Eighty retiring HSE consultants and staff qualified for lump sum pension payments of at least €160,000 over past three years – seven got more than €300,000

SEVEN former HSE consultants and staff have received lump sum retirement pay-outs of more than €300,000 over the past three years.

The enormous golden handshakes are part of close to €19 million in lump sums paid to high-earning former consultants and senior officials from the health service since 2016.

Altogether, 80 former HSE staff qualified for payoffs worth at least €160,000 during the last three years, with the average payment working out at €237,000.

Forty six of them got lump sums worth between €200,000 and €300,000, according to figures obtained following an FOI request.

The single highest earning pensioner – who retired in 2017 – was given €357,738 in a lump sum payment and is now in receipt of an annual pension worth €119,246, according to the figures.

The information was released by the HSE in heavily anonymised format, listing how much is being paid but not the identity or job title of those who received the money.

A second person who retired earlier this year was given a €356,981 lump sum payment and their annual pension is worth €118,993.

The third highest earner got a payoff of just over €350,000 and will get €116,823 each year for the rest of their lives.

Altogether, six retired HSE staff will be entitled to life-time pensions worth at least €100,000 annually after finishing work with the health service since the beginning of 2016.

The current cost of yearly pensions for the eighty recently-retired pensioners is just over €6 million, assuming none have died in the meantime.

Some of those listed with comparatively smaller annual pensions still managed to get very hefty lump sums.

In one instance, a former staff member was given €195,372 in a payoff even though their pension entitlement is listed as €47,047-a-year.

The cost of paying pensions for ex-health service staff was around €880 million last year from an overall budget of around €14 billion. It is expected the pension bill could rise to €1 billion by 2020.

Finance expert Catriona Ceitin, who was the first to reveal the extent of pension payments for former FÁS boss Roddy Molloy, said: “As these pensions are based on final salary, often the amount paid during retirement can exceed the salaries received during the entire working life, this is even more prevalent where large salary increases have been granted close to retirement.

“The personal contributions paid during the working life do not represent the value of the pensions and lump sums received,” she said.

The level of lump sum pay-out in the HSE has at least fallen in recent years with one retired employee from 2011 receiving €414,910 and an annual pension of €138,303.

The lump sums in the HSE are far higher than those paid out to ordinary civil servants working in government departments and other public bodies.

In a list of the highest pensions from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform released under FOI, the single largest lump sum paid was €298,708.

That was paid to a senior retiring civil servant in 2017, along with an annual pension for life of €107,795, according to the records.

The Department said their figures covered almost all civil servants, except those employed by the Houses of the Oireachtas and a handful of other public bodies.

Altogether, €11 million in golden handshakes were shared by 75 different ex-civil servants, with each receiving an average of just over €146,000 each.

Thirty six of them got at least €200,000 each while nine are in receipt of annual pensions worth in excess of €90,000 every year.

The Department said that the figures provided did not however, reflect “abatement” where former civil servants were taken on again to work in the public sector.

When that happens, the combined pension and pay for the new role cannot exceed what the person was earning prior to retirement.

In a statement, the HSE said these final salary pensions were calculated based on years of service, the final salary, and the best three years of consecutive pensionable allowances.

“In general, these schemes cover employees who were employed on or before [1 January 2013],” they said. Those employed since then are part of the far less generous single public service pension scheme.

The HSE said: “The introduction of the [single scheme] … is a step towards managing the public service pensions bill since it is a career average scheme rather than a final salary scheme which will ultimately lead to a reduction in benefits payable.”

Additional contributions and increased pension ages will also help cut the annual pension bill, they said.

Cork’s former mayor Tony Fitzgerald and the €2,750 taxpayer-funded trip to Rome for “audience” with Pope Francis

THE former Lord Mayor of Cork flew to Rome for a “Papal audience” on a trip funded by the taxpayer earlier this year.

Fianna Fáil’s Tony Fitzgerald travelled with his wife Georgina to the Eternal City to meet with Pope Francis where they gifted the Pontiff a book of photography of Cork City and a “personal present” of hand-carved candleholders.

The meeting with the Pope was arranged through the Cork and Ross Diocesan Office, according to Cork City Council.

The two-night trip – on which the city council’s chief executive Ann Doherty also travelled – ended up costing the council €1,963 in flights and accommodation, according to records.

