More than 100 assaults on prison officers in Irish jails last year

Prison officers were the victims of 110 direct assaults by inmates last year with staff at Mountjoy and Dublin’s Cloverhill jails most likely to be attacked.

There were another 123 cases where prison officers were hurt during a physical intervention, for example where they were trying to restrain a non-compliant inmate.

Injuries led to 220 staff making applications for leave because of an incident while on duty with around 6,000 working days lost as a result.

Prisoner on prisoner assaults were a daily occurrence with a total of 671 recorded last year with more than a quarter of those attacks taking place at a single jail, Cloverhill Prison.

The number of incidents where an inmate attacked another prisoner varied widely according to prison.

At Cloverhill, a remand centre in West Dublin, there were 185 assaults recorded, or the equivalent of one every second day.

Civil service missing out on highly-skilled applicants because of overly strict rules on who could apply for public sector jobs

Research on equality in the Irish public service found that 97 percent of people working in public jobs were white Irish and that strict eligibility criteria made it far too difficult for migrants to apply for roles.

The discussion paper said the civil service “does not reflect the diversity in wider Irish society” and that there were too many barriers to employment.

The research, from the government agency in charge of hiring public sector staff, said that it was proving extremely difficult for state bodies to source qualified candidates, especially in science, engineering, health and finance.

However, strict rules over who could apply for public service jobs meant that state jobs were often not open to migrants, some of whom had exactly the skill sets needed.

The discussion paper, prepared by the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Unit in Publicjobs, said the size of the civil service was growing by 3.6 percent every year.

It also warned of a looming ‘great retirement’ in the public sector with more than 12,000 people set to conclude their service within the next decade.

The paper said: “The Irish civil service has a very limited scope for hiring non-EEA/non-UK/non-Swiss migrants.

“The pool of eligible candidates at present excludes individuals who would have a robust immigration permission to reside and work in Ireland and potential candidates who could secure such permission.”

Anomaly that pays €16,000 extra in travel and accommodation expenses to commuter-belt Oireachtas members “inherently unfair at best and scandalous at worst” says government TD

A government politician has called for a review of how expenses are paid to TDs and Senators because of an anomaly that sees politicians in the same constituency paid more than €16,000 extra in travel and accommodation expenses.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell wrote to the Oireachtas Commission, the group that oversees the workings of Leinster House, saying the “eye-watering difference” was “inherently unfair at best and scandalous at worst”.

However, in response, the Clerk of the Dáil Peter Finnegan said the system of expenses was a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Under the rules for payment of what is known as the Travel and Accommodation Allowance, TDs living within 25 kilometres of Leinster House are paid €9,000-a-year to cover their costs.

However, for those living between 25 and 60 kilometres from their workplace, the allowance jumps by a massive €16,295 to €25,295.

The enormous discrepancy between the figures has meant that some politicians living in North County Dublin or commuter-belt towns in Kildare, Wicklow, and Meath are in receipt of the higher allowance.

A similar system exists for Senators where those living in the so-called ‘Dublin Band’ receive €5,250 per year to cover the cost of travel and accommodation.

Those living in ‘Band 1’ however, and sometimes only 30 to 35 kilometres away from Leinster House, receive an annual payment of €20,795 under the Travel and Accommodation Allowance.

Mr Farrell wrote to the Oireachtas Commission last autumn ahead of the coming election and called for a fairer system following the next national vote.

He wrote: “I believe all constituencies should be measured at a median point for all TDs, unless they live outside their constituencies.”

Four days later, he received a response saying his letter would be shared with the Oireachtas Commission, but that expenses reform was not their responsibility.

The letter said: “The regulations governing TAA [Travel and Accommodation Allowance] within constituencies are dealt with by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

“Any change along the lines suggested by you would be a matter for the minister.”

Asked about the correspondence, Mr Farrell reiterated the points made and said he was disappointed that the Oireachtas would not take more responsibility for the expenses system.

He said: “My point was that there should be a median point in every constituency and that’s where measurements should be made. This is taxpayer’s money, and it should be accounted for appropriately.

“[Under the system I suggested] if you’re elected to a constituency, you would be paid the appropriate band rather than finding yourself on the Dublin Band while another colleague isn’t, even where they are living only two or three kilometres away.

“It isn’t appropriate or fair. They choose to put themselves on it [the higher band]. They go home every night, and the electorate knows that. For the next election, it should be remedied.”

He said he found the hands-off approach of the Oireachtas Commission “slightly unusual”.

“They could say that this is a legitimate point. Could we look into that? It doesn’t appear that was done,” he said. “They should take responsibility.”

Right to Know wins case over access to records from Dublin Airport on use of air filtration to combat spread of COVID-19 during pandemic

The Commissioner for Environmental Information (CEI) has ruled that records on the use of air filtration systems at Dublin Airport during the pandemic are environmental information.

