Irish Prison Service abandons electronic tagging project saying it was neither “cost effective” nor “value for money”

The Irish Prison Service abandoned a project to electronically tag prisoners after spending around €1 million and deciding it was neither “cost effective” nor “value for money”.

An analysis of the project found that the average cost per prisoner for the tagging was just over €12,000 per inmate over the course of eighteen months.

An internal paper said when the project had first begun, it was hoped major savings could be made especially when escorting criminals for hospital visits.

However, these savings had never materialised and despite efforts to get different prisons to sign up, jails had been slow to submit applications for its use.

The Irish Prison Service had originally said they did not hold any records analysing the cost-benefit of the scheme.

However, following an appeal to the Information Commissioner, they released this redacted version of a review document on the project.

‘Strong moral case’ for death in service payments for healthcare workers who had died of Covid-19

Officials said there was a “strong moral case” for a Covid death in service payment for health workers and that it would provide “reassurance” to those who continued to work in hospitals and other facilities during the pandemic.

A series of Department of Health submissions explained how there was no legal obligation to pay anything extra to those who died while providing healthcare during the Covid crisis.

The officials also advised that any scheme would not be compensation for “any specific wrong” but simply a payment made as a gesture.

Under the scheme, the families of healthcare workers who lost their lives through Covid-19 infection are to be paid €100,000 with applications for the scheme set to open shortly.

A note ahead of a memo for government said that by March 2021, fifteen healthcare workers had lost their lives after being infected with Covid-19 while working.

It said: “While the State may not have a legal obligation to make payments to families in these circumstances, there is a strong moral case for ensuring that families bereaved in such circumstances to not face hardship.

“Furthermore, assurances to healthcare workers that a payment will be made to their families is a reassurance to them in continuing to provide essential services, notwithstanding the real or perceived additional risk to which they may be exposed.”

A database of complaints about homeless accommodation provided by the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive

A married couple not being allowed to stay together, a broken bed that injured a child, harassment and assault by staff, and a snoring roommate were among the complaints made about homeless services this year.

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) said it had received nearly sixty formal complaints in the first half of this year.

Thirty-three of the complaints related to staff at hostels and accommodation while ten were about living conditions in housing.

In one incident in January, a resident alleged that they had been assaulted by a staff member while three other complaints were made since then containing allegations of “harassment by staff”.

A mother complained in February that she had raised an issue about a broken bed in her room, which has now “caused injury to her son”.

Country by country briefing from Tourism Ireland on rising costs for visitors to Ireland

Tourism Ireland was worried a Lonely Planet article about the cost of visiting Ireland would get “amplified” across the world amid a “low but consistent number of complaints” about rising bills for holidays makers visiting here.

Monitoring had found there was a steady level of complaints online from visitors to Ireland on social media with 55 of 68 issues raised in a single week relating to costs, and 42% of all complaints specifically about car hire.

The state agency said there was continuing “low-level feedback” on the cost of renting a car as well as hotel room costs from trade partners and on social media.

However, Tourism Ireland said they had so far largely escaped negative coverage in mainstream media in a briefing paper.

The country-by-country special report on rising costs said trade partners in France were particularly concerned about “ongoing price and availability issues”.

Irish Rail says provision of 24/7 train services could compromise safety as night hours needed for railway maintenance work

Irish Rail poured cold water on suggestions they could run train services through the night or at much later or earlier hours.

There have been growing calls for the rail operator to put on additional early or late trains to match service levels that are available in many EU countries.

However, in discussions with the National Transport Authority (NTA), Irish Rail said 24/7 operations would not be “viable irrespective of any level of funding” that was available.

A senior Irish Rail official said overnight gaps in service were a key time for maintenance works and if those hours were lost, “the infrastructure … could not be maintained to a safe standard”.

An email said: “The Irish Rail network does not allow for alternative routing of services unlike, for instance, certain parts of the Great Britain network where diversionary routes allow for longer operational days.”

Audit finds some staff in Leinster House were almost doubling their salaries through working overtime

Some staff in Leinster House were working so much overtime that they almost doubled their salaries, according to an internal audit.

The inquiry found that two employees in the Superintendent’s office had received overtime payments worth 81% and 86% of their basic salaries.