This included €777 for three return flights to Rome and €1,186 for two rooms for two nights at the four-star Michelangelo in the Italian capital.

The hotel – with its “cosmopolitan style, classical grandeur, and timeless appeal” – is just a short stroll from the Vatican and St Peter’s Square.

Also paid for was a €273 bill for an official dinner at the Ristorante The Dome and a €433 subsistence claim by the mayor, according to records released by the council.

Mr Fitzgerald said the trip was one of several he had taken during his mayoralty as part of his efforts to represent the city “locally, nationally, and internationally”.

He said: “My year was focused on supporting and visiting local communities, charity events, companies and groups, communities that support foreign direct investment, meeting our President, Taoiseach, Ministers, Ambassadors, Heads of State, Lord Mayors, Mayors, Royal Family – promoting Cork as a place to visit and live … and work.

“Visiting Rome and meeting Pope Francis and those at the Irish College was an example of that. As required, the trip was approved by council retrospectively on the 14th May without any issue being made by the members … and without any issue being raised.”

The Rome trip ended up being scaled back, first because of a strike by air traffic controllers and later because of severe weather, according to council records.

On May 9, the mayor was greeted at the Vatican by Monsignor John Kennedy before a ceremony and an “engagement with Pope Francis, including exchange of gifts”.

Mr Fitzgerald visited the Irish College then where he met students from Cork, Irish ex-pats, and Monsignor Joe Murphy, head of protocol at the Vatican.

The following day, he was given a “walking tour” of Rome, which according to a suggested itinerary could include a visit to the Colosseum or some shopping.

An invitation email had said: “You must walk down the Via dei Condotti, where all the designer shops are located. You would want to have your chequebooks or cards ready, if you shop here!”

The Rome trip in May was one of three taken in quick succession by the former Lord Mayor. He also travelled to the United States in late February – to Newport, Boston, and New York – and to California in April.

Mr Fitzgerald led a delegation of thirteen councillors and staff to San Francisco in April. The trip, detailed here, ended up costing €50,000 and proved controversial locally.

The lord mayor had also travelled to the United States earlier in the year when he visited the east coast on a nine-night trip.

Again accompanied by his wife, their airfares for the trip cost €1,746 with another €980 spent on seven nights of hotel accommodation at the four-star Loews in Boston and the Affinia Shelburne in New York.

Two nights of accommodation were provided for free in Newport, Rhode Island by the local tourism authority. Two officials from the local authority accompanied the mayor for the first three nights of the trip.

On his return, Mr Fitzgerald made a subsistence claim of €1,326 – four days in Boston at the rate of US$168.25 per diem and six days in New York at US$159.25.

He said the eight day trip had combined “three visits into one trip” and had involved around thirty separate engagements over there.

“Travelling on three different trips would not have been practical and would have incurred extra expenses,” he said.

As well as promoting Cork in the region, he also visited Irish community members, met two city mayors, launched a public lecture series, attended a parade, paid his respects at the World Trade Centre, and attended an annual dinner dance of the Cork Association New York.

Advisers to Transport Minister Shane Ross believed anxieties were being deliberately stirred about bus network revamp for “political purposes”

TRANSPORT minister Shane Ross and his advisers believed anxieties over a revamp of Dublin’s bus network were being deliberately stirred up for political reasons.

The Minister for Transport – who was later accused of having disowned the capital’s BusConnects plan – was under “considerable pressure” over the redesigned network according to internal emails.

Records released under FOI reveal how the plans were causing concern for “southsiders” as Mr Ross was inundated with questions about how it would work.

For one single stretch of route between St Vincent’s Hospital and the minister’s constituency in Stepaside and Sandyford, Minister Ross received more than a hundred inquiries.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) were surprised at the numbers involved. “A hundred queries relating to that particular stretch?” asked their head of public affairs on August 15.

Mr Ross’ media advisor Carol Hunt replied: “Between Ecorr [e-correspondence]/[Minister’s] office and constituency – yes … getting to St Vincent’s [Hospital] seems to be worrying a lot of southsiders.”

In follow-up emails to the NTA in early September, Ms Hunt explained that the minister was getting asked questions about changes to the bus network “pretty much every time he ventures into the constituency”.

