Garda audit discovers overnight allowance claims for overnight trips that had never taken place

A garda internal audit found that some officers were claiming overnight allowances for overnight trips that had not taken place.

Garda management had approved the practice instead of allowing those involved to claim for overtime, according to an internal audit that was carried out.

The practice came to light after an anonymous complaint saw garda college management carry out an initial review before asking internal auditors to do a full inquiry.

The audit of travel and subsistence payments at the Garda College also discovered other issues including the claiming of travel and subsistence expenses by members not stationed there without pre-approval.

Also discovered were claim forms that were not properly filled out while others had “vague descriptions” of the nature and location of duties carried out.

Internal auditors said they could provide only “limited” assurance on controls in place because of what they described as the “significance” of their findings.

Discussions between Oireachtas, Facebook, and Twitter on support for TDs and Senators facing abuse on social media

Facebook and Twitter are offering special support services for TDs and Senators who feel they are the subject of abuse online.

The two social media giants provided briefings to politicians earlier this year with both promising enhanced facilities for reporting harassment and other harmful content.

According to an internal Oireachtas paper, Facebook opened a new reporting channel that TDs and Senators can have direct access to.

They also promised to deliver briefings to politicians focused on “safety and security” for their use of both Facebook and their parent company Meta’s other major platform Instagram.

These seminars would take place in Leinster House and would be carried out on a regular basis to cater for all working there, according to the briefing.

It said: “Facebook to work with the Oireachtas in encouraging Members to use the [name redacted] reporting channel.”

Twitter said they would be carrying out “best practice” training for TDs, Senators, and their staff, with plans for a series of workshops.

A “partner support portal” was also made available to all political parties and groups with the Oireachtas to take a role in helping “expedite responses” to abusive material that was reported.

Twitter said they would “onboard” a centralised Oireachtas account to the portal that would allow for direct access to report abusive or harmful tweets.

The memo said: “This account owner can also act as a primary point of contact between Twitter and the Houses of Oireachtas for escalations.”

Ninety per cent of jockeys used some form of rapid weight loss measure to make weight for racing with a small number reporting vomiting

A small number of Irish jockeys were using vomiting to control their weight with more than half of jockeys saying it was a constant struggle to achieve the right weight for racing.

The disclosure came in research carried out by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) ahead of moves to end the availability of saunas at racecourses.

More than 80% of jockeys wanted saunas kept open but research detailed how around 10% of jockeys are “severely dehydrated” when riding.

The records also warned of profound mental health effects from the use of rapid weight loss technique including “psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and adverse alcohol use”.

Earlier this year, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) confirmed the permanent closure of saunas with jockeys given an extra weight allowance to create a healthier working environment for them.

Briefings for Ger Deering on appointment as Information Commissioner and Commissioner for Environmental Information

The Information Commissioner was told government departments and public bodies were failing to resource Freedom of Information (FOI) properly and that public servants were not being given enough training to make good quality decisions.

A briefing for the recently appointed Information Commissioner Ger Deering said that public bodies had consistently failed to allocate enough resources to adequately fund FOI.

It also highlighted the failure of public bodies to make sure those tasked with making decisions had enough access to training, support, and expertise.

The analysis stands in stark contrast to comments made by Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath who has repeatedly claimed FOI is “robust and functioning well”.

The briefing – which was prepared late last year by officials – paints a somewhat bleak picture of information access in Ireland saying the Information Commissioner needed to do more to ensure public bodies dedicated adequate resources to FOI.

It said: “[We have] had very few interactions in recent years with heads of [public] bodies who might need some encouragement to make such commitments and it is an area in which we should do more.”

The briefing said FOI decision making was almost always “tagged on as an additional function” to civil servants who had other jobs.

And it said that FOI officers tended to be replaced quite regularly, thus “continuing the cycle of inexperienced decision makers making decisions”.

The Information Commissioner had themselves recruited somebody to develop an outreach programme to help public bodies whose decision making they considered “deficient”. However, this person had left their post with significant delays in filling the vacancy.

“As such, we have undertaken very little outreach work since May 2021,” said the briefing, “which we are keen to restart.”

The Information Commissioner (OIC) said they had their own difficulties in keeping staff with many of their senior staff taking advantage of a “mobility scheme” to move elsewhere in the public service.

The briefing explained: “OIC is experiencing higher staff turnover and are facing lengthy delays in having vacancies filled. The problems are more acute for the OIC, given the specific skills set we believe to be necessary for high calibre case workers.

“OIC has lost significant expertise in recent years, and it has a relatively inexperienced team overall. This is not helpful in circumstances where demand for our services has been increasing.”

The new Information Commissioner was also told of the “significant resource implications” of FOI decisions being appealed to court in terms of time and costs.

They said this influenced their approach to “engagement with parties to a review” and the level of detail they provided in their decisions.

The briefing concluded: “It remains an ongoing concern.”

A separate briefing for Ger Deering on FOI’s sister system for requesting records, the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations, detailed how cases in that area had doubled in the space of three years.

It said that the current environmental and housing crises meant this would continue and explained how negative findings had been made against Ireland on how it dealt with such requests by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee.

