Complaints about TDs and Senators failing to observe Covid-19 public health measures and lack of social distancing in Leinster House and the Convention Centre

The Oireachtas has refused to release dozens of reports about failures to comply with Covid-19 health guidelines in the Leinster House complex and during sittings in the Convention Centre.

The records include a complaint by a political staffer that a named TD or Senator was failing to observe Covid-19 measures.

In another case, a member of staff complained about the impact of “members’ non-compliance on [their] own health” while other reports contain “observations about named members”.

A significant number of reports from relatively junior members of Oireachtas staff have also been withheld where their duties have involved trying to persuade TDs, Senators, and others to remain compliant with public health measures.

The records that were released by the Oireachtas include an email from the Health and Safety Manager of the Convention Centre who raised concerns over breaches of the Covid-19 health measures in the Forum area of the building.

The email, dated 9 September, said: “There were many observations last week in the Forum where social distancing was not being adhered to. This is critical for the safety of all the members and Oireachtas staff and the CCD [Convention Centre] staff also.”

A log of incidents on Ireland’s busiest road, including hazardous chemical spills, burning cars, and vehicles driving in the wrong direction

Ireland’s busiest road has seen more than 4,100 accidents, incidents, and breakdowns since the start of January last year.

Spills of hazardous material, burning cars, loose animals, and vehicles driving in the wrong direction were among the incidents logged.

There were 21 “major” incidents recorded on the M50 ring road, according to figures released by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

Another 969 high priority incidents were also reported over the course of the past twenty one months.

A log of incidents reveals there were two incidents involving spills of hazardous chemicals and twenty four reports of vehicles on fire. In seven cases, a car or truck was reported to be travelling in the wrong direction on the road, which has for most of its length a 100 km/h limit.

Records from Dublin City Council on the controversial demolition of the ‘O’Rahilly House’ – developers said they had complied with all applicable laws

The developers who knocked down the historic ‘O’Rahilly House’ insisted the demolition had taken place “in accordance with all applicable laws” and that they had kept Dublin City Council fully briefed on their plans.

In correspondence with Dublin City Council, the developers said they had told the council of the planned demolition on 15 September and that it was “not clear” what conditions in the planning permission had not been complied with.

They also said that a commencement notice had been returned by the council and confirmed “deemed valid” with an instruction only that work should not take place before 29 September – the day the house was knocked down.

The developers also warned that demolition work on the site had not been properly finished and that it was not “best practice” to leave the work unfinished.

Green Party minister said plans to shoot seals from moving boats with high-powered rifles would be “politically unacceptable”

A Green Party Minister said a plan to shoot seals from moving boats would be “politically unacceptable” and suggested a compensation scheme for fishermen should be considered instead.

A controversy had erupted over suggestions that the Department of Housing was considering a pilot scheme to allow hunters and fishermen cull seals using high-powered rifles from their vessels in Cork and Kerry.

However, the idea was quickly rejected by Minister of State Malcolm Noonan and Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, according to internal emails.

Asked for his views, Mr Noonan said as well as being politically unacceptable such a plan would be “of no value in addressing the real problem here; dwindling fish stocks affecting fishing livelihoods and seal’s food source”.

“I think a compensation scheme would be a better approach,” he added.

In an email from an official, Mr Noonan was told that his colleague Darragh O’Brien shared that view.

“Minister O’Brien is also very clear in his direction on this,” said the message. “No culls of any sort supports NPWS [National Parks & Wildlife Service] longstanding position.”

Freedom of Information logs from the Defence Forces for 2019 and 2020

One of the things public bodies are recommended to do as best practice in FOI is to publish logs of all the non-personal requests they receive.

Lots of them do this on a quarterly or yearly basis, and some even upload the decision letters and records alongside them.

This puts all sorts of useful and frequently requested information into the public domain, and also allows members of the public or other interested parties to seek a “re-release”.

There are gaps however, and one of those gaps is being addressed here with publication of the Defence Forces FOI log for 2019 and 2020.

One of the things Right to Know would like to do is to fill in a few more of these gaps.

So if you spot a missing FOI log, or a public body who aren’t publishing these, then feel free to let us know … and we will try to chase it up.

Covid-19 measures cause consternation for candidates who failed their driving tests, according to records from Road Safety Authority

A warning not to cough under any circumstances, an instruction to keep windows open in the driving rain, and glasses fogging up due to a facemask were among the complaints made by learners following the resumption of driver testing by the Road Safety Authority.