“Apologies for so many individual queries,” she said, “but there’s a lot of folk managing to stir up [a] lot of anxiety about the future of routes – for political purposes.”

She said that when people were given accurate information about what the revamp would actually involve that it was a considerable help.

Midway through September, Minister Ross and his team had begun to provide letters to individual households in “certain affected areas” outlining the changes that would impact them.

However, a new issue had arisen in an area along Stonemason’s Way near Marlay Park in the heart of the transport minister’s constituency.

“From our read of it, the current plans would seem to have a detrimental effect on a largely elderly community,” wrote Aisling Dunne, another of Mr Ross’ special advisers on September 11.

“Is there anything positive that we might be able to say to residents to assure them that the situation will not be as negative as they fear?”

Just over a week later, Minister Ross was reported in the Irish Times to have told a constituency meeting on September 19 that he had nothing to do with the BusConnects plan and had no responsibility for the National Transport Authority.

Asked about the documents, Mr Ross said that as a local representative, he had made submissions on behalf of his constituents about “specific concerns”, as had many other politicians.

He said: “During the consultation period it emerged that both constituents and other bus users from all over Dublin had been given erroneous information regarding the BusConnects project, some of which caused unnecessary anxiety.

“My staff were at pains to correct [this] – with the help of factual information from the NTA.

“It was most unfortunate that some individuals and groups chose to disseminate incorrect information and cause unnecessary worry for commuters, one can only presume for their own political reasons.”

Separately, documents released under FOI reveal Minister Ross was being briefed on the bus revamp plan by the National Transport Authority from as early as March 2017.

A lengthy briefing on a wider proposal called ‘Bus-21’ was prepared for his department, which included an explanation of how the fundamental rethink of the network would work.

“That major redesign of the bus network in the Dublin area is now underway,” it said, “assisted by a US firm who specialise in the design of major urban transit networks”.

In April 2017, he was also talked through a PowerPoint presentation on how BusConnects would work.

He was told it would involve taking some people’s front gardens, the removal of mature trees and parking, as well as new traffic restrictions on certain roads and streets.

The briefing paper also said the bus network would be “radically changed, but radically improved”.

It said the idea was to make the system more efficient, to carry more passengers and to make interchange between services much easier.

The minister was also talked through a similar project that had taken place in Houston, and which involved the same transport consultant Jarrett Walker as was being used by the NTA.

NAMA paying developers €2.3 million in salaries with the top earner receiving €195,000 annual “allowance”

TWENTY three developers are still in receipt of incomes from NAMA with the highest earning receiving €195,000 per year.

Three more get an “allowance” worth €180,000 annually according to figures released under FOI by the asset management agency.

Altogether, the 23 developers – who manage sites on behalf of NAMA – receive €2.3 million, an average of €100,000 each.

Of them, ten received a six-figure salary with one on €133,000, two getting €120,000, another on €110,000, and two developers paid €100,000 each.

NAMA said the payment of allowances to “debtors” was part of its efforts to get the best possible financial returns from its loans.

A spokesman said: “[We have] consistently stated since 2010 that, where [NAMA] is able to work with debtors, arrangements agreed with debtors are more cost-effective for the taxpayer than the alternative of appointing external asset managers or receivers.

“It is also a more efficient approach as debtors are very familiar with the assets under their control.”

The number of developers working directly with NAMA has dropped considerably over the years and was at one stage well in excess of 100.

The latest figures also list thirteen developers who are in receipt of annual allowances worth under €100,000.

According to the data, one is on €95,000 while four are on salaries of between €80,000 and €90,000, at an average rate of €83,000 each.

Three developers received just over €70,000 in payments while two were on allowances worth between €60,000 and €70,000.

The lowest earners were in the €30,000-€40,000 category, where two received €65,000 between them, or an average of €32,500 each.

In an information note accompanying the figures, NAMA said it technically did not pay “salaries” to the developers as it was not their employer.

It said that in certain cases they allow “debtors” to keep part of the income from their profit-making assets to pay overheads for the “preservation and enhancement of the value of property securing its loans”.

They said these overheads generally covered costs for repair and maintenance, and insurance premiums, local authority rates, and professional fees.

“These costs may include an allowance for the remuneration of debtors and their staff to manage their assets,” they said.

