Crackdown on unlicensed drivers will lead to driving test shortages

A CRACKDOWN on learner drivers could leave waiting times for driving tests of up to 68 weeks unless extra staff were hired, an internal briefing report warned the Department of Transport.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) said plans to fine and jail motorists who give their vehicles to unaccompanied learner drivers might lead to 150,000 extra driving tests.

In a “surge planning” report, they said they anticipated a huge spike in applications that could last for between a year and eighteen months.

They also warned there could be an upsurge in failure rates with some drivers attempting their test after years without having taken lessons.

According to internal documents, there were just over 247,000 people holding provisional licences and already waiting times for a test were running at 20 to 26 weeks at some centres.

The RSA had predicted what the changes might mean given a low, medium, or high volume of new applications for a driving test.

In their “high” scenario, 118,947 people would come looking for a test while another 29,737 people would fail and need another test.

That would leave them needing 148,684 additional tests, which would lead to average waiting times of 68 weeks without any intervention.

Read the full Report below

Eoghan Murphy signed-off on full pension for ex-boss of Irish Water

THE government signed off on a €473,000 pension deal for the ex-boss of Irish Water only after consulting with the Attorney General.

Documents released under FOI have revealed how Irish Water also had to pay for external legal advice over arrangements for their former managing director to retire on full pension at age 57 and with a €100,000 severance payment.

Speaking notes prepared for Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy explained that the retirement deal could not be sanctioned without sign-off from him and two other ministers.

A list of “redline issues” was prepared for Mr Murphy included an explanation of how the retirement package meant an internal pension scheme had to be amended and a new severance gratuity scheme created.

Mr Murphy was told to prepare for opposition comment suggesting he would be asked about the “extraordinary high costs involved in the establishment of Irish Water”.

The speaking notes said that the department should also be prepared for questions on whether the state would be “vulnerable to any potential legal challenges”.

The Department of Housing and Department of Public Expenditure had on several occasions refused to release documents relating to Mr Tierney’s pension.

Read the documents below.

Irish Water refund fears cost the government €70 million

By Ken Foxe

THE government took a €70 million hit on water charges because they feared legal issues over trying to recoup the water conservation grant.

The €100 grant had been paid to householders on a universal basis and many who claimed it never actually paid any water charges.

A briefing note prepared for the Department of Housing shows how three options were given on how to refund households that had paid their water bills.

The document was only released after nearly year-long battle with the Department during which they repeatedly refused to make it public.

The then minister Simon Coveney was told the cheapest option would be to refund customers while taking account of payment of the €100 conservation grant.

That would have cost €100 million for the refunds and an estimated €9 to €11 million in administrative costs in sifting out who was owed what.

The document was only made public after almost a year of effort to have it released under either FOI or EU regulations covering access to information on the environment.

Its release had been the subject of a review by the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information since last November.

However, the Department decided they would release it without being forced to saying they “no longer [had] any reason to withhold the note”.

Read the document below.

Government warned Sugar Tax could hit low income families hardest, documents reveal

FINANCE minister Paschal Donohoe was warned that revenue from the introduction of a sugar tax would be unreliable and that the impact of its introduction would hit low income families hardest.

He was also told the tax could potentially be “subject to litigation” if it failed EU state aid rules and could cause administrative problems for Revenue in collecting it.

The new levy was subsequently approved by the EU Commission last month who said it did not involve state aid; it was then formally introduced on May 1.

Minister Donohoe was firmly behind plans for the tax, saying the only thing that stood in its way was if the same type of levy was not introduced in Britain and Northern Ireland.

In a note to civil servants, he said: “Yes we will do this … at a rate similar to the UK. Only thing that will stop this is it not happening in UK/NI. Please move ahead with it.”

His comments are contained in a ministerial submission on the sugar tax prepared ahead of Budget 2018. It has only been released now however following an FOI request.

Oireachtas travel costs exceed €120,000 over past seven months

By Ken Foxe

TDs and Senators have run up an overseas travel bill of more than €120,000 during the past seven months.

Politicians jetted off to the four corners of the globe clocking up hundreds of thousands of air miles on trips to Iran, Russia, Canada, the United States, and Mozambique.

One senator Ronan Mullen made three expense claims totalling almost €1,800 on three separate one-night trips to France, according to the records, and despite the fact hotels and flights on the trip were paid directly by the Oireachtas.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl was away on separate trips to St Petersburg, Helsinki, and Washington DC. His counterpart in the Seanad, Cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan, jetted off three times to Iran, Georgia, and the USA.

