Solicitor disciplinary records 2003 to 2011

The Law Society – the regulator of solicitors in Ireland – says that it publishes the names of solicitors against whom disciplinary action has been taken. Well it does. Sort of.

Go over to their website and what you find in fact is a facility to search a database – not much use when you don’t know what you’re looking for. They say:

the database contains all findings of misconduct made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal that were published in the Gazette on or after 1st January 2004. Where the finding of misconduct has been sent forward to the High Court to make a decision on sanction, the database includes details of the High Court decision. Orders of the High Court against solicitors which do not involve a finding of misconduct by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal are not included. By law, findings of misconduct are made against individual solicitors, not firms of solicitors. Scroll down to view the search results. To view more details, click on the ‘Show Details’ link.

So to make it easier, I’ve scraped the search data and put it all into one spreadsheet. And I’ve mapped the data. I’ve tried my best to keep the data as close to the original as possible, so please let me know of any duplicates or mistakes etc. I *have* modified addresses for consistency. I have not modified names – despite many appearing very similar (using middle initials but identical addresses).

The data: (download by clicking on File -> Download as)

And here’s a map too:

That Fás 'slush fund'

Fás is back on the news pages today, this time it’s about a “slush fund” which the Department of Enterprise Trade and Innovation is accused of ‘sponsoring’ between 2002 and 2008. The fund, also known as the Competency Development Programme, was a sort of grant scheme for organisations who were to use the money to up-skill staff. There are serious questions being raised about how it was administered and monitored.

The latest company which benefited from the CDP to come under the microscope is Foras Training. Today’s Irish Independent

A COMPUTER-TRAINING company that falsified the number of people on its courses was paid almost €1.3m by the state agency FAS.

The midlands-based company — which was named in the Dail yesterday as Foras Training — claimed for people whom it had not trained.

It also had only one properly registered trainer out of 25 for courses that it delivered on behalf of FAS. The company printed its own training certificates, instead of registering them with a certifying body.

Furthermore, as Roisin Shortall noted at the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, bodies associated with social partnership benefited enormously from the CDP. Many of these bodies would have had representatives on the board of Fás. The Irish Times covers the committee meeting here.

A number of months ago myself and Gav began looking as Fás from a number of different angles. During that process we obtained documents relating to the CDP. These gave us list of companies and the figure for funding they received each year. Interestingly a large number of those in the CDP were local authorities. Why a semi-state body would be funding a state body to train civil servants, I struggle to understand.

I’ve put together a spreadsheet with the names of organisations who received funding, see below. The figures are not included as of yet because the spreadsheet was auto-extrapolated from PDFs of scanned pages; the software used to do this seems to have been confused by some fonts involved so the numbers would not be reliable if I were to publish them now. I’ll manually insert these into the spreadsheet in the coming week and post again then. I will say that the first thing I noticed was that the annual totals increased massively from just €500,000 in 2003 to more than €50 million a few years later, then fell by almost 50% afterwards. Strange, during a period of pretty much full employment.

Companies; Fás Competency Development Programme 2003-2008

Whatever about the annual totals or reasoning behind the fluctuations, that just half of the organisations in receipt of finding were being monitored for how they spent the money or who was being trained, according to the C&AG, is scary. That’s a helluva lotta money slushing about…

The main beneficiaries, at first look at the spreadsheets, were IBEC, ICTU, Mandate and ISME. It appears the Unions and ‘representative’ bodies between them took a large slice of the whole pie. There are also few companies with intriguing directors listed. I may get around to these in the next blog post, but I’ll have to pick a few legal brains first

Oireachtas staff expenses data 2004 to 2010

While an appeal is currently pending with the Information Commissioner in relation a request seeking an export of the entire financial management system in use at the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Oireachtas were kind enough to release a portion of the information sought. These databases contain the expense claims of staff at the House of the Oireachtas under three headings, Committee Travel, Interparliamentary Travel and Other staff Travel for 2004 to 2010, in about 15,000 rows.

These spreadsheets are published “as is”, with one exception. I have temporarily removed the column for date of the claim, because Google Spreadsheets seems to be having issues converting some of the cell dates, and is giving incorrect dates. I will fix this, and publish later.

Below you will see the decision letter which explains some of the column headings – please read this before you look at the spreadsheets as it contains important provisos and explanations.

Decision letter

Oireachtas Interparliamentary Travel staff expenses
Oireachtas Committee Travel staff expenses
Oireachtas Other staff travel expenses

The spreadsheets themselves are in need of cleaning (subtotals are included in the Amount column for example).

Department of Foreign Affairs expenses data

Some time ago I sought from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA):

1) A datadump (or copy) of the entire Sun database insofar as such data relates to claimed expenses.