“This occurs in cases where the Agency decides that this is the most cost effective option in terms of maximising the return for the State in line with NAMA’s statutory objective.”

At its peak around 2014, the asset management agency was paying €11 million in allowances to 134 different developers with three of them in receipt of more than €200,000.

NAMA chief executive Brendan McDonagh defended the costs involved at the time saying it would be much more expensive to appoint receivers, who would then appoint an asset manager with costs rising exponentially.

The agency also rejected proposals that were considered unrealistic with one developer famously looking for a €1.5 million annual salary back in 2010.

“The jets, the yachts, the Bentleys will not be supported by NAMA,” said agency chairman Frank Daly at the time.

Department of Health wanted €100,000 salary for two-day-a-week job as chairperson of the HSE

THE Department of Health wanted to pay the new chairperson of the HSE €100,000-a-year for a job that would involve working for just two days each week.

After negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure – the fee was instead agreed at €80,000-a-year, internal records have revealed.

The Department of Health wanted the pay package to be linked with their plans for a new starting salary for their new chief executive. Interviews for that role were scheduled for the end of October.

The salary for the chief executive will be in the range of €250,000 to €300,000 with “provision for a higher rate in exceptional circumstances”.

Health officials asked that this information be “kept confidential” in communications with the Department of Public Expenditure.

In negotiations over a salary for their chairperson – who has since been confirmed as Ciarán Devane – officials struggled to find a similar role for pay comparison.

In emails, they said the chair of Bórd na Móna was paid €21,600-a-year for between four and eight days per month while the chair of CIE gets €31,500 annually for ten half day meetings each month and “significant further time commitment”.

An official explained the new HSE chair was seen as a key appointment.

One email from the Department of Health said the position would be “on the basis of a more substantial role and time commitment than a standard chair and requiring a significantly higher level of remuneration than the standard rates”.

In a preliminary business case sent on June 7, they said they would be looking for an €80,000 fee for the role with a five-year term.

In it, they provided details of chairperson fees from the private sector including AIB, Smurfit Kappa, Bank of Ireland, and CRH.

Twenty minutes later however, the Department came back to say they now believed a fee of €100,000 should apply to the two day a week position.

An email from the Department of Health explained: “Our Sec Gen [Jim Breslin] has just contacted me from a meeting to say that following information received from Fiona Tierney [then chief of the Public Appointments Service] that the fee for the Chair position should be pitched at €100k.

“The going rate for a non-exec director in the private sector for six meetings per year is €60k. For a Chairman, that is likely to be €100k+.”

They said a recent board position advertised by AIB came with a €65k fee while the chair of Nama Frank Daly was paid a fee of €150,000.

“On the basis of this additional information we wish you to consider agreeing to the higher rate of €100k rather than the €80k mentioned in the business case below,” it continued.

The Department of Public Expenditure were unwilling to go higher however, saying they were only prepared to sanction the €80,000 salary.

“This will be an exceptional measure in recognition of the particular nature of this role and the context as outlined in your business case,” they said.

In a statement, the Department of Health said they had considered a fee of up to €100,000 for the role and that they had agreed upon the rate that was ultimately decided.

They said: “Following consideration of the work involved for the Chairperson and that at least two days per week would be required to undertake the role, it was agreed that €80,000 was appropriate for the position.”

They said the chairperson would have a key role in helping manage an organisation with 110,000 staff and a budget of almost €16 billion next year.

The Department of Public Expenditure said in a statement: “The decision on salary level was reached following a review of the business case submitted by the Department of Health.

“This was an exceptional measure in recognition of the particular nature of the role and the context as outlined in the business case and reflects the strategic importance and scope of this position.”

Health Minister Simon Harris approved second cath lab for Waterford against advice of his officials

HEALTH Minister Simon Harris gave the green light to a controversial cardiac lab despite strong recommendations against it from senior departmental officials.

The second cath lab at Waterford University Hospital had been a key priority for Independent Alliance junior minister John Halligan and was given approval by Minister Harris in early July.

However, internal Department emails reveal that senior officials did not believe the lab – which is to be built in a prefab – was justified or fit in with national plans.

In addition, they said a business case put forward by the HSE was out of date, contained factual inaccuracies, multiple miscalculations, and could not be used as the basis for any decision.