The issues were among 61 written complaints made to the RSA since driving testing restarted in mid-July after the Covid-19 lockdown.

One candidate explained how they had asthma and had advised the instructor they had recently changed inhaler and might need to cough.

“I was advised that if I coughed at any stage the test would be over immediately,” wrote the candidate. “This was difficult to control while under exam pressure, and added a huge amount of unnecessary stress.”

Another said it seemed strange that an instructor had only used a mask with them, and not with other people they were dealing with.

“[The staff member] was talking with other Irish without having the mask but to me was … using the mask; is that because I’m from different skin colour?” they asked.

In June, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said it was “untenable” for so many to escape local property tax. By September, he deferred any decision on it again.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told officials in June that local property tax needed to be reformed and that it was “untenable” to allow so many houses, including those built since 2013, to continue avoiding having to pay.

However, three months later he announced another deferral on changes to the scheme despite vowing that he would “deal with [it]” if re-elected.

The original promise was contained in a submission signed off by Minister Donohoe in June before a new government had been formed.

The Fine Gael politician was told that reform of property tax would need to be prioritised if it was to be changed in this year’s budget.

In a personal note added to the submission, Mr Donohoe wrote: “It’s untenable to continue to allow a growing number of homes outside LPT [local property tax] base.

“One way or other, the Minister for Finance must legislate for this matter in 2020. May be no harm to get legislation done now for a later revaluation date. A government with a majority must deal with this matter, I hope that I can.”

Oireachtas’ €28,000 cost for Senate counts including €5,000 in hotel bills, €6,413 on plastic sheeting, and €10,778 on catering

A €5,000 bill at a four-star hotel and a €6,413 spend on plastic sheeting were among the bills paid by the Oireachtas to run Senate counts this year.

The count was held at Dublin Castle with only candidates or their agents allowed to attend the event, which took place in late March and early April.

The Oireachtas had hoped the event would cost just €5,765 if held as normal in Leinster House but ended up paying out €28,809 in costs.

According to a list of bills released under FOI, €4,871 was spent on audio visual services with another €942 on electrical services.

A bill of €6,413 was incurred with Myra Glass to provide 5mm clear plastic sheeting which was used to set up Covid-19 barriers.

A cleaning bill of €357 was also paid while €5,000 was paid to the nearby Radisson Blu Hotel on Golden Lane so count staff did not have to travel home each night.

Irish Water’s €160,000 bill for providing drinking water after aluminium levels in Achill rose five times above safe levels

Irish Water had to spend €160,000 on providing water in Achill Island after aluminium levels skyrocketed to five times recommended levels.

Records released by the water utility reveal how at one stage aluminium levels in the water rose above 1,000 micrograms per litre … when the recommended maximum safe amount in drinking water is 200 micrograms.

Irish Water said they had contracted a third party supplier to provide tankered water on the Co Mayo island during the peak tourist season.

The total cost of this over the 28-day period of the water warning came to €160,000, or the equivalent of more than €5,700 daily.

Internal records reveal that pressure on water supply in the area was such that pumping water into tankers for Achill threatened to cause shortages in the Westport and Castlebar area.

The problems were being compounded by frequent bursts on the mains water pipe on Achill whenever the raw water supply was switched off.

As a result, Irish Water laid a new pipe on the island to help deliver a continuous supply of water to the Achill water treatment plant.

The internal records – which were released following a request under Access to Information on the Environment Regulations – show how the plant reached capacity with rising water temperatures on 7 August.

An email said: “The plant cannot cope with demand and there’s a serious problem with water quality.”

Covid-19 complaints to Irish Rail include a dog sitting on a table, passengers vaping, and just a single toilet on a two hour train ride

A dog being left sitting on a table, just a single toilet on a two hour train ride, and passengers vaping and drinking were among more than 690 complaints made to Irish Rail about Covid-19 measures over the past four months.

Figures show that there were 176 complaints received in June with a steep rise in July when the rail operator logged 280 from disgruntled passengers.

There was a fall-off in August to 149 complaints, and a sharp drop in the number received by Irish Rail in September at just 86.

A sample of complaints released by Irish Rail under FOI reveal a variety of complaints including one of two passengers who travelled with their dog from Dublin to Cork.