The overtime payments almost doubled their basic salaries: in the case of the first employee from €36,801 to €69,248, including €29,641 in overtime and €2,805 in allowances, and for the second employee from €30,747 to €63,244, including €26,374 in overtime as well as allowances of €6,122.

The audit also found that the first employee had been working on average 61 hours a week during the period they examined, which was in breach of working time legislation.

It said over a six-week period, a total of 2,108 hours of overtime had been worked in the Superintendent’s office – which was the equivalent of approximately eight extra full-time staff per week.

The internal audit said: “Sixty-eight employees working overtime were in receipt of payments that equated to more than 20% of their basic salary.

“Of these sixty-eight, seven were in receipt of overtime equating to more than 50% of their basic salary.”

Department of Foreign Affairs paid €21,000 for four-star hotel for Ambassador after official residence was deemed “unsafe and uninhabitable”

The Department of Foreign Affairs paid out more than €21,000 for a four-star hotel for the Irish Ambassador in Cairo after his official residence was deemed “unsafe and uninhabitable”.

The Ambassador had to stay in the luxury Hilton Cairo Zamalek Residences overlooking the Nile for almost four months last year because of “structural” issues discovered at his diplomatic residence.

Two separate accommodation bills were paid by the department, one for €11,438 and another for just over €10,000, according to invoices.

RTÉ internal audit raises concerns over senior managers asked to sign off on purchase card spending they knew little about

An internal audit at RTÉ found senior managers were being asked to sign off on purchase card statements they knew little about and had to check more statements than they could feasibly manage.

The audit said individual managers were often too far removed from the “day to day requirements” of a programme to understand if purchases being made were legitimate or not.

It said this left RTÉ exposed to “inappropriate transactions” where managers had little oversight over an individual programme, and what might actually be needed to make it.

The audit gave an example of a lawnmower being purchased on a purchase card for the production needs of a specific programme or scene.

It said: “Checking of the receipt alone does not satisfy whether the purchase was actually required for RTÉ.”

The investigation also raised significant concerns over the level of checking of purchase card statements with 67% of a sample “not appropriately approved”.

This involved an absence of approval evidence on seven envelopes of statements they examined, and three examples where the cardholder had self-authorised their own expenditure.

Students personally targeted by essay mills with “promoters” suspected to have been hired within colleges to gather information on assignments

Individual students are being targeted by online services offering to write assessments for them while “promoters” are suspected to have been hired within colleges to gather inside information on assignments.

Students have even been contacted individually on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram about specific essays they had to do as part of their college work.

A memo from Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) said it was suspected details of the assignments were either being provided by other students in exchange for discounts, or where students had been hired as “promoters” on college campuses.

The background memo said certain types of students were particularly at risk of using so-called ‘essay mills’ for cheating on assignments including postgraduate students and international students.

The briefing note explained: “Certain cohorts of learners appear to be more vulnerable to use of assignment writing services. In particular: international students where the pressure to succeed is very high and high levels of shame are associated with failing.

“[Also] postgraduate students where again there is a high level of investment in succeeding and learners may have additional financial and other pressures to deal with; and students on business and computer science (and related subject area) programmes.”

Officials warned of risk of Taoiseach getting “stuck” abroad due to the “intolerable” unreliability of the government jet

Senior officials warned that reliability issues afflicting the government’s ailing jet had become “intolerable” with the risk of Taoiseach Micheal Martin getting “stuck” overseas for an extended period.

The €8 million Learjet has been repeatedly out of service over the past year and a half with the Department of Defence earlier this year told to hire a charter plane for a trip to Paris and London by the Taoiseach and a delegation.

In internal emails, the Department of the Taoiseach said the hiring of that executive jet – understood to have cost a five-figure sum – had been done because there was no other choice.

An email from Assistant Secretary to the Government Dermot Woods to senior colleagues said: “I must emphasise the strong reluctance with which this course of action is taken, particularly given the additional costs that are entailed, but the recent experiences have made the MATS [Ministerial Air Transport] situation intolerable.

“The Taoiseach’s essential travel to and from Berlin and Brussels recently put this matter into very stark relief again and it is my strong view that things can’t be allowed to continue as they are.”