National Gallery paid €1.5 million for Jack B Yeats painting with reservations from some board members about the high price involved

The National Gallery ended up paying a cool €1.5 million for a painting by Jack B. Yeats despite reservations from some of its own board members about the exorbitant price.

The price was more than 75% above the highest amount the gallery had paid for a new painting in well over a decade.

In meetings, the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI) board was told the painting ‘Bachelor’s Walk, In Memory’ was being offered by its owners at a negotiable price of GB£1.7 million but that Yeats’ paintings often exceeded their sale price.

One board member Professor Owen Lewis said he was supportive of the purchase but had “serious reservations” about the asking price given the extent of the gallery’s existing Yeats Collection of 37 works.

Others said they also supported the purchase amid fears of controversy if the artwork left the country but said how the NGI would fund it needed to be “fully investigated”.

The picture had been on long-term loan to the National Gallery since 2009 with then director Sean Rainbird saying it and another picture Grief were the “strongest painting[s]” in their collection of Yeats’ work.

The National Gallery had originally refused access to most of the information on the purchase of the painting following a request made under Freedom of Information laws.

However, the case was appealed to the Information Commissioner, who ruled most of the information could be released and was not commercially sensitive given the National Gallery now owned the painting.

The Information Commissioner ruled that the records “relate to extremely specific negotiating positions that are relevant only to the particular transaction”.

You can read that decision here.

Ryanair accuses government of “fraudulent diversion” of EU environment funding to support high emission school transport scheme

Ryanair said it was “deeply troubling” how EU funding to tackle emissions was being used to shore up unprofitable school bus routes and with no transparency over how the rest of the money was spent.

In letters to the Department of the Environment, the airline claimed the way in which the government had used an estimated €485 million in funds generated from an EU scheme was a “scandal”.

In an astonishing attack, they accused the department of a “fraudulent diversion” of 76% of the environmental funding to Bus Éireann.

The airline said the bus company’s fleet was “extremely emission intensive” and claimed the funding was simply being used to prop up an unprofitable semi-state.

They also lambasted the department over their explanation of where the other 24% in funding went after being told it had gone on “Climate Finance”.

In correspondence with the department early last year, Ryanair’s Director of Sustainability and Finance Thomas Fowler said: “This lack of transparency under a green minister [Eamon Ryan] is inexplicable and unacceptable.”

In response, the department said they did not accept the assertions made in the letter and that Ireland was “fully complaint” with its requirements.

It said funding the school transport scheme was an eligible category for expenditure and that it provided critical transport for almost 120,000 students, including 16,000 with special education needs.

Taoiseach’s department claimed unreliability of government’s Learjet left them no option but to spend up to €30,000 on a charter flight

The Department of the Taoiseach said there was no choice but to spend up to €30,000 on a charter flight for Micheal Martin because the government’s Learjet broke down so often.

Documents from the department reveal that the Air Corps had originally said smaller Pilatus aircraft could safely be used as a back-up for transport for politicians.

However, a decision was subsequently taken that the planes – despite being given the thumbs up for globe-trotting ministers and emergency transport of the sick – should not be used for either the Taoiseach or the President.

That decision was made despite a report from the Air Corps explaining how the PC-12 airplanes had among the best safety records in the world.

The report, access to which was originally refused by the Department of the Taoiseach, said the Defence Forces were happy to stand over them as a “reserve platform” for ministerial transport.

It said the Pilatus PC-12 was the best-selling single engine, turbine-powered plane in the world and was widely used by “private and charter airlines” around the globe.

These records were released following this decision of the Information Commissioner.

Mater Hospital looks to buy and develop property to accommodate key staff as housing crisis causes recruitment and retention challenges

One of the country’s busiest hospitals is looking at the purchase of property to accommodate “critical hospital staff” because of growing challenges posed by the housing crisis.

The Mater Hospital in Dublin is considering buying and developing property, which would be used as accommodation and provided to key healthcare workers at “a reasonable rental rate”.

The unorthodox move is being examined because of ongoing problems with staff turnover and difficulties in filling key posts at the hospital.

According to records obtained under FOI, the idea was presented to the board of the Mater Hospital last autumn by CEO Alan Sharp at which point it was in its “preliminary stages”.

Board members asked questions about its eventual cost and potential challenges around “managing the legalities of an employer and landlord relationship”.

However, it was noted that the “potential advantages to staff and the recruitment of staff were significant”.

Separately, the Mater is also planning a major expansion by moving into a vacated kid’s hospital once the National Children’s Hospital is finally finished.

The Mater Hospital in Dublin is looking at moving some clinical services to the nearby Temple Street hospital and using other space freed up there for staff accommodation, creche facilities, and parking to help with recruitment and retention.

All the details in the board minutes posted below:

Over 300 high-priority emergency calls responded to by ambulances only after two hours in first six months of 2022

Ambulances took more than two hours to arrive at the scene of a high priority emergency call more than 300 times in the first six months of last year.

Figures from the National Ambulance Service (NAS) show how 48 calls – classified as DELTA for dealing with life-threatening events other than cardiac or respiratory arrest – were not responded to until three hours after the original call was made.

In a further 28 cases, there were delays of over four hours in response time while 20 cases had a response time exceeding five hours, according to data released under FOI.

The NAS said only one ECHO call – a serious life-threatening cardiac or respiratory arrest – had taken in excess of one hour for a response time.

