Naval flagship scrapped as part of €700,000 disposal plan after museum proposal fell through and fears a public sale could see the LÉ Eithne fall into hands of a “warlord”

The Department of Defence said the scrapping of three Naval Service vessels was likely to cost up to €700,000 but that a public sale could not be considered in case one of the boats ended up being sold on to a “warlord”.

In briefing papers on future options for the flagship LÉ Eithne, which embarked on its final voyage in June ’24, officials said sale through public auction would mean the department “really has no control … as to who will end up with the ship or its ultimate destination if … sold onto a third party”.

The department were fearful about what had happened to another of their old vessels the LÉ Aisling, which was sold for €110,000 in 2017 before changing hands multiple times, and later sold for €1.3 million before ending up “in the hands of a Libyan warlord.”

In a ministerial submission, officials said recycling of the LÉ Eithne and two other boats – the LÉ Niamh and LÉ Orla – would be costly but “would give certainty on the ultimate destination” of the vessels.

It said recycling costs were typically based on tonnage with the two smaller boats weighing 650 tonnes each and the LÉ Eithne weighing 900 tonnes.

The submission said: “Market research has indicated that the costs involved in recycling these three ships could be up to approximately €700,000, including the cost of towing the vessels to their final destination.

“However, a more definitive cost will be known on receipt of tenders.”

Officials said there was a possibility of partially offsetting the recycling costs through the sale of a 57mm gun on the LÉ Eithne, which manufacturers BOFORs were interested in buying as “the only gun of its type still in working condition”.

Talks over donating the LÉ Eithne for use as a museum or tourist attraction had also taken place with two different county councils and Dublin Port; however, those options fell through, and the decision to recycle the boat was approved.

Near €900,000 bill for charter aircraft for Taoiseach and Tánaiste due to unreliability of government Learjet

The government has spent at least €880,000 to lease private jets to fly the Taoiseach and Tánaiste around the globe since last year.

The massive outlay on charter aircraft came as the government Learjet has been dogged by reliability issues and has not been tasked with a single mission in 2024.

Figures from the Department of Defence show that €617,700 was spent on private jets last year with further expenditure of €269,461 in the first four months of 2024.

The most expensive flight came with an enormous €158,000 bill as it took Tánaiste Micheal Martin from Dublin to Cairo and Tel Aviv last November for talks over Irish citizens in Gaza.

However, that bill may yet be outdone by another charter flight from April when the Tánaiste Micheal Martin flew to Cairo, El Arish, and Amman as the department are still “awaiting [an] invoice” for that trip.

The Department of Defence said that private planes had been leased on fifteen separate occasions since the beginning of 2023, all for trips involving either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste.

Health minister warned of “contagion risk” from planned extension of COVID-19 bonus payment to out-of-hours healthcare staff

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was told to be careful about a planned extension of the €1,000 pandemic bonus scheme for healthcare staff for fear of “contagion” from workers that had missed out on the scheme.

Mr Donnelly wanted to reward healthcare staff who worked in out-of-hours services on the coalface of healthcare at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, officials from his department said there was a “contagion risk” with the plan and that it could cause “unrest” and “negative media attention” among people who had already been deemed ineligible for the bonus scheme.

The advice was given as Mr Donnelly mulled his options over payment of the €1,000 bonus to out-of-hours clinics, which provide GP services during the evening, on weekends, and on public holidays.

Officials said that while the services were privately owned and operated, some were based in “acute hospital buildings” while others were only on the grounds of a hospital campus.

In a submission for Mr Donnelly, civil servants said he needed to make a clear distinction between the two types of services or else he faced “significant contagion risks” from other workers who missed out on the €1,000 payment.

They detailed how eligibility for the bonus had already been a “significant concern” for trade unions, and especially those excluded, including for example workers in homeless services and GPs.

OPW could not remove all trace of extensive graffiti scratched into ancient cairn at Carrowkeel passage tomb site

The Office of Public Works (OPW) was unable to remove all traces of graffiti which was etched into the stones of one of Ireland’s most ancient monument sites.

A cairn at Carrowkeel in County Sligo was badly defaced last autumn with spirals, circles, and the names of mythological gods scratched into the surface of the rock.

In internal records, the OPW said they first needed to allow gardaí conduct a forensic examination before staff would try to remove the markings “using non-abrasive methods, water and mild detergent”.

The documents said it was fortunate the burial monument – known as Cairn K – had no evidence of historic rock art meaning that the stone could be washed without risk of damage to any ancient markings.

“Some of the graffiti may be removed; however, some traces are likely to remain on two to three stones,” said a briefing note.

The OPW said the markings had been “gently cleaned” by their staff and that “little trace” now remained of the scratching.

It wasn’t the only damage at Carrowkeel with a site inspection finding that small stones had been dislodged from the monument known as Cairn G, which could have been caused by either visitors or sheep climbing the burial mound.

At Cairn H, a vertical stone had been “pulled down” which had made access impossible.

Aside from the graffiti damage at Cairn K, monitoring equipment, intended to study movement within the structure, had been “completely removed”.