On March 29, Minister Harris was given a preliminary briefing on the proposal, which advised against the plan on three separate grounds.

Despite that, Minister Harris asked for the idea to be investigated further in an email sent by one of his special advisers.

An internal email from the adviser said: “I understand that on a recent visit to Waterford this issue was raised with the Taoiseach who said he would ask Minister Harris to examine the issue further.”

The Department of Health subsequently looked for a business case from the HSE on the proposal and prepared a second briefing for Minister Harris.

Pressure for a decision on the cath lab intensified in June when the Taoiseach’s department also sought updates on the proposal, records reveal.

An internal email from Secretary General Jim Breslin on June 13 said: “Following the meeting with Minister and advisors (here and in D/Taoiseach) we have been asked to press the HSE to submit the business case.

“The submission should include the key steps necessary to commission such a lab, the associated timelines and costs.”

On June 21, an internal email from Minister Simon Harris’ special adviser said Mr Harris now wished to “proceed with the provision” of the second lab and wanted to update TDs in the South East on the news the following day.

A half an hour later, a health official urged caution: “We strongly advise against providing an update to the South East Oireachtas members confirming intention to proceed with provision of a modular cath lab in advance of receipt of the Department’s analysis.”

The following day, senior officials provided a second lengthy briefing on the proposal saying there were “factual inaccuracies” in it and that some of the information in it was out of date.

They also said there appeared to be “numerous miscalculations” in tables of costs that were provided.

“Given the miscalculations referred to above, it is also not possible to make a definitive determination on the value for money of the preferred option outlined in the business case,” it said.

The briefing then listed eight recommendations about why the plan should not proceed as outlined, the first two because of the mistakes in the business plan.

It also said the development – which could cost between €1.85 and €3.4 million a year – was not consistent with the “Herity Plan”, an independent clinical review that said a second cath lab in Waterford was not justified.

It said the South East catchment area could be served by extending opening hours of the existing lab and that staffing challenges would be a problem if it was developed.

It concluded by saying: “Acute Hospitals Policy Unit 4 strongly recommends that the project not proceed at this time, in advance of more detailed information on costs and timelines.”

In a handwritten note, Department Secretary General Jim Breslin also raised the issue of how the development would fit in with funding plans.

“Minister,” he wrote, “you will also be aware of the significant gap between available capital funding in 2018 and 2019 and the cost of existing commitments.”

The previous briefing from March of this year had also strongly recommended against proceeding with the unit.

It explained that waiting lists in Waterford were “demonstrating good performance” with the vast majority of patients waiting less than six months for procedures.

It said providing a prefab lab would take anything between twelve and sixteen months and was not a viable interim solution while a national review of cardiac services took place.

It also warned of possible staffing issues where industrial relations risks had arisen in the past when people were asked to work in “modular builds”, i.e. prefabs.

In a statement, the Department of Health said: “Given University Hospital Waterford’s status as a primary [cardiac] centre, the Minister believes there is merit in the proposal for a modular cardio-catheterisation laboratory [there].

“The HSE has submitted details of the costs and timescales for options for the provision of a modular cath lab to the Department for review and further details on costs are awaited.”

Campaigners in the South East strongly dispute the points of view expressed by Department officials.

For more information on their work for enhanced cardiac services in the region, you can visit: http://www.hefse.com/

Guidance on what Met Éireann staff should say when asked if specific extreme weather events are linked to climate change

STAFF in Met Éireann have been told to be non-committal when asked if specific extreme weather events in Ireland are linked to global warning.

The advice is contained in a guidance document for staff on what to do when hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and snow storms are being blamed directly on climate change.

In their “climate attribution statement” Met Éireann said questions linking these specific events to global warming were to be expected.

“There is no simple yes or no answer to the question,” says the guide. “It is a fact that a current weather event is occurring in a climate that is approximately one degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times.

“But that alone does not mean that the event would not have occurred if the climate were colder by one degree (pre-industrial).”

The guide said extreme weather events are more likely to occur because of global warming, but that linking it to specific events was a problem.

It explained: “A comment along the lines of ‘we can’t say if the event is a result of climate change, but it is the type of event that is projected to occur more frequently in a change climate’ can be used if the question arises.”