The Department has released the data in question. Unfortunately it was released in PDF format (3,000+ pages), so it will take a little extra time to import into spreadsheets. The release contains three tranches, expenses of DFA staff (2005 to 2010), Irish Aid expense claims (2005 to 2010), and Honorary Consul expense claims. I will be publishing this data over the coming weeks.

For now here are the Honorary Consul claims, which are relatively minor. I again wish to emphasise that publishing this data is not an attempt to embarrass any one person, nor does it form the basis of any claim that somehow there was something unjustified about any expense claimed by civil servants. It is merely an attempt to publish large public datasets as an exercise in transparency.

Other database requests are also pending, or subject to appeals.

Honorary Consul expenses 2005 to 2010

The data is subject to correction (albeit minor) because of the OCR processes I have to run on PDFs. However these will be checked once they are complete.

Oireachtas Bills 1997 – 2010

We frequently hear talk of how much (or how little) legislation is passed by the Oireachtas. We also hear about Bills languishing at Committee Stage for years. Unfortunately the Oireachtas website isn’t very useful for discerning any patterns or where Bills are, or when exactly they were introduced. In an attempt to make this much clearer, we (excellent Alexia is keen to help, and we need more help from readers) are going to try and build a spreadsheet that at least contains the current state of affairs, and included all Bills introduced since 1997. You can see what we’ve pieced together so far, and it is by no means complete or exhaustive.

Oireachtas bills 2010, 2009

If you want to help, please get in touch. Future applications would include using the Google Charts API to map legislative processes digitally.

Expenses visualisation and spreadsheets

CORRECTION: One of the headings was incorrect. It is travel and subsistence not mobile phones that the most money was spent on. Somehow the headings got shifted across in the totals column. Apologies.

I’ve been messing with Gav’s spreadsheets. Here’s two one quick visualisationish (try saying that one out loud, radio students) thingy. This is TDs only, expenses claimed between 2005 and 2008.

Per category.

The Dáil posse spend a lot on phones, it appears. Wonder if they’ve started billing State for the bills on those unofficial Blackberrys certain TDs have started using. Texts sent or data downloaded from those would not be FOIable, remember. Nice way of circumventing FOI law, that.

Next time you see a Government minister with a second phone, you’ll know the score.

Oh, I’ve got an average figure a TD spent in each category per year. So you can how sort the data per heading and if your TD is above the bolded figure (the average amount spent per year per TD in that category) in any of the few years… well, it may interest you. Please download or copy the file before sorting the data for your own purposes. Each time you sort it, it gets resorted for everyone.

Note: I used the figure of 200 as the number of people who sat in the Dáil on average per year. The election meant one year there were 220 claimants, all the other years there were around 166. 200 is probably too high an average figure but I was feeling generous.

Sheet 2 at this link.

Move sheets by clicking the names across the bottom of the file. Download by clicking File > Download. If you use Gmail, click File > Copy.

Have a good long weekend.

Department of Finance expenses 2001 to 2009

As part of a broader set of requests for expenses, and other, databases I sought the expenses database (CoreExpense) of the Department of Finance since its inception. The total amount of claims in that time period (the earliest date being 2001) was €3.48 million in 39,241 rows. Some fields of the database were removed due to Section 28 Personal Information exemptions, which on the face of it appear to be entirely reasonable.

Department of Finance expenses database 2001 to 2009

Powered by Socrata

I don’t have a staff count number for the DoF but the number of claims appears relatively small. Other costs may have been directly incurred by the Department, rather than claimed by staff.

I’ve also pivoted the totals:

FAS bulletin board and expenses

Some time ago I sent an FOI request to FAS seeking the following:

1) All briefing documents related to the appearance by FAS staff, or their representatives, at the Public Accounts Committee hearings of February 2010.

2) A ‘datadump’ (MySQL export) of the entirety of the internal PHP bulletin board located at this address:

3) A screengrab of the entire thread at This will likely be in .jpeg format, or multiple jpegs, depending on the length of the thread.

4) A ‘datadump’ of the entirety of the Agency’s CORE database inasmuch as such data relates to expenses claimed.

I received 1) some time ago, and it contained documents I already had. Part 2 relates to earlier posts, where we identified the existence of an internal bulletin board due to referral traffic from it, to this blog. Senator Shane Ross wrote about this a while back, where apparently we tried to “gain access”. We did not try anything as underhand as attempting to hack into FAS – but we did then seek the bulletin board via the FOI Act. Parts 2 and 3 have been refused under Section 10 (1) (e), as a frivolous or vexatious request. We believe this is without merit, and will be appealing.

According to Mr Ross:

FAS house rules decreed that the internet-based board should not be the target of “abusive, sexually-oriented, obscene, illegal, defamatory, hateful, or harassing items that invade people’s privacy”.

