audit Committee were tasked with looking into this issue and I believe they did quite a good job (although the investigation is not quite over yet). Last year, the Audit Committee conducted nine investigations into various departments of Waterford Council. I asked to see the reports from these audits and I was issued with some heavily redacted documents. That is to say that where a report was 24 pages, I was only given 3 pages etc. I made an appeal, asking for the entire reports. That appeal (which had to be paid for) was made to the Head of Finance at Waterford Council, John Murphy, who explained why the information was redacted and released a few extra pages. This wasn’t good enough in my opinion, so I appealed again (another payment required). This time, the decision maker was Michael Walsh, CEO of Waterford Council. Are you seeing anything wrong with this? I then appealed again, this time to the Freedom of Information Commissioner (another charge here €€€). He launched an investigation and concluded that the Council were wrong to withhold the information and made them release every single word to me.
Now, this is just a local council, sticking up a bloody big wall in front of how they’re handling public money. For the record, the information received is forming part of another story I’m working on but it wasn’t earth shattering. I believe, for the most part, our council does a good job, but this was absolutely ludicrous behaviour on their part and showed a complete lack of respect to a local journalist. Is it any wonder that they are the council with the third worst integrity rating of all the local authorities in Ireland? However, take that story and multiply it by 100 and you’ll get some kind of idea about what is going on in this country on a national level.
As I said, I’m angry. I feel like writing words on a page is completely futile at this point. I feel like marching the streets is a waste of time. Standing in John Roberts Square with signs is a waste of time. It seems that the only thing that the government listen to is the case of the individual who has been through the mill for years and finally comes out the other side on Prime Time. They don’t give a shit about the little person and if the realisation that half our TDs are now millionaires (who get a couple of month’s holidays a year), doesn’t make you angry too, I don’t know what will.
I know what has to happen – the government need to be dissolved and a complete new set of rules and regulations drawn up…but is that going to happen? Of course not.