The guide was much clearer on what to say when asked about the link between human activity and climate change.

It said the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had concluded that “human influence on the climate system is clear”.

“Societies around the world are faced with increasing climate change risks,” said the guide.

It also explained that new climate modelling technology was developed, which might give clearer answers on whether events like the “Beast from the East” snow storm, or Ireland’s summer heatwave, could be linked to climate change.

The guide said: “These model simulations are expensive to run computationally, so it is not possible to get information on attribution in real time.

“Results of attribution studies have statements like ‘the event is 30% more likely to have occurred in a warmer climate.’”

The documents were obtained by Right to Know using EU environmental information regulations.

Séamus Walsh, head of the Climate and Observations Department in Met Éireann, said: “There is no simple yes or no answer and often when we’re explaining this, we’re losing.

“Our forecasters deal essentially with the weather, which is the day to day variation. Everybody thinks because we all work in Met Éireann, we are all experts on climate change. But they are quite different skills so we like forecasters to talk on weather and our climate experts to talk on climate.”

He said that while the science was “more or less settled” on climate change, linking specific events to it was nowhere near as simple.

“The difficulty with these attribution studies is people want to know today and it’s really not possible to do that and it won’t be for a while,” he said.

“Focusing on extremes can muddy the water. The actual global temperature is continuing to rise even if on a day-to-day basis we don’t notice that.

“Man’s influence is written all over that one degree rise, and that does have a knock-on effect on events. However, if you start commenting on individual events, you kind of get caught.

“And while these events will become a lot more frequent in the future; it’s just not that straightforward to link day to day weather events to climate change.”

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Driving down the wrong lane, vehicles on fire, running out of fuel – a year in the life of the country’s busiest motorway

THE country’s busiest motorway has witnessed more than 5,100 accidents and incidents since the beginning of 2017.

Dublin’s M50 ring road has recorded “incidents” at the rate of over 243 per month, according to a detailed list provided by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

The events vary from low priority to major incidents with drivers falling ill at the wheel, wild animals on the road, and cases of motorists going the wrong direction all reported.

The most common incident was breakdown with more than 2,000 cars breaking down over a twenty one month period on the motorway.

Just over 1,000 collisions were also recorded while 643 incidents were reported where dangerous debris was found to be on the roadway.

A total of 49 drivers ran out of fuel on the busy motorway while there were 47 cases of wild or pet animals crossing the carriageways.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland also recorded 272 cases where a pedestrian or cyclist was found to be using the motorway.

Dead animals were reported sixteen times, which can cause motorists to swerve to avoid the carcass and lead to collisions.

Twenty three cases of drivers falling seriously ill were also recorded, while in 25 cases, somebody called for help but there was nobody on the line.

There were two cases of drivers headed the wrong way on the M50 while three cases of serious anti-social behaviour were also recorded.

Other serious incidents reported included heavy winds putting traffic in danger (ten times), 35 cases of vehicles on fire, 121 flat tyres or “blow-outs”, and 173 instances of cars being abandoned by the side of the road.

Less frequently reported but also listed in the database were spillages, flooding, and drivers hopelessly lost and looking for directions.

Of the 5,115 incidents reported, 28 of them were classified as “major incidents”.

These mostly involved serious collisions, or cars broken down in dangerous locations, with some incidents lasting for up to six hours.

Another 905 incidents were classified as “high priority”, a majority of them breakdowns and crashes.

A total of 2,137 events were categorised as “moderate priority” with another 1,779 described as “low priority”, often involving mechanical failures in cars but where the driver was able to get the vehicle to a safe place on the hard shoulder.

The time of year doesn’t appear to have much impact on how many incidents take place with numbers fluctuating randomly from month to month.

The worst month over the past twenty one months was in May 2017 when 320 incidents were recorded, more than 10% higher than any other similar period.

The “Beast from the East” snowstorms in March don’t appear to have had a significant effect on the numbers of incidents with 222 recorded that month.

That figure did drop however in April to just 174 – the lowest since the beginning of January 2017 – before rebounding again during the summer.

A spokesman for Transport Infrastructure Ireland said that with 50 million journeys a year, the motorway was no longer a ring road but rather within the city suburbs.