It seems that tensions had been running so high at FAS that the rules were being breached by the bucketful. Staff morale has plunged after the barrage of revelations at the agency. The internet board had become a treasure trove for messages of abuse.

Some senior staff recognised themselves in some of the anonymous messages, even if they were not named. They freaked out and made formal complaints.

At least one fun-loving outsider tried to break into the staff intranet board. According to FAS, “an external internet blog posted the internal address of the bulletin board pages and sought access”. FAS proudly declares that it became aware of the attempted breach and stopped the rot.

An all-time first for FAS.

Sources at FAS say the site was used as a tool to snipe at those who had been promoted and was an outlet for jealousies.

The suggestion box was originally meant as a place where employees could post constructive proposals. So the bulletin board had, er . . . plenty of potential.

Now the staff will be unable to comment on last week’s revelations that the €7.8m spent on the now-abandoned space programme in Florida had no tangible benefits for any trainees. The top staff alone enjoyed first-class travel.

Staff who want to reveal any more FAS secrets can always write anonymously to the Sunday Independent business pages. They’ve been doing it for years.

The rationale for refusal is, in my opinion, without foundation. This is the rationale given by the Deciding Officer:

I have considered this section and its application in great detail as this section is not one to be considered or applied lightly. My view is that this request has been made in order to undermine the work of FÁS and its staff and to add fuel to the ongoing media attention that FÁS have found itself in. It is reasonable to expect that FÁS staff have many views on the events that have taken place and it is also reasonable that FÁS staff should have some facility in which to air their views. This facility is the FÁS bulletin board. I do not consider it is unreasonable that such a facility be in place. Staff should be able to use this facility to express those views. The bulletin board is a very important communications tool for colleagues to assist each other with queries of a work nature in an informal environment. It provides instant access to answers that might otherwise take time, all done in an effort to provide an efficient and effective service to FÁS clients. Questions are raised and answered informally as this is the purpose of the bulletin board. It is also a communications tool for colleagues to debate issues among each other, work related and otherwise.

My opinion is that this request has not been made with the best interests of the public at heart. The rights provided by the FOI Act must not be abused by public bodies and in turn must not be abused by members of the public. I am satisfied that the request amounts to an abuse of the right of access and that it is made for a purpose other than to obtain access. In my opinion, all internal staff bulletin boards will cease to exist if it is widely known that they are available under the FOI act, an act that was set up to ensure transparency in public bodies relating to official information. I do not consider that it is necessary to show transparency in this area as the information cannot be deemed ‘official information’. There is no public interest in releasing this bulletin board. I do understand that the bulletin board might be ‘of interest’ to the public but there is a clear distinction between ‘of interest’ to the public and ‘in the public interest’ and it is very important not to confuse the two. In my opinion there is no public interest in the release of comments attributed to FÁS staff in relation to a variety of topics other than a general curiosity. The release of the comments would not assist the public in their understanding of the processes of government in any way.

The release and publication of the FÁS bulletin board would have many effects, that is to undermine the staff of the public body, to cause undue attention to FÁS and to highlight FÁS in a negative way for the amusement or entertainment of others. None of this is consistent with the ‘spirit’ of the FOI Act. I am therefore of the firm belief that this request is frivolous and vexatious.

I am also applying Section 28 1 (a) Personal Information. Personal information is defined in the act as information about an identifiable individual that—

( a ) would, in the ordinary course of events, be known only to the individual or members of the family, or friends, of the individual, or
( b ) is held by a public body on the understanding that it would be treated by it as confidential,

I consider that entries to the FÁS bulletin board are personal to the staff of FÁS. This is not a bulletin board that is available on the internet. It is an informal communications tool with limited circulation to the staff of FÁS. All staff understood that a limited number of people read the bulletin board and that people in the same public body, i.e. FÁS, read the bulletin board. Staff are of the understanding that only colleagues are among the people entitled to view the entries. I consider that Section 28 1 (a) can include colleagues due to the informal nature of the bulletin board. In my view Section 28 1 (b) also applies as staff would have understood when using the bulletin board, that FÁS would treat the bulletin board and its content as confidential information on their behalf. They understood that FÁS would not release their name to other bulletin board authors or to management. They understood that they had to abide by the FÁS policy on bulletin board usage. At no stage did they envisage that their comments would be circulated in the wider public domain.

I’m unsure as to how a bulletin board that is reported to be anonymous can contain personal information. The Section 10 (1) (e) exemption is very rarely used, and in this case I believe poorly executed. I will write as to why in a future post. The Deciding Officer is making a number of charges against myself and about my motives in seeking the bulletin board. I refute deny entirely the accusations made. In no way am I ‘abusing’ the FOI Act. I will draft an appeal, and publish it here shortly.

In relation to the databases of expenses, FAS have released expense claims covering the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, totaling €24.7 million, in over 200,000 rows. I will publish these in the next post.