Taoiseach Michéal Martin and his team were left “stranded” in Brussels after an Air Corps aircraft scheduled to fly them home went out of service at the last minute.
The incident caused acute embarrassment in the Department of Defence who were told they had twice in quick succession been unable to support the Taoiseach for strategically important EU and international engagements.
In emails, senior officials at the Taoiseach’s department said the latest breakdown marked a “further deterioration” in the service being provided for flying ministers around the globe.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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”.
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.”