An interesting fracas going on in Irish academia at the moment involves the embattled president of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), a small Irish higher education provider, and a bunch of incredibly ridiculous expenses which he has incurred while furnishing his presidential office, and hosting guests.
The spectacular expenses - which include a massive €100,000 spend on taxis between Waterford and Dublin alone - have shocked a country used to politicians, bankers, and other members of the elite wasting taxpayers' money in the most imaginative and lavish ways, with the Irish Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn TD, forcing the Higher Education Authority, the body that administers Irish third levels, to mount an immediate investigation into the overheads.
The reason for the uproar, besides the sheer size and ridiculousness of the expenses Professor Byrne is claiming, is that Irish third level is currently facing into its darkest hour yet: student numbers are up, staff numbers are down, and third levels are fighting for their very financial survival. Grant cuts are being forced across the system, and it's a challenge for many students to afford to stay in college long enough to finish out their degrees. Amidst all this financial mayhem, where cutbacks and pay cuts are the order of the day, Byrne's expenses stick out like a sore and ugly thumb.
Perhaps more incredible than the expenses themselves, though, has been Professor Byrne's reaction to the widespread public uproar caused by them (today, the day of his possible re-election to the position, four newspapers have run with the story). Byrne has claimed that the expenses represented 'good value', saying that the taxi costs worked out less expense than had he billed the IT for a private driver. Yet that doesn't really excuse the other massive blow-outs the Freedom of Information requests uncovered: €300,000 worth of hospitality expenses, a €150,000 renovation of the office, and a further €100,000 on fine art.
The reason I'm repeating this little vignette from Irish public life on Irish Central, is to point out that despite all the belt-tightening and cutbacks that have been the hallmarks of Irish society in the not-so-rosey post-Celtic Tiger era, there are still staggering examples of public wastefulness out there; people who genuinely think that billing a tiny learning institute €100,000 for taxi fares is 'value for money'.
The Celtic Tiger may be dead and buried, but little echoes of its roar still live on.