How Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority grappled with a fake Covid-19 vaccination poster that went viral around the world

A fake Irish Covid-19 poster spread rapidly around the world as far afield as New Zealand and South Africa while also appearing on bus shelters and in toilets around Dublin.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) had been in receipt of queries from international media and members of the public from around the world asking about the poster, which falsely claimed there was a risk of “sudden death” from taking a Covid-19 vaccine.

Internal emails detail how the HPRA said it was “almost impossible to prevent this type of thing” and that it had been flagged with Twitter and Facebook, where it was circulating widely.

The full set of records from the HPRA below:

Cork City Council Traveller Accommodation contracts

Right To Know sought copies of contracts between Cork City Council and any companies charged with maintenance or caretaking of traveller accommodation.

One notable company was Four Seasons Promotions Limited trading as “Animal Collection Services” (ACS), which is a curious name for a company providing maintenance and security company at Traveller accommodations sites.

Our specific request sought:

1. Any and all contracts between the council and contracted companies/individuals for the provision of general maintenance repairs & caretaking works at Traveller Specific Accommodation in the period 2016 to 2021 inclusive, for all sites for which the council has contracted those works out via Tender award or otherwise. 

2. Any other contracts (security or other) between the council and third parties in relation to Traveller halting sites in the city for the period 2016 to 2021 inclusive. 

3. A copy or breakdown of any and all invoices/payments made to those companies/individuals under any contracts for the years 2021, 2020 and 2019 inclusive. 

Payments were broken down by year, but specifics of invoices were refused:

Payments 2019 – €174,949.05

Payments 2020 – €139,188.19

Payments 2021 – €202,768.36

Cork City Council has encountered serious criticism for its relationship with the Traveller community in recent years, in particular in relation to the Ombudsman report into Spring Lane Halting Site.

The contracts with different providers, and their obligations under those contracts are detailed here:

IDA briefing documents on data centres and the electricity supply crisis

The IDA flagged concerns that data centres were being “scapegoated” for a crisis in electricity supply that had led to warnings of power blackouts.

An internal briefing note based on international investor feedback said data centres were being portrayed as the “culprit for current electricity problems” when supply issues were “clearly” the cause of the problem.

In other internal records, the IDA explained how an electricity supply crunch had been expected in Ireland, but not until around 2026, and that supply issues were already “impacting on investment decisions”.

The full set of records below:

Defence Forces writes off more than €46,000 worth of equipment as either lost or broken beyond repair

The Defence Forces lost or wrote off as damaged beyond repair more than €46,000 worth of equipment over the space of two years.

Among the items that went missing in action or were damaged so badly they could no longer be used were body armour, a night vision device, GPS devices, and even badminton racquets.

The Defence Forces had originally released only a partial list of the items with close to half of the entries redacted on security grounds.

They had claimed release of details relating to some lost or damaged items “could be used by criminal elements, paramilitaries, or other state and non-state actors to counter a specific operational capability the Defences Forces uses at home and/or overseas”.

In an internal review decision, they said there was a risk of “serious harm, or indeed loss of life” and that the chance of this happening – while unlikely – could “potentially be catastrophic” to the Defence Forces, its personnel, and even the state. That decision was subsequently appealed to the Information Commissioner, at which point the Defence Forces opted to release the list in full.

Finance Minister advised to highlight “wisdom” of introducing cap on controversial tax relief for highly paid executives

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe was advised to highlight the “wisdom” of imposing a salary cap on a controversial tax relief scheme even though the cap had been lifted just a few years before by his predecessor Michael Noonan.

Mr Donohoe had announced a €1 million cap for the Special Assignee Relief Programme (SARP) in 2018, a controversial scheme that provides generous tax benefits for multinational staff moving to Ireland.

However, a cap was simply being reintroduced having been abolished by Mr Donohoe’s party colleague, the then Finance Minister Michael Noonan in 2015.

Its removal had led to “significant unanticipated costs” for the taxpayer and the use of the scheme by executives on multi-million salaries for aggressive “advance tax planning”.

A briefing for Minister Paschal Donohoe last summer on the latest data from the Special Assignee Relief Programme (SARP) said the reintroduction of a cap had led to a significant improvement in how much it cost to support jobs under the scheme.

It said there had been a decrease in the cost for each job supported by the scheme to €44,000 in the latest annual figures, compared to €73,000 the year before.

In a briefing for the minister, department officials said the scheme was likely to be the subject of commentary from opposition politicians.

The submission said: “In such an event, the point can be made that the data in the Revenue report serves to reinforce the wisdom of the decision to impose the salary cap in Finance Bill 2018.”

Government ministers and politicians from all three of the main parties reported to have breached public health guidelines in Leinster House and the Convention Centre

Government ministers and politicians from the three main political parties were among those reported to have breached public-health guidelines in Leinster House and the Convention Centre.

In one incident, a minister was dismissive of the compliance staff who had asked a large group of TDs to keep their distance.

A log of the complaint said: “I approached Minister [redacted] regarding this who pointed at her colleagues and told me jokingly it was them I needed to police.

“I told her that we were only two people and that we needed their help in managing this.”

That complaint detailed how there had been a significant group of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ministers, along with backbenchers, gathered too closely together in the Convention Centre on 7 October 2020.

An email said: “In total, we visited this area over eight times in the half hour, with at least four verbal interactions asking them to separate.

