Dentists and state workers clean up in Ireland as rest of us suffer economic crisis


October 15, 2009, 8:52 AM

Last week I brought my two 16-year-old sons (twins) for their six monthly dental check-up. Amazingly, in view of all the tooth destroying garbage they eat, no fillings were necessary.

So apart from the careful visual check which took three or four minutes each, they had their teeth thoroughly cleaned with that high speed gizmo that dentists use which took another five or six minutes each, and they were done. Relief all round.

Total time in the chair was about 10 minutes each. The cost? €80. And that's €80 each, not for the two of them.

At that rate (even allowing for coffee breaks) our Dublin dentist is on well over €300 an hour or €2,000 a day, or €10,000 ($14,000) a week.

On the way out I tried to pay the receptionist with a credit card. Sorry, cash or check only, I was told, and I got the distinct impression that cash was much preferred. The helpful receptionist even told me where the nearest ATM was!

Now you may think this story is mildly shocking, but in fact there is nothing remarkable about an experience like this in Dublin. Our dentist is no different to all the other members of the elite here, the professionals (doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc.), the senior civil servants, the managers of state organizations, the executives in private business and so on.

They all exist in a sort of parallel Ireland, where no bust has happened and they can go on charging the same level of fees, salaries and expenses they did at the height of the boom.

This elite layer at the top of Irish society used to include architects and construction engineers and even tradesmen like plumbers and carpenters, all of whom used to charge crazy fees during the boom.

The property crash has put a stop to that group, of course, but the rest of the elite here are still behaving like the Celtic Tiger is still roaring. A recent survey showed that most doctors, dentists and lawyers have not dropped their fees in spite of endless government warnings that we all need to cut back to make Ireland competitive again.

This attitude is most evident in the state sector. In private industry, executives are sharing the pain with their ordinary workers, although a 10 percent pay cut is more bearable if you're earning €500,000 instead of €50,000!

But in the state sector, even though the state finances are in crisis because tax revenue has fallen through the floor, the change in pay (and attitude) is very slow in coming. The limo on call, plush hotel, good restaurants and lavish expenses are still the expectation of the elite who never worried before where the state money came from, and still don't.

This attitude has caused absolute fury among ordinary people here following several weeks of reports in the media about the way tax money is wasted by the state-paid elite.

This week we are seeing the first victim of the outrage. The ceann comhairle (speaker) of the Dail (Parliament), John "Limo" O'Donoghue, is being forced to resign because of his wild spending while on state business.

But it's not just him. Week after week, the media have been digging up unbelievable examples of splurging in the state sector.

Ironically, some of the worst examples have been among the senior people in FAS, the state organization set up to help retrain the unemployed. But politicians and senior civil servants in all areas (and a few top union officials as well) have been guilty of throwing around state money.

In the days when the economy was booming no one noticed this. But now that the bust has happened and ordinary people are struggling, the ongoing revelations about the higher ups in the state sector behaving like Arab princes have appalled every taxpayer here.

One example that emerged in the past few days shows how deeply rooted the problem is. We all expect overspending among the cowboys in Fianna Fail, but this one concerned Fianna Fail’s coalition partners the Green Party, which regards itself as morally superior to everyone else and believes wasting anything, including state money, is unacceptable.

The leader of the Greens, John Gormley, attended a conference in Wales recently and decided to reduce his carbon footprint by taking the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead in Wales before traveling on to the conference at the other end of Wales by car. So Gormley got the ferry and, because he is a government minister, the Irish Embassy in London organized a car to met him in Holyhead.

All of which sounds fine, except that the car was a chauffeur-driven limo that was hired in London and driven the 300 miles to Holyhead to meet the minister. The driver took Gormley to the conference and, two days later, back to Holyhead.

The limo trip cost the Irish taxpayer €2,200, and all those car miles in a big limo probably produced a lot of those carbon emissions that the Greens want us all to reduce.

When this emerged last week there were red faces all round. Gormley said he knew nothing about the travel arrangements. The booking was made by the Irish Embassy in London.

But why was a small car not hired in Holyhead, a busy ferry port? Why all those wasted miles for a big limo? Why?