In 2022, Right to Know had sought copies of how much the daa (formerly Dublin Airport Authority) had spent on air filtration along with copies of health and safety assessments and other documents on their use.

The daa refused the request both initially and at internal review saying the records we sought could not be considered environmental information.

However, the CEI has ruled against them saying that the use of air filtration (sometimes known as HEPA filters) was a measure that was likely to affect the environment.

The daa originally tried to claim that the definition of “air” in the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations only related to “outdoor air”.

However, the CEI said there was no such limitation in the regulations.

The daa then tried to say that the information we had sought did not relate to the air quality in the Dublin Airport buildings.

The CEI also rejected that argument, saying: “This information will give insight into the considerations that influenced daa in implementing measures to improve air quality within the terminal buildings.

“The request specifically refers to COVID-19 and the cost of such measures will give the public an insight of the cost burden that was placed on public authorities such as daa when seeking to minimise the spread of COVID-19 within its environs.”

The request has now been sent back to the daa for a new decision.

It’s worth mentioning that the initial request was made on 29 March 2022.

Two years have passed, the pandemic is over, and there is now nothing to stop the daa coming up with a new set of reasons not to release the information.

Wait of at least an hour for an ambulance in 850 emergency calls over six-month period

More than 850 seriously ill or injured patients had to wait at least an hour for an ambulance to turn up with one high priority call not dealt with for more than three hours and fifteen minutes during the second half of last year.

Figures from the National Ambulance Service (NAS) show that Cork and Wexford were the counties worst affected by prolonged delays in providing urgent emergency services between July and December 2023.

However, the ambulance service said they had been close to meeting their targets for responding to so-called ‘Purple’ and ‘Red’ calls, where there is a life-threatening illness or injury, cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest.

Figures for the last six months of last year show that an ambulance did not arrive at a total of 732 calls for a period of between 60 and 90 minutes.

There were a further 110 emergency calls that took between 90 and 120 minutes to respond to, data released under Freedom of Information legislation revealed.

Response times for another 20 ‘Red’ calls – which are classified as life-threatening illnesses other than cardiac and respiratory arrest – ranged between two hours and three hours.

There were two ‘Red’ calls, one in Carlow and one in Wexford, where an ambulance did not arrive at the location of a call for over 180 minutes, with response time for the emergency in County Carlow logged at 3 hours 15 minutes and 5 seconds.

However, the National Ambulance Service said some of the longer-wait calls may have started out as a lower priority but were later reprioritised depending on the circumstances.

They said it was not possible to say for certain in which cases this had happened and that it could account for some of the bigger delays.

Naval flagship scrapped as part of €700,000 disposal plan after museum proposal fell through and fears a public sale could see the LÉ Eithne fall into hands of a “warlord”

The Department of Defence said the scrapping of three Naval Service vessels was likely to cost up to €700,000 but that a public sale could not be considered in case one of the boats ended up being sold on to a “warlord”.

In briefing papers on future options for the flagship LÉ Eithne, which embarked on its final voyage in June ’24, officials said sale through public auction would mean the department “really has no control … as to who will end up with the ship or its ultimate destination if … sold onto a third party”.

The department were fearful about what had happened to another of their old vessels the LÉ Aisling, which was sold for €110,000 in 2017 before changing hands multiple times, and later sold for €1.3 million before ending up “in the hands of a Libyan warlord.”

In a ministerial submission, officials said recycling of the LÉ Eithne and two other boats – the LÉ Niamh and LÉ Orla – would be costly but “would give certainty on the ultimate destination” of the vessels.

It said recycling costs were typically based on tonnage with the two smaller boats weighing 650 tonnes each and the LÉ Eithne weighing 900 tonnes.

The submission said: “Market research has indicated that the costs involved in recycling these three ships could be up to approximately €700,000, including the cost of towing the vessels to their final destination.

“However, a more definitive cost will be known on receipt of tenders.”

Officials said there was a possibility of partially offsetting the recycling costs through the sale of a 57mm gun on the LÉ Eithne, which manufacturers BOFORs were interested in buying as “the only gun of its type still in working condition”.

Talks over donating the LÉ Eithne for use as a museum or tourist attraction had also taken place with two different county councils and Dublin Port; however, those options fell through, and the decision to recycle the boat was approved.

Near €900,000 bill for charter aircraft for Taoiseach and Tánaiste due to unreliability of government Learjet

The government has spent at least €880,000 to lease private jets to fly the Taoiseach and Tánaiste around the globe since last year.

The massive outlay on charter aircraft came as the government Learjet has been dogged by reliability issues and has not been tasked with a single mission in 2024.

Figures from the Department of Defence show that €617,700 was spent on private jets last year with further expenditure of €269,461 in the first four months of 2024.