“It was clear in some cases, those seated had moved their tables and chairs out of line to be closer to each other. This was evident between Minister [redacted] and Minister [redacted] although we couldn’t be certain which of them had done the moving.”

In another reported incident, a member of Sinn Féin was part a group of TDs who were told to leave greater distance between each other on an escalator in the Convention Centre.

According to an Oireachtas log from October 13 last year, the Sinn Féin member was alleged to have said: “Sure what difference does it make. We haven’t got it.”

They then added: “We’ve all had it at this stage. It’s been here since Christmas.”

The Information Commissioner has ruled however, that the identities of the politicians should not be disclosed.

In a decision, they said that the right to know of the public did not outweigh the right to privacy of the elected representatives involved.

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The battle above the skies of Irish racecourses: drone operators vs Horse Racing Ireland

Horse racing bosses tried to shut down the operation of private drones at Irish racecourses through complaints to gardaí, the Data Protection Commission, and even the Irish Aviation Authority.

However, internal records reveal how Horse Racing Ireland concluded there was little that could be done except seeking a change in the law.

Drones are being used routinely around Irish racecourses to take advantage of a short time lag between broadcast footage of events and the action on the ground.

Even this small delay allows gamblers take advantage of changes to so-called “in-running” betting odds, if say a horse begins to struggle, jumps awkwardly, or falls.

Internal records detail how Horse Racing Ireland were in touch with gardaí in Naas Garda Station last year, who were trying to make “life difficult” for those involved in the filming.

Pre-budget submissions for Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe on tobacco, alcohol, and carbon taxes

Tax income from cigarettes and tobacco had remained steady no matter how often the price increased in the budget, according to Department of Finance records.

A submission prepared for Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe also suggested a decline in airline travel had led to an increased tax haul from tobacco sales throughout this year.

It said that a 50-cent increase on the price of a pack of cigarettes had now been implemented six years in a row, with Minister Donohoe opting for yet another price hike in October’s budget.

The submission said tobacco excise receipts had been €1.2 billion last year and were forecast to rise to €1.262 billion for the entirety of 2021.

“This suggests a continuation of a longer-term trend of tobacco excise receipts remaining stable at around €1.1 billion per annum, with the effect of rate increases balanced out by the effect of volume reductions,” it said.

The submission also speculated that revenue from cigarette taxes had risen because of the pandemic due to lower levels of airline travel.

Normally, up to 10% of cigarettes consumed each year are brought in from EU member states that have much lower taxes and prices.

Also available in this upload are discussion on tobacco duties, and submissions on alcohol and carbon taxes.

Defence Forces report into allegations of rape, sexual assault, harassment, and indecent behaviour involving the military over the past forty years

The Defence Forces have investigated more than 140 allegations of sexual abuse, including 20 cases which involved a member of the military and a minor.

A report prepared by military authorities for Minister Simon Coveney disclosed that there have been 146 investigations by military police into alleged sex crimes over the past four decades.

However, some of these were later found to relate to “common assault” and consensual acts, according to the report, which was marked with a “restricted” status by the Defence Forces.

Of the 146 reports, 127 took place in Ireland and were dealt with by military police with 52 of those cases referred onwards to gardaí for investigation.

Another seven of them took place overseas where An Garda Síochána had no jurisdiction and they had to be dealt with under military law.

There were a further twelve cases that were found not to involve Defence Forces personnel but where there was a “military connection”, for example the location of the alleged crime.

Minister Coveney was told that there had been a significant fall in the number of cases over the past decades with 54 cases in the 1980s, 35 in the 1990s, 20 in the 2000s, and 17 in the 2010s.

Only a single case has been reported so far this decade with the report saying a change in “culture” within the Defence Forces and “increased external societal awareness” were a factor in the decline.

The report said: “[This] has altered the quantity, nature and extent of MP [military police] investigations into alleged offences with circumstances concerning a sexual nature.”

A breakdown of the 127 incidents, which were deemed to required investigation, disclosed that 19 of them related to rape allegations, with a further 62 cases of indecent or sexual assault.

There were six cases of sexual harassment investigated, ten cases of indecent exposure, and thirty cases reported of inappropriate behaviour.

The report said: “All trends have decreased significantly over time, apart from a slight increase in ‘inappropriate behaviour’ during [the] 2010s.”

Of the cases deemed sexual offences, twenty involved at least one minor, according to the report.

These involved four allegations of rape, nine of indecent or sexual assault, three cases of indecent exposure, and four reports of inappropriate behaviour.

Over 300 cases recorded of ambulances arriving at life-threatening events at least sixty minutes after being called

An ambulance turned up to a life-threatening event more than an hour after being called on more than 300 occasions over the first six months of the year.

In two cases – both in the west of Ireland – there was a more than two-hour delay in paramedics arriving, according to records released by the National Ambulance Service.

Delays were most pronounced in Wexford, Cork, and Kerry, with well over a third of all the sixty-minute plus response times recorded in just those three counties.

A breakdown of the reasons given for excessive delays in ambulance response time reveals that in 249 cases, the very long distance involved was to blame.

There were also 34 cases where the ambulance got stood down because an even more pressing emergency had occurred.

Two cases of ambulances breaking down en route were reported while in another incident there was a “potential violent scene,” and the paramedics were waiting for garda support.

Other reasons given for lengthy delays in reaching patients included bad weather conditions, decontaminating an ambulance, and problems with accurate directions.

A cleaned (by us) version of the data available below, and the original release letter below that.

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