Sean O’Neill said: “Options for increasing capacity are not endless and eventually there comes a point when adding lanes and upgrading junctions is no longer feasible.”

He said incidents on the M50 combined with heavy traffic were a recipe for long delays.

“Incidents can include anything from simple breakdowns, or debris on the motorway right up to major collisions involving multiple vehicles,” he said.

“More serious incidents generally require the involvement of many different agencies including An Garda Síochána, Dublin Fire Brigade, the four Dublin local authorities, [ourselves] and the Motorway Traffic Control Centre.”

As part of plans to ease congestion on the road, Transport Infrastructure Ireland is planning to introduce “intelligent transport systems technologies” including variable speed limits as well as lane usage instructions by 2020.

“A regulated speed limit will reduce the need to brake suddenly in response to standstill traffic and reduce the number of ‘stops and starts’ that take place,” said Sean O’Neill.

“Additionally, by regulating speed you reduce the potential for accidents to occur as well as the severity. You can also manage lane usage before an incident, thus improving safety and recovery time operations.”

Raw data to come:

Attorney General advised Department of Justice it did not have to search private email address for correspondence between ex-minister Frances Fitzgerald and PR advisor Terry Prone

THE Information Commissioner threatened to use his legal powers to force the Department of Justice to have searches carried out on private emails between former minister Frances Fitzgerald and PR advisor Terry Prone.

The request was made as part of the handling of a Right to Know request for correspondence between Ms Fitzgerald and Ms Prone over a three year period.

Internal emails reveal that the Department believed the Information Commissioner were “pushing the boundaries” in asking them to contact Ms Fitzgerald to search her private email account for relevant records.

“The attitude they’re taking to this is unbelievable,” wrote one official.

Separately, the Department of Justice sought legal advice from the Attorney General on whether they should contact Ms Fitzgerald and ask her to search her Gmail account, which she occasionally used for official business.

In an email to Deputy Secretary General Oonagh McPhillips, a senior official said: “I have advice from the AGO [Attorney General’s Office] supporting the position that it would not be appropriate for us to contact her in relation to this matter.”

A formal email to the Information Commissioner repeated that point of view.

A senior official wrote: “These advices support the Department’s view that this would not be an appropriate step for the Department to take.

“I wish therefore to reconfirm the Department’s position that it does not feel in a position to go outside the scope of the FOI Act and seek such information from Deputy Fitzgerald in an attempt to respond to an FOI request.”

Despite the emails, the Department of Justice did end up contacting Ms Fitzgerald seeking additional records. It is unclear what prompted this change of mind (will update if I find out more).

The former justice minister sent back a number of relevant emails, many of which had already been discovered during departmental searches of official email accounts.

Records released in response to an FOI request also reveal that when the original request was made in March 2017, two special advisers to Minister Fitzgerald told colleagues handling the request they did not have any relevant records.

An internal email said: “You will wish to note that I spoke to [Special Adviser 1] prior to the MinMac meeting this afternoon – who indicated a nil obs return and [Special Adviser 2] after the meeting who also indicated that she did not have material in relation to this request.”

Special Adviser 2 was in regular contact with Ms Prone over an extended period of time seeking strategic advice and speech-writing tips on behalf of the justice minister.

In emails to the Information Commissioner, the Department of Justice described the additional steps they had taken to discover more than 70 relevant records, which in their original decision said did not exist.

“A decision was recently taken to search the archived email accounts of the former minister and her political advisers,” they said.

“A search of the archived accounts has now been completed and despite previous assurances, a number of relevant records have now been located and the Department has retrieved material which we believe falls within the scope of this request.”

You can read the Information Commissioner decision in this important case here.

You can also see some of the records quoted here in this Twitter thread. Unfortunately, the records have not been provided in a format that makes them straightforward to scan.

If you like the work we do in Right to Know, please do support us at https://www.righttoknow.ie/support-us/

Department of Education saw “mixed messages” and “apparent inconsistencies” in latest fall for Irish universities in international rankings

THE Department of Education believed there were “apparent inconsistencies” and “mixed messages” from the latest set of university rankings which saw Irish third level institutions fall yet again in league tables.

Continue reading “Department of Education saw “mixed messages” and “apparent inconsistencies” in latest fall for Irish universities in international rankings”