Miscoded invoices and funding drawn down for work that had not taken place leads to council repayment of €1.2 million in grants

A county council was forced to pay back over €1.2 million in government funding after an internal audit found miscoded invoices and money drawn down before any work had taken place.

Mayo County Council had been awarded significant funding for tourism and amenity projects in the county as part of a fund to support outdoor recreation by the Department of Rural and Community Development.

However, a departmental audit of the scheme found major issues across five separate grants to the local authority resulting in the repayment of more than €1.2 million.

A copy of the report details how auditors first examined a €200,000 grant for development of a 45-metre suspended cycle bridge as part of the Achill Island Greenway.

It found that €27,000 in invoices had been “miscoded” from other projects. Another €32,000 had been spent on the scheme on underground ducting and professional fees.

However, the local authority had drawn down the full grant even though a tender for the bridge had come in three times over the budget estimate.

The report said: “The local authority has, during the audit, admitted to drawing down the grant without incurring the requisite expenditure and has informally requested additional grant funding.”

As a result of the findings, the auditors decided they would look at other grants that had been paid by Mayo County Council through the scheme.

Leinster House briefing paper warned of risk of TDs and Senators “stockpiling” antigen tests if made available for free

A Leinster House briefing paper flagged the risk politicians might “stockpile” antigen tests if they were made available for free to TDs and Senators.

It also warned that members of the Oireachtas were among the most vulnerable to Covid infection because of their high “number of interactions” with other people and challenges with social distancing.

A discussion paper said that antigen tests could be made available for free to TDs and Senators but that it could lead to an “excessive, and more importantly, unnecessary use of the tests”.

The paper also warned of the risks of making tests – which were expected to cost €2.60 (exclusive of VAT each – available without charging.

It said: “While unlikely, there is also the potential that providing test kits on request could lead to ‘stockpiling’ from members of the parliamentary community taking advantage of the availability of free kits.”

The discussion paper makes clear that discussion had included the possibility of providing the tests for free to politicians.

It said: “The Service can currently obtain test kits – the best quote obtained so far is €2.60 + VAT per kit. It is proposed that this cost will be met by the Commission.”

Government agreed €190,000 salary for horse racing chief executive even though starting salary set for role had been €137,356

Two Fianna Fáil ministers signed off on a €190,000 annual salary with company car for the chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland even though the starting salary set for the role had been just €137,356.

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue both agreed to the package after HRI warned recruitment would be “extremely difficult” based on lower rates.

HRI ended up appointing Suzanne Eade – who had been serving as their chief financial officer – to the role and she formally took up the post late last year.

Discussions over the salary began last June with the Department of Agriculture sending a copy of a draft contract for Ms Eade to officials in the Department of Public Expenditure the following month.

It said a salary of €190,773 per annum would be awarded but that this would be phased in over a three-year period.

In the first year, the new chief executive would be paid €174,773, in year two a rate of €182,773, and for years three to seven, the higher amount would apply.

The contract also said a car allowance of €13,150 along with reasonable mileage would be paid to their new chief executive.

In an email, the Department of Public Expenditure told a senior official in the Department of Agriculture that revised rates of pay for such roles had been agreed by government in 2011.

A message from Kieran Dollard of their Senior Pay Policy unit said: “In relation to Horse Racing Ireland, the range was determined as €137,356 to €164,231, the lower point of the range intended as the starting salary for new appointees.”

It said the fact that the then chief executive Brian Kavanagh was on a higher salary was because he was “already in situ” prior to the government decision.

They asked for a “robust and detailed” business case to be provided to justify why the rate that was agreed in 2011 should not apply to the post.

A copy of that business case said HRI had carried out their own independent review which found chief executives in similar roles were paid between €172,000 and €232,000.

Flight, hotel and expenses bill of €45,000 as overseas travel by TDs and Senators resumed after Covid-19 restrictions

The Oireachtas paid out almost €45,000 for flights, hotels, and expenses, as politicians dipped their toes back into the world of international travel after a lengthy pandemic hiatus.

Almost all the €44,463 bill was run up between September and November of last year with TDs and Senators jetting off to the USA, the UAE, and even Uzbekistan.

Databases released by the Oireachtas reveal that one of the costliest trips was a visit made by Seanad Cathaoirleach Mark Daly to the USA in the autumn.

Costs on that official visit – which the FOI records list as having run from 24 October to 7 November – included €819 for a flight and €1,614 in hotel costs.

During the visit, Fianna Fáil Senator Daly gave the opening address at an event for Irish American legislators in Florida, after several days in Washington DC.

Two politicians – Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan and Fianna Fáil’s Brian Cowen – travelled to the United Arab Emirates in late November with flights for each of them costing €699.

Hotel costs for Mr Cowen were listed as €567 while a third member of the proposed delegation from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, Social Democrat TD Gary Gannon did not travel.

The Oireachtas said €457 of Mr Gannon’s €699 flight cost had been refunded already and that they were awaiting a further €142.

Former minister Michael Creed travelled to Uzbekistan in October as part of his work with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

According to the records, flights for that trip cost €1,311 with a further €663 spent on hotel accommodation for the Fine Gael TD.

The largest chunk of the €44,463 total bill was run up on Council of Europe business with fifteen separate trips to locations including Strasbourg, Moscow, Athens, and Rome costing €18,487.

How Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority grappled with a fake Covid-19 vaccination poster that went viral around the world

A fake Irish Covid-19 poster spread rapidly around the world as far afield as New Zealand and South Africa while also appearing on bus shelters and in toilets around Dublin.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) had been in receipt of queries from international media and members of the public from around the world asking about the poster, which falsely claimed there was a risk of “sudden death” from taking a Covid-19 vaccine.