Just over €9,100 was spent on flights to bring five parliamentarians to Iran for a “bi-lateral” visit last October.

Read the expenses document below.

Records on decision by Dublin City Council to cancel Repeal book event in run-up to referendum vote

DUBLIN City Council knew their decision to cancel a Repeal book event would cause a public furore but felt they had no choice but to pull the plug on it.

Records released following an FOI request show how the council believed they would be breaking the law because they were directly funding the event.

Concerns were first raised on April 17 when the council press office suggested “there may be questions” about a publicly funded event having “one side of a referendum argument”.

They said they were would need to check with the office of Chief Executive Owen Keegan on whether they could be associated with it.

An email sent later that evening said: “The inclusion of this event is bound to draw comment given that it is the week of the referendum itself.

“This festival appears from the website to be largely DCC [Dublin City Council] funded. All the funders are public bodies. We are bound to get queries on the appropriateness of the inclusion.”

Read the rest of the documents below.

Broadcasting Authority documents on why guidelines giving “greater certainty” were needed in run-up to vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment

A FRESH set of guidelines for what broadcasters can and can’t do during a referendum campaign was needed to provide “greater certainty” over what’s allowed in the run-up to the vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Internal records from the Broadcasting Authority said that with four separate votes to come over the next two years, a clearer set of rules was urgently needed with some people up to now having a “weak or incorrect” understanding of what is allowed.

They explain how there was confusion over “artificial balance” governing how much airtime each side should get and how broadcasters could be encouraged to focus on “issues” rather than purely adversarial debates.

The new guidelines also clarified that broadcasters did not need to axe prominent campaign figures if they were appearing in programmes totally unrelated to a referendum.

Late last year, Minister Katherine Zappone was dropped from TV3 cooking show The Restaurant because the station feared complaints if they broadcast the episode in which she featured during a referendum campaign.

Road Safety Authority abandons plan to demand public services card for driving licences over concerns about its legality

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) was forced to abandon plan to tie the public services card to driving licences applications amid concerns from the Attorney General about its legality.

These are the sometimes very frosty to and fro correspondence between the RSA and the Department of Transport about the aborted plan.

Department of Justice says keeping archives of Kerry Babies Tribunal hidden from public is “right thing” to do

THE head of the Department of Justice said a decision to withhold archives from the Kerry Babies case could be “misrepresented” but that the department had to do the “right thing” to protect the woman at the centre of the case.

The Department is keeping the records secret even though they should have gone to the National Archives because thirty years have passed since their creation.

Internal records have shown that the Department of Justice had originally planned handing over transcripts of the Kerry Babies tribunal and other documents so that they could be studied by academics, journalists, and members of the public.

However, the records describe how Joanne Hayes – the wrongly accused mother at the centre of the case – had strongly objected to their release.

Internal emails released under FOI show how the Department of Justice was aware that failure to disclose the documents could be seen as them trying to keep them hidden.

A message sent on January 20 by Acting Secretary General Oonagh McPhillips to colleagues said: “I understand the concern about the perception but in this instance we need to continue to do the right thing even if it’s misrepresented.”

She said it was a “tricky issue” but that there was already a vast amount of material relating to the tribunal in the public domain in books and newspaper archives.

Ms McPhillips was responding to an email from Sarah Kavanagh, a ministerial special adviser, who warned that the state could be criticised if the records were kept hidden.

Data on number of patients who abandon their visit to emergency departments without being formally discharged

THE number of patients walking out of emergency departments without ever being formally discharged has reached record levels.

More than 13,500 people simply abandoned their visit to the accident and emergency ward during January of this year and December last.

It means that nearly one in sixteen patients who arrived seeking emergency medical care left instead, either frustrated by lengthy queues, going elsewhere for treatment, or returning home.

The figures for January 2018 and December 2017 include 859 children, whose parents thought they were sick enough to bring to hospital but later left without officially being told they were healthy enough to go.

In a statement, the HSE said there were a variety of reasons why patients might leave an emergency department, not only wait times.

However, the numbers have been climbing during precisely the same period as waiting lists in Irish hospitals reached their highest levels yet.

In January, 6,499 people were classified as “did not waits” compared to 4,777 people in the same month in 2017.
The figure was actually even worse in December when 7,055 people – or 6.3% of all patients presenting – went home without formal discharge from hospital.

There has been a steady rise in the percentage of patients not waiting for emergency treatment, from 4.8% in January 2017 to 6% and above in the two most recent months for which figures are available.