The inspection note said: “The structural engineer visited today and confirmed that they will need to re-start the monitoring process again.

“The safety of the cairn for visitor access cannot be guaranteed until the results of the monitoring are available, and any necessary remediation work recommended by the engineer is carried out.”

The internal discussions said a major rethink of protection measures needed to be looked at as plans were worked on to seek UNESCO world heritage site status for Carrowkeel.

A presentation on damage to the neolithic site said they would be re-examining plans for a boardwalk akin to one on the Wicklow Way to be built at the site.

This would involve construction of a boardwalk that would allow visitors to walk around each cairn and with a “very light rail” to prevent physical access.

It said the entrance to the tombs would need to be closed off “for safety reasons – slippage of material, possible collapse etc”.

The presentation added: “The agreement of the landowner is required to install any new access routes should land be acquired by the state.”

The Office of Public Works said for the time being they were pleading with visitors not to walk on three of the monuments, Cairn G, H, and K and that access was not allowed.

They said cleaning of the badly vandalised Cairn K had been largely successful and that the dislodged vertical stone at Cairn H had been re-erected by stone masons from the Office of Public Works.

A spokeswoman said: “Drystone cairn material previously retained by the stone was carefully repositioned. “The protection of Carrowkeel Passage Tomb Cemetery remains a priority. Future plans for the protection of the site are under review with the development of a conservation management plan under active consideration.”

Right to Know wins case over access to IDA client survey (again)

The Information Commissioner (OIC) has once again decided that the IDA must release a full copy of a client survey that they carried out in 2019.

In a new decision in the case, the OIC said the record was not exempt from release under the FOI Act as the development agency had claimed.

The IDA has spent at least €78,000 in taxpayer funds fighting release of the client survey.

It remains to be seen whether they go back to the High Court to waste more public money fighting against any level of transparency over how they go about their work.

You can read the full decision at this link.

Health and Safety Authority inspections of Air Corps base at Baldonnel uncovers litany of safety issues

Health and safety inspections on the Irish Air Corps discovered spills of hazardous brake fluid, water supply that carried the risk of Legionnaires’ disease, fall risks, damaged drains, and trailing cables across aircraft hangar floors.

The Defence Forces were also issued with a contravention notice by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) over the use of some chemicals without completion of proper training by personnel on their safe use.

A HSA report on Casement Aerodrome at Baldonnel in Dublin late last year said that slip, trip, and fall hazards were “identified throughout” the facility.

A report from December said this included: “Deep drains, damaged drains, [an] uncovered drain, potentially slippery kitchen floor in areas, leaking combi oven in the kitchen, trailing cables on hangar floors, surprise steps, makeshift portacabin entrance steps, and uneven paths [and] surfaces in outdoor areas.”

An inspector said they also found scaffolding on the site that was not in use, had no inspection tags, and which had “structural concerns”.

Asked about the inspections, a spokesman for the HSA said they were the statutory body with responsibility for enforcing occupational safety and health law as well as promoting safety in the workplace.

He said: “Inspections are carried out in all industry sectors and reports are utilised to document observations and to instruct improvements.

“It is the responsibility of all employers to ensure the health and safety of employees and others, such as members of the public, who may be affected by work activity.”

Briefing for National Transport Authority board on Dublin’s November riot and public transport

A public transport briefing in the wake of last year’s rioting in Dublin said the cost of damage to vehicles was likely to be around €5 million and that a rethink of updates for the public during a crisis was needed.

A note prepared for the board of the National Transport Authority (NTA) said travel information had “initially proved difficult” to update as services were diverted or cancelled but improved as time went on.

It also raised questions over whether a crisis management call should have been scheduled earlier on the night of the riots, after a stabbing incident on Parnell Square was seized upon by the far right and fascists to provoke widespread disorder.

The note said: “Should a crisis management call have been called earlier than 10pm?

“At the time it was felt that the operators had enough to deal with and may not have had time for an all-operator meeting.”

In a section entitled “lessons learnt”, the National Transport Authority said work on their mobile app TFI Live was needed to tell customers that information might not always be accurate during a “security event”.

It said a series of “template messages” would be developed for such incidents, which included public disorder, severe weather, or other major unforeseen disruptions.

Details of three of the recommendations were withheld under FOI law on the basis it could risk the safety of gardaí and compromise the NTA’s ability to manage emergency scenarios.

The note also described in detail the scale of destruction with an estimated repair bill of €5 million as three Dublin Bus vehicles were destroyed, one Luas tram severely damaged, and another bus suffered extensive fire damage.

Briefings for staff of Met Éireann on how to communicate climate change to the public

Guidance for Met Éireann forecasters on how to inform people about the impact of the climate crisis detailed a “run of very wet months” and how rainfall in both February and March was almost fifty percent more than expected.

An advisory for staff said that record high sea surface temperatures over the Atlantic had lasted for over a year and were making the atmosphere both “warmer but also moister”.

It said this was linked to increases in extreme weather events such as storms and intense rainfall.

The guidance described how 2023 had been the third wettest year on record with 20 percent more rain compared to the long-term average in the period between 1981 and 2010.