Internal emails detail how the HPRA said it was “almost impossible to prevent this type of thing” and that it had been flagged with Twitter and Facebook, where it was circulating widely.

The full set of records from the HPRA below:

Cork City Council Traveller Accommodation contracts

Right To Know sought copies of contracts between Cork City Council and any companies charged with maintenance or caretaking of traveller accommodation.

One notable company was Four Seasons Promotions Limited trading as “Animal Collection Services” (ACS), which is a curious name for a company providing maintenance and security company at Traveller accommodations sites.

Our specific request sought:

1. Any and all contracts between the council and contracted companies/individuals for the provision of general maintenance repairs & caretaking works at Traveller Specific Accommodation in the period 2016 to 2021 inclusive, for all sites for which the council has contracted those works out via Tender award or otherwise. 

2. Any other contracts (security or other) between the council and third parties in relation to Traveller halting sites in the city for the period 2016 to 2021 inclusive. 

3. A copy or breakdown of any and all invoices/payments made to those companies/individuals under any contracts for the years 2021, 2020 and 2019 inclusive. 

Payments were broken down by year, but specifics of invoices were refused:

Payments 2019 – €174,949.05

Payments 2020 – €139,188.19

Payments 2021 – €202,768.36

Cork City Council has encountered serious criticism for its relationship with the Traveller community in recent years, in particular in relation to the Ombudsman report into Spring Lane Halting Site.

The contracts with different providers, and their obligations under those contracts are detailed here:

IDA briefing documents on data centres and the electricity supply crisis

The IDA flagged concerns that data centres were being “scapegoated” for a crisis in electricity supply that had led to warnings of power blackouts.

An internal briefing note based on international investor feedback said data centres were being portrayed as the “culprit for current electricity problems” when supply issues were “clearly” the cause of the problem.

In other internal records, the IDA explained how an electricity supply crunch had been expected in Ireland, but not until around 2026, and that supply issues were already “impacting on investment decisions”.

The full set of records below:

Defence Forces writes off more than €46,000 worth of equipment as either lost or broken beyond repair

The Defence Forces lost or wrote off as damaged beyond repair more than €46,000 worth of equipment over the space of two years.

Among the items that went missing in action or were damaged so badly they could no longer be used were body armour, a night vision device, GPS devices, and even badminton racquets.

The Defence Forces had originally released only a partial list of the items with close to half of the entries redacted on security grounds.

They had claimed release of details relating to some lost or damaged items “could be used by criminal elements, paramilitaries, or other state and non-state actors to counter a specific operational capability the Defences Forces uses at home and/or overseas”.

In an internal review decision, they said there was a risk of “serious harm, or indeed loss of life” and that the chance of this happening – while unlikely – could “potentially be catastrophic” to the Defence Forces, its personnel, and even the state. That decision was subsequently appealed to the Information Commissioner, at which point the Defence Forces opted to release the list in full.

Finance Minister advised to highlight “wisdom” of introducing cap on controversial tax relief for highly paid executives

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe was advised to highlight the “wisdom” of imposing a salary cap on a controversial tax relief scheme even though the cap had been lifted just a few years before by his predecessor Michael Noonan.

Mr Donohoe had announced a €1 million cap for the Special Assignee Relief Programme (SARP) in 2018, a controversial scheme that provides generous tax benefits for multinational staff moving to Ireland.

However, a cap was simply being reintroduced having been abolished by Mr Donohoe’s party colleague, the then Finance Minister Michael Noonan in 2015.

Its removal had led to “significant unanticipated costs” for the taxpayer and the use of the scheme by executives on multi-million salaries for aggressive “advance tax planning”.

A briefing for Minister Paschal Donohoe last summer on the latest data from the Special Assignee Relief Programme (SARP) said the reintroduction of a cap had led to a significant improvement in how much it cost to support jobs under the scheme.

It said there had been a decrease in the cost for each job supported by the scheme to €44,000 in the latest annual figures, compared to €73,000 the year before.

In a briefing for the minister, department officials said the scheme was likely to be the subject of commentary from opposition politicians.

The submission said: “In such an event, the point can be made that the data in the Revenue report serves to reinforce the wisdom of the decision to impose the salary cap in Finance Bill 2018.”

Government ministers and politicians from all three of the main parties reported to have breached public health guidelines in Leinster House and the Convention Centre

Government ministers and politicians from the three main political parties were among those reported to have breached public-health guidelines in Leinster House and the Convention Centre.

In one incident, a minister was dismissive of the compliance staff who had asked a large group of TDs to keep their distance.

A log of the complaint said: “I approached Minister [redacted] regarding this who pointed at her colleagues and told me jokingly it was them I needed to police.

“I told her that we were only two people and that we needed their help in managing this.”

That complaint detailed how there had been a significant group of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ministers, along with backbenchers, gathered too closely together in the Convention Centre on 7 October 2020.

An email said: “In total, we visited this area over eight times in the half hour, with at least four verbal interactions asking them to separate.

“It was clear in some cases, those seated had moved their tables and chairs out of line to be closer to each other. This was evident between Minister [redacted] and Minister [redacted] although we couldn’t be certain which of them had done the moving.”

In another reported incident, a member of Sinn Féin was part a group of TDs who were told to leave greater distance between each other on an escalator in the Convention Centre.

According to an Oireachtas log from October 13 last year, the Sinn Féin member was alleged to have said: “Sure what difference does it make. We haven’t got it.”

They then added: “We’ve all had it at this stage. It’s been here since Christmas.”

The Information Commissioner has ruled however, that the identities of the politicians should not be disclosed.

In a decision, they said that the right to know of the public did not outweigh the right to privacy of the elected representatives involved.

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