Prison Service’s €320,000 project to brighten up “austere” jail yards and landings

The Irish Prison Service is spending around €320,000 at three jails on a graphic design project to try and lift the “mundane and dreary” atmosphere in prison yards and landings.

The wall graphics are intended to brighten up the most “austere” areas of Castlerea Prison in Roscommon, Cloverhill in Dublin, as well as Cork Prison.

The decorations include inspiring quotes intended to lift the mood of prisoners and staff, as well as photographs of nature and iconic snaps of crowds in Croke Park and the Sam Maguire being hoisted in front of Hill 16.

A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said: “An important part of providing equivalence of mental health care is the provision of ‘whole population’ preventative approaches, often witnessed in the community.

“The Prison Service have commenced a program of upgrades to enhance the aesthetics of the exercise yards in a number of prisons across the estate. The Irish Prison Service intends to rollout this program across the entire prison estate.”

Department of Health refused COVID-19 pandemic recognition payment to staff at Irish Blood Transfusion Service despite pleas for them to be included

A decision by the Department of Health to exclude frontline blood transfusion workers from a COVID-19 bonus payment scheme led to plummeting morale for the workers who were rejected.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) said that 434 of their staff had faced higher exposure to infection because of working closely with thousands of donors, blood, body substances, and potentially infectious materials during their every-day work.

In an appeal to the Minister for Health, the IBTS said they were “very concerned” about the exclusion of their staff from the €1,000 pandemic bonus scheme and that it was having a “very negative impact on staff morale” when they were struggling to retain people.

Correspondence reveals how the Department of Health said that blood transfusion staff had not been exposed to COVID-19 because people with symptoms were urged not to attend donation clinics.

In response, the IBTS said this was difficult to square with the fact that an entire team in Cork had been exposed, and subsequently developed COVID-19, after being involved in providing services.

They also said there were multiple occasions where non-symptomatic people had attended clinics with their donations subsequently recalled due to notification of a positive test.

A letter from the IBTS said: “We accept that we asked donors with symptoms not to attend donation clinics, but so too did every other health service provider, including hospitals.”

EU removals from Ireland included people convicted of human trafficking, money laundering, and participation in a criminal organisation

Criminals convicted of human trafficking, organising prostitution, rape, and stalking were among ninety two citizens of other European Union countries who were sent back home from Ireland over the past two and a half years.

Figures from the Department of Justice detail how thirteen people were the subject of removal orders in the first six months of this year.

Of those returned to their home in another EU state in 2023, offenders had committed crimes including money laundering, being involved in a criminal gang, sexual assault, and tax evasion.

Leo Varadkar briefed to expect “anachronistic upper-class mannerisms” and “traditionalist views” ahead of meeting with Jacob Rees-Mogg

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was told to prepare himself for “anachronistic upper-class mannerisms” as well as “controversial traditionalist views” ahead of an online meeting with the UK politician Jacob Rees-Mogg.

In prepared notes, Mr Varadkar – who was then serving as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise – was briefed on the “retrograde steps” the British government had taken over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Ahead of a conference call with Mr Rees-Mogg, the briefing said Mr Varadkar could emphasise how both the Irish President and then-Taoiseach Micheál Martin had attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth.

The notes said this had led to a “renewed focus on the strength and depth of the bilateral relationship” between the UK and Ireland.

However, the briefing – mostly prepared by the Irish Embassy in London and the Department of Foreign Affairs – said that this “spirit of partnership and mutual respect” had been damaged by recent post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union.

The meeting last October was held not long after Liz Truss began her ill-fated seven-week stint as prime minister of the UK.

The briefing notes said Mr Varadkar should emphasise that the people of Northern Ireland “categorically reject” the confrontational approach the United Kingdom had taken in Brexit discussions with the EU.

Staff at Chief State Solicitor’s Office reported overhearing racist and homophobic remarks as well as “talking down” of inner city communities in Dublin

A staff survey carried out at the chief state solicitor’s office found that some employees had overheard racist and homophobic comments from fellow workers, as well as “talking down of inner [city] Dublin communities”.

The survey from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office (CSSO) also flagged concerns from some staff about an “us versus them” split between people working in the legal and administrative sides of the office.

Asked whether the CSSO did not tolerate bullying, harassment, or any form of discrimination in the workplace, 14 per cent of the people working there said they could not agree with that statement.

Employees were also questioned about what a new equality, diversity, and inclusion team within their organisation should focus on.

As a result, concerns were raised by some staff about recent “gender equality in the office as regards men” and the need for more social inclusion in the legal profession.

CSSO employees also said there should be zero tolerance for certain language and behaviours – for example, around racism, and derogatory comments about inner city communities.

The Chief State Solicitor’s Office had originally refused to release a copy of the survey under Freedom of Information laws; however, they were later directed to do so by the Information Commissioner.

You can read the decision from this case here.

Fire safety report at Rotunda Hospital finds unmaintained escape lighting system with failing and faulty emergency signage

A fire inspection at one of the country’s busiest maternity hospitals said the emergency escape light system was not being routinely maintained, that most of its fittings were falling or faulty, and that some exit signage for use in the event of a blaze was not operating at all.

The report on the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin said it was clear the system would not provide the minimum light levels or escape signage that would be needed to provide safe escape in the event of an emergency.

It said it would not be financially viable to repair, update, or extend the current system and recommended the installation of a completely new system of emergency lighting.