Altogether, there were 2,612 DELTA calls that took at least one hour to respond to from the time an emergency call was placed.

A target response time of nineteen minutes is in place for all callouts considered life-threatening, including both ECHO and DELTA calls.

We’ve also made the data available in Excel with some pivot tables included below.

If you’re working in local media, you should be able to click into your own county so feel free to use … with perhaps a small credit for Right to Know!

Ireland’s ethics legislation overly bureaucratic and no real system in place to properly review what is declared

Ireland’s ethics legislation is too bureaucratic with challenges in identifying and dealing with potential conflicts of interest for politicians and senior public servants.

A Department of Public Expenditure presentation said there was a lack of clarity and uncertainty on what ethical rules applied to civil servants and elected representatives.

It also admitted that the level of knowledge and understanding of ethics obligations among public officials was “questionable”.

The presentation said there were separate regimes in place for politicians at national and local levels with different requirements on what had to be disclosed, donations received, and the sanctions in place for breaches.

It said there were “bureaucracy and effectiveness issues” with much of the system paper-based and no real system in place for properly reviewing what was declared.

The presentation said: “Responsibilities for advice, development of guidelines and codes of conduct is diffuse [spread widely].”

It said that obvious anomalies in the applying rules had also “impact[ed] adversely on the credibility of the ethics regime”.

Bill for NAMA commission of investigation stands at €4.76 million including €1.26 million in legal fees from the past two years

A replacement water boiler and dishwasher costing €1,211, legal fees of €1.26 million, and €8,000 for new laptops and computer accessories were among the bills run up by the long-running NAMA inquiry.

A database of costs details more than €1.48 million in costs over the past two years with the latest overall bill for the commission of inquiry standing at €4.76 million as of last November.

A line-by-line breakdown of the inquiry’s most recent expenditure shows nine different solicitors and barristers shared €1.26 million in fees for the provision of legal services.

Susan Gilvarry – who was appointed the new sole member of the commission of investigation last summer – was paid €377,000 for the “provision of solicitor services” between September 2020 and October 2022.

One barrister was paid €220,000 for their work with the inquiry during the same period while another counsel earned €190,000 for providing legal services.

Six other legal advisers earned between €16,885 and €165,556 over the two-year period, according to a database of costs released by the Department of the Taoiseach.

The commission of inquiry also said there had been salary costs of just over €490,000 in the period from September 2020 until the autumn of last year.

Ireland missing out on big-budget productions by streaming giants due to cap on tax relief scheme for TV and movie makers

Ireland was missing out on big-budget productions of movies and TV shows from streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime because a cap on a tax relief scheme was too low.

In a pre-budget plea, tourism and culture minister Catherine Martin said feedback from an official trip she made to L.A. suggested Ireland was simply not being considered because of its €70 million cap on tax relief for productions.

She said recent years had seen streaming companies in particular making ever-larger scale productions with correspondingly larger budgets.

In a letter to then-Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe last August, she wrote: “Feedback from Irish visual effects companies at my recent trip to Los Angeles, is that we are losing out to other countries in attracting major internationally mobile productions costing in the region of €100m. They do not consider Ireland, because of the cap.”

Concerns over “opportunism” and accommodation providers who would look to financially benefit from the crisis in Ukraine

Senior government officials warned of “opportunism” as they struggled to provide accommodation for refugees with suggestions put forward for using disused buses, seminaries, school gyms, an empty ferry terminal, and even the creation of two new fifteen-minute cities.

In internal emails, civil servants said they needed to watch out carefully for people who would look to financially benefit from the crisis, as had happened during the Covid-19 pandemic and other crises.

Brainstorming emails said the focus should be on “speed rather than perfection” including when it came to building standards and planning permission.

It said everything should be on the table including the use of seminaries, boarding schools, the army camps at the Curragh and Gormanstown, major stadiums, army housing, and churches.

One email said: “There is an unused ferry terminal in Dun Laoghaire [in Dublin] – the terminal could be used, and a ferry‐size boat could be used to house people in that dock. Cruise ships also an option. Ask all marinas to house three families – old boats are not expensive.”

It said even disused buses could be converted into accommodation while help could be sought from skilled apprentices in fitting out emergency lodgings.

These records were released following an appeal to the Information Commissioner after extensive delays in dealing with the request by the Department of Children and Equality.

Driver testers raised “serious health and safety concern” over allowing learners take their test in car without a valid NCT

Driver testers raised concerns they were being put at risk after the Road Safety Authority (RSA) changed rules to allow cars without a valid NCT to be used during a driving test.

The RSA temporarily relaxed rules around the obligation to have an up-to-date NCT because of long delays for motorists in getting an appointment to have their cars checked.

However, a union representing driver testers said the proposed changes presented a “serious health and safety concern” for their members.

In one email last October, they said they needed much more detail on what was being planned saying “the priority must be the health and safety of testers”.

A spokesman for the Road Safety Authority said there was a responsibility on motorists to ensure their car was always in roadworthy condition when driving.

He said: “At the start of a driving test, as part of the insurance declaration, all candidates are required to formally to confirm that their vehicle is in a roadworthy condition before the driving test can commence.

“Driver testers also conduct visual inspections before the driving test to check lights, indicators, brake lights etc. The policy only allows for an NCT certificate that has expired within three months of the driving test date and the candidate must show evidence of an imminent NCT test appointment.”