The most expensive flight came with an enormous €158,000 bill as it took Tánaiste Micheal Martin from Dublin to Cairo and Tel Aviv last November for talks over Irish citizens in Gaza.

However, that bill may yet be outdone by another charter flight from April when the Tánaiste Micheal Martin flew to Cairo, El Arish, and Amman as the department are still “awaiting [an] invoice” for that trip.

The Department of Defence said that private planes had been leased on fifteen separate occasions since the beginning of 2023, all for trips involving either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste.

Health minister warned of “contagion risk” from planned extension of COVID-19 bonus payment to out-of-hours healthcare staff

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was told to be careful about a planned extension of the €1,000 pandemic bonus scheme for healthcare staff for fear of “contagion” from workers that had missed out on the scheme.

Mr Donnelly wanted to reward healthcare staff who worked in out-of-hours services on the coalface of healthcare at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, officials from his department said there was a “contagion risk” with the plan and that it could cause “unrest” and “negative media attention” among people who had already been deemed ineligible for the bonus scheme.

The advice was given as Mr Donnelly mulled his options over payment of the €1,000 bonus to out-of-hours clinics, which provide GP services during the evening, on weekends, and on public holidays.

Officials said that while the services were privately owned and operated, some were based in “acute hospital buildings” while others were only on the grounds of a hospital campus.

In a submission for Mr Donnelly, civil servants said he needed to make a clear distinction between the two types of services or else he faced “significant contagion risks” from other workers who missed out on the €1,000 payment.

They detailed how eligibility for the bonus had already been a “significant concern” for trade unions, and especially those excluded, including for example workers in homeless services and GPs.

OPW could not remove all trace of extensive graffiti scratched into ancient cairn at Carrowkeel passage tomb site

The Office of Public Works (OPW) was unable to remove all traces of graffiti which was etched into the stones of one of Ireland’s most ancient monument sites.

A cairn at Carrowkeel in County Sligo was badly defaced last autumn with spirals, circles, and the names of mythological gods scratched into the surface of the rock.

In internal records, the OPW said they first needed to allow gardaí conduct a forensic examination before staff would try to remove the markings “using non-abrasive methods, water and mild detergent”.

The documents said it was fortunate the burial monument – known as Cairn K – had no evidence of historic rock art meaning that the stone could be washed without risk of damage to any ancient markings.

“Some of the graffiti may be removed; however, some traces are likely to remain on two to three stones,” said a briefing note.

The OPW said the markings had been “gently cleaned” by their staff and that “little trace” now remained of the scratching.

It wasn’t the only damage at Carrowkeel with a site inspection finding that small stones had been dislodged from the monument known as Cairn G, which could have been caused by either visitors or sheep climbing the burial mound.

At Cairn H, a vertical stone had been “pulled down” which had made access impossible.

Aside from the graffiti damage at Cairn K, monitoring equipment, intended to study movement within the structure, had been “completely removed”.

The inspection note said: “The structural engineer visited today and confirmed that they will need to re-start the monitoring process again.

“The safety of the cairn for visitor access cannot be guaranteed until the results of the monitoring are available, and any necessary remediation work recommended by the engineer is carried out.”

The internal discussions said a major rethink of protection measures needed to be looked at as plans were worked on to seek UNESCO world heritage site status for Carrowkeel.

A presentation on damage to the neolithic site said they would be re-examining plans for a boardwalk akin to one on the Wicklow Way to be built at the site.

This would involve construction of a boardwalk that would allow visitors to walk around each cairn and with a “very light rail” to prevent physical access.

It said the entrance to the tombs would need to be closed off “for safety reasons – slippage of material, possible collapse etc”.

The presentation added: “The agreement of the landowner is required to install any new access routes should land be acquired by the state.”

The Office of Public Works said for the time being they were pleading with visitors not to walk on three of the monuments, Cairn G, H, and K and that access was not allowed.

They said cleaning of the badly vandalised Cairn K had been largely successful and that the dislodged vertical stone at Cairn H had been re-erected by stone masons from the Office of Public Works.

A spokeswoman said: “Drystone cairn material previously retained by the stone was carefully repositioned. “The protection of Carrowkeel Passage Tomb Cemetery remains a priority. Future plans for the protection of the site are under review with the development of a conservation management plan under active consideration.”

Right to Know wins case over access to IDA client survey (again)

The Information Commissioner (OIC) has once again decided that the IDA must release a full copy of a client survey that they carried out in 2019.

In a new decision in the case, the OIC said the record was not exempt from release under the FOI Act as the development agency had claimed.

The IDA has spent at least €78,000 in taxpayer funds fighting release of the client survey.

It remains to be seen whether they go back to the High Court to waste more public money fighting against any level of transparency over how they go about their work.

You can read the full decision at this link.