A board meeting last year heard that the total cost of a project to fix all fire safety issues at the hospital could be in the order of €2.4 million and would take between two and three years to implement.

The investment was approved following a report carried out by expert consultants Titan Fire at the hospital in late 2021; the Rotunda had originally refused to release a copy under FOI laws but were directed to do so by the Information Commissioner (OIC).

You can read the decision from the OIC in this case here.

Secret Service’s vast bill for Joe Biden visit to Ireland included emergency vet bill, hard drive replacement, double-booked accommodation, and colossal hotel costs

The United States Secret Service spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on accommodation, vehicle rental, hard drive removal, and emergency vet care during the visit of President Joe Biden to Ireland with their “hub” hotel in Dublin getting paid more than €205,000 alone.

More than a dozen hotels across the country were booked for lodgings and conference space, with the Secret Service accidentally double-booking rooms at one luxury hotel at a cost of more than €3,000 after a breakdown in communications.

A log of expenditure details how hotels in Dublin 4 did particularly well, with the Clayton Burlington “hub” paid around €207,000, the nearby Herbert Hotel receiving an estimated €143,000, and the Conrad getting almost €70,000.

The largesse wasn’t confined to the Irish capital however, with hotels in Mayo, Sligo, and Galway picking up valuable business during Mr Biden’s visit to the west of Ireland.

Other costs included:

  • Spending of €85 on “trash cans” and another €72 for “paper and tape” from Woodie’s DIY.
  • A €6,810 bill with glaziers for security screens, €10,454 paid out to a company that specialises in elevator technology, and €1,800 spent on K Lifts for Dublin Airport.
  • Expenditure of €142 for hard drive removal from a photocopier.
  • A medical bill of €858 for veterinary services after a K-9 dog suffered “profuse vomiting”.

Theft of belongings from a court room, getting photographed, and bail money being given to a former partner logged as complaints to Courts Service last year

Personal belongings getting stolen from a court room, getting photographed outside the Criminal Courts of Justice, and bail money getting handed over to an ex-partner were among the complaints made to the Courts Service last year.

The service said they had received 207 complaints in 2022, although two of them related to people getting their picture taken while coming to or leaving court and could not be investigated.

Another 29 cases related specifically to judges while one case where somebody’s personal items were pilfered in a court room had to be referred to gardaí.

Dozens of complaints were also lodged on matters including delays in getting information, about solicitors and Courts Service staff, and family law cases.

The client survey on which the IDA has spent at least €78,000 trying to keep secret

The high cost and low availability of housing, as well as the amount paid out in personal tax by employees, were the single-most negative factors for major companies operating in Ireland, according to a controversial client survey carried out by IDA.

The generous Irish corporate tax environment, the subject of decades of controversy, was given as the highest-rated factor for operating in this country.

The reliability and availability of power was, ironically, given as the second most positive factor in the survey though the energy network has since been dogged by issues with supply alerts issued last year.

Release of the client survey, which was carried out in 2019, was fiercely resisted by the IDA who have spent at least €78,000 bringing a High Court challenge after being told they must release it under Freedom of Information laws by the Information Commissioner.

The IDA has since decided to disclose over sixty per cent of the report after originally making public fewer than a handful of pages.

A brief timeline of the IDA client survey case:

  • March 2020: Right to Know requests a copy of the client survey.
  • April 2020: The IDA releases three all but meaningless introductory and contextual pages from the survey.
  • April 2020: Right to Know seeks internal review.
  • May 2020: The IDA stands by its decision.
  • Nov 2021: The Information Commissioner orders full release of the document.
  • Dec 2021: The IDA appeals the decision to the High Court.
  • Dec 2022: The Information Commissioner revokes it decision and agrees to make a fresh decision using a different investigator.
  • Jul 2023: The IDA, without explanation, releases more than 60% of the survey, including all of its key findings.
  • Aug 2023: It is revealed that the IDA has spent €78,000 on the case, despite having quietly conceded most of it. Legal costs incurred by the Information Commissioner (OIC) are not known.
  • The case continues and a fresh decision from the OIC is awaited.

Ireland will have to prepare for much heavier rainfall, storm surges, and coastal flooding because of climate change, says Met Éireann advisory

Advice given to forecasters in Met Éireann said Ireland needed to prepare itself for much heavier rainfall, storm surges and coastal flooding, as well as the growing “likelihood of extreme weather events”.

The climate guidance was sent to meteorologists in June amidst a summer of freak weather events globally including record-breaking temperatures, catastrophic flooding, and out-of-control forest fires.

The Met Éireann guidance said it was “beyond doubt” that human influence had warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land, and that temperatures here were up by approximately one degree Celsius since 1900.

It said this made extreme weather events more likely but that it was difficult to say how this would impact the frequency and intensity of storms in Ireland with further research needed.

The advisory said our climate had become significantly wetter with annual rainfall in the 1991 to 2020 period 7% higher than what was experienced between 1961 and 1990.

The document said: “Irish rainfall patterns are expected to change, with an increase in both dry periods and heavy rainfall events.”

It said there was “high confidence” that we could expect maximum rainfall rates to increase as the warmer atmosphere would carry more moisture.

The guidance added that a warmer atmosphere could be expected to carry 7% more moisture for every degree of warming with heavy rainfall events inevitably increasing in intensity.

It added: “Global sea level continues to rise. As a result, storm surge and coastal flooding risk around Irish coasts is expected to increase.”