A slideshow presentation said that in one year 19% of cases they received were ending up in the High Court, but that this had brought “clarity to the law” and a subsequent fall-off in court appeals.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner said that since the briefing was drafted in November last year, they had been able to recruit three additional staff.

He said: “In addition, existing staff have continued to further develop the skills and knowledge required to carry out their roles.”

The spokesman said that the newly appointed commissioner Ger Deering planned to engage with public bodies and raise all the issues highlighted in the briefing, including the lack of resources and training for information access.

Forty three prisoners escaped or absconded from jail over the past four years – only two remain at large

Forty three prisoners, including criminals serving time for kidnapping, robbery, threats to murder, and homicide offences have escaped or absconded from jail over the past four years.

However, of all those who made a run for it, forty-one have been returned to custody and only two of them remain unaccounted for.

The Irish Prison Service said that between 2018 and 2021, eight prisoners had escaped from closed prisons, or while they were on a prison escort, appearing in court, or during a hospital or medical appointment.

All eight of them have been recaptured however and were returned to prison to serve the rest of their sentence.

Another 35 prisoners absconded from the country’s two low-security ‘open’ prisons, Loughan House in Co Cavan and Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow.

Ministers claim more than €260,000 in special tax allowance for purchase or rental of a second home in Dublin

Government ministers have claimed almost €260,000 in a special allowance that lets them buy or rent a second home in Dublin.

The Revenue Commissioners said that between ten and fourteen ministers had been in receipt of the so-called ‘dual abode allowance’ in each of the past four years.

The more than forty claims made since 2018 resulted in tax write-offs of over €103,000 for the politicians, each of whom already earn between €141,000 and €183,000 every year, or over €200,000 in the case of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.

Revenue said that fewer than ten senior politicians had availed of the dual abode allowance last year, claiming €30,050 and resulting in tax savings of €12,020.

However, those figures are likely to rise as a four-year time limit is in place for the special tax break.

Department of Finance officials warned forcing banks to pay higher levy would lead to extra costs for customers

Officials at the Department of Finance warned that forcing the state’s three banks to pay €150 million in the bank levy this year could lead to “further cost cutting”, higher costs for consumers, and would be “particularly onerous” for the smallest of them Permanent TSB.

In submissions for Minister Paschal Donohoe, officials said that maintaining annual income from the levy as KBC and Ulster Bank departed the Irish market would leave AIB, Bank of Ireland, and Permanent TSB to foot the full annual bill.

They said forcing the three banks to bear a “higher share” of the levy would ultimately hit consumers in the form of higher charges and lending rates.

In detailed arguments on the future of bank levy, they said it remained a factor that any new bank looking to enter the Irish market would consider if planning to do business here.

It also said that the levy – no matter what – would “never provide for the recovery of the costs of the financial crisis”.

Redundancy and ‘garden leave’ payments at NAMA totalled €3.2 million over 19-month period

NAMA has paid out €3.2 million in redundancy and garden leave payments over the space of just over a year and a half, new figures have shown.

Figures from the National Asset Management Agency reveal that 49 former staff received redundancy pay in the period between June 2020 and the end of last year.

One person received a redundancy payout exceeding €100,000 while another was paid between €90,000 and €100,000 as the agency continues to wind down its operations.

A total of €2.2 million was paid out in redundancy with two people receiving between €80,000 and €90,000 and four getting between €70,000 and €80,000.

Higher Education Authority boss wrote of “disturbing picture” of internal workings and governance at University of Limerick

The chief executive of the Higher Education Authority said there was a “disturbing picture” of the internal workings and governance at the University of Limerick (UL).

In a forthright letter to the most senior official at the Department of Further and Higher Education, the HEA said “very serious and broad issues” had come to light about the university.

The HEA CEO Dr Alan Wall said that based on legal advice they could not carry out their own investigation but said a full governance review of UL should take place.

The concerns were raised following the controversial €8 million acquisition of the former Dunnes Stores in Limerick in 2019, despite being valued at €3 million by Limerick’s local authority just two years earlier.

The HEA had originally withheld these records and they were only released following an internal review by Right to Know.

Responding to them, a spokeswoman for UL said: “University of Limerick is continuing to engage with the Higher Education Authority, providing assurances that are being sought on governance.

“The HEA is satisfied with the assurances it has received on governance and processes at UL. University of Limerick is committed to strong governance and a continued review and enhancement of its policies, procedures, and practices.”

The €30,000+ in high-value gifts that had to be surrendered by Taoisigh and the Ceann Comhairle under ethics rules

The Department of the Taoiseach is sitting on €30,000 worth of gifts that were presented to the Taoiseach or Ceann Comhairle but were considered too valuable for them to keep.

An official log of high-value items reveals how various Taoisigh and the current Speaker of the Dáil have received eleven gifts that had to be surrendered under ethics rules.

The items include a painting by dancer Michael Flatley, a €7,700 Rolex watch, a Samuel Beckett first edition, and a bust of JFK.

Under ethics rules around receiving gifts, individuals in high public office are not allowed to accept a present that is worth more than €650 due to the risk of corruption.