This had only continued into the New Year with rainfall levels in February 49 percent above average and in March 46 percent over what was considered the norm.

Met Éireann staff were told that a “southerly displaced jet stream”, which the country had seen multiple times since last summer, brought low pressure systems to Ireland and more rainfall especially in the South and the East.

“Ireland is now warmer, and wetter compared to previous decades and years,” said the guidance document.

It explained how a warmer atmosphere carried more moisture, around 7 percent for each degree of warming, which would inevitably lead to a greater intensity of “heavy rainfall events”.

The document also said the growing season for crops and plants was increasing because of the warming climate.

Met Éireann data showed the growing season over the decades now lasted on average fourteen days more in Belmullet, County Mayo, and an extra sixteen days at both the Valentia Observatory in Co Kerry and the Phoenix Park in Dublin.

Another briefing on the number of storms that were hitting Irish shores said that since the practice of “storm naming” had begun, there were an average of eight named storms in each season.

However, by the time of Storm Kathleen in early April, it was the eleventh of the season although, conversely, there were only four during the storm season between September 2022 and spring of 2023.

The guidance document said that overall, last year had been “the warmest year on record by a large margin, and one of the wettest years on record”.

“It was the warmest year on record at 21 out of 25 [weather] stations (record lengths between 10 and 83 years),” said the briefing.

“Eighteen stations had their highest mean maximum temperature on record and twenty-four stations had their highest mean minimum temperature on record.”

Another document on the context of climate change said it was still unclear exactly how the frequency and intensity of storms hitting Ireland would evolve.

It said: “There is, however, high confidence that maximum rainfall rates will increase as a result of a warmer atmosphere carrying more moisture.”

Rising sea levels were also expected to increase storm surge and coastal flooding risks, according to the records, which were released under FOI.

One update for staff said there was a particular danger from so-called “compound events” where heavy rainfall arrived at the same time as high tides.

In internal discussions, Met Éireann staff also wrote about how the record high temperatures of 2023 had been somewhat unexpected and that this year had been anticipated to be warmer due to the El Nino weather system.

An email from one meteorologist said: “In Ireland, we should be preparing for both warmer summers and winters as this is what the climate projections in [our systems] are showing going forward as mean temperatures globally continue to increase due to human caused climate change.

“This will not necessarily be a linear or steady increase, especially here in Ireland, with our climate being dependent on other factors such as the position on the jet stream and Atlantic SSTs [sea surface temperatures].”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Met Éireann said their role was to monitor, analyse, and predict Ireland’s weather and climate for the public and stakeholders.

They said: “All the climate information, services and content provided by Met Éireann is based on the objective scientific analysis of Ireland’s climate and broader global climate information.

“An important part of our role is to communicate information to all audiences, in terms of current weather and climate and also broader historical and future insights to help inform immediate and longer-term policies and decisions.”

Renovation of Irish Ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C. would have cost at least $13 million

Civil servants warned that refurbishing the old home of the Irish Ambassador in the U.S. capital would have a final bill of $13.48 million with “significant risks” this could rise even higher.

The mansion on S Street in Washington DC was sold by the Department of Foreign Affairs for around $8 million in March after a series of inspections revealed it was no longer safe for use by diplomats, their families, or people attending official events.

A detailed business case for the sale explained how repeated fractures in water piping had led to “spontaneous leaks” with a risk of damage to electrical wiring in the 11,000 square foot property.

It said the rear façade of the house was stained and needed repainting and weatherproofing.

The report said the S Street property also required replacement of all finishes, paint, trim, flooring, carpeting, and ceiling tiles.

The business case explained: “Many flooring and carpeting materials have exceeded their useful life, while walls exhibit peeling paint and bubbling plaster.

“The ceiling tiles are stained due to previous leaks. The bathrooms also need updating, with several requiring tile and fixture replacements.”

Warning for Justice Minister Helen McEntee over knock-on effects for Ireland from U.K. plan for deportations to Rwanda

Department of Justice officials warned that U.K. plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda were likely to make migrants “think twice” and look at other options like Ireland.

In a briefing on deportation, Minister Helen McEntee was told that while Britain’s Rwanda policy was “mired in legal actions”, it was still likely to have a knock-on effect for other states.

It said it could make Ireland seem like “an attractive alternative” or as “a stepping stone” to later getting back into the United Kingdom permanently.

The briefing, which was prepared in 2022 as the department considered an end to a COVID-19 moratorium on deportations, said U.K. policy on migration would inevitably affect Ireland.

It said: “The first transfer of refugees from the U.K. to Rwanda has yet to succeed. It is currently mired in legal actions.

“While it remains to be seen how successful the U.K.’s much criticised attempt to outsource its immigrant processing to Rwanda will be in reality, [it could be that the chance] of being removed to that state would cause migrants to the U.K. to think twice and seek alternatives.”

The briefing said if the United Kingdom was successful in reducing or deterring arrivals, neighbouring states would feel the impact.

“Ireland may ultimately be seen as an attractive alternative, or a stepping stone to the U.K. via eventual Irish citizenship and the Common Travel Area at a later date. Such behaviour would not be new,” said the briefing.