RTÉ’s €4.7 million defamation bill over the past six years

RTÉ has been issued with 29 separate sets of legal proceedings for defamation over the past six years with a sharp uptick in cases so far this year.

The cases have cost the broadcaster more than €4.7 million – or an average of around €160,000 each – although not all the cases have yet been closed and costs are likely to rise still further.

RTÉ said it would not be possible to say how often they were threatened with a defamation claim but could provide data on when legal proceedings were actually issued.

They said in 2017, there had been eight cases, four the following year, and another five cases in 2019, according to records released under FOI.

In 2020, there were seven cases, and just one in 2021. However, the number of defamation proceedings has bounced back with four already in the first five months of this year.

Office of government chief whip forwarded far-fetched claims from constituent that car engine was cutting out due to new 30kph speed limit in Phoenix Park

Government chief whip Jack Chambers and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar forwarded angry letters from constituents who claimed a new 30 kilometre per hour speed limit in the Phoenix Park was damaging their car or forcing it to cut out altogether.

The representations were forwarded by local TDs to the Office of Public Works (OPW) amid controversy over the availability of parking at Dublin Zoo and the park.

In internal emails, OPW officials warned parking availability was likely to be an ongoing problem as the summer months arrived.

One email said: “The busier the season gets (and with two bank holiday weekends in the next month and a bit), this discussion will probably resurface.”

Emails also explained how motorists parked illegally throughout the park no matter how many warning signs the OPW put in place.

“Will review the signage as requested and organise additional signs,” said one message, “our experience in the past is that they are just ignored.”

In another exchange, the OPW said members of staff might be better avoiding talking about the parking issue on broadcast media.

An email said: “I don’t think it is in OPW’s best interest to debate this emotive issue on air at the moment.”

The OPW also said that much of the parking previously available on Chesterfield Avenue had never been available for zoo parking in the first place.

Chief Park Superintendent Margaret Gormley wrote: “The bulk of the parking spaces was utilised by commuters in the past and not available to Zoo patrons, particularly during the weekend.”

A spokeswoman for the OPW said recent changes in the Phoenix Park had made it a significantly safer space for pedestrian and cyclists.

A copy of the most recent valuation report for the €30 million site bought by government at Thornton Hall

A new valuation report for the site of a proposed super-prison at Thornton Hall said it sat on some of the most valuable agricultural land in Ireland.

The valuation put an estimated price of €6.5 million on the 164-acre property which was bought for almost €30 million in 2005 as part of plans for the relocation and subsequent redevelopment of the Mountjoy Prison campus in Dublin.

The Department of Justice said the revised valuation gave a fairer value for the property saying there was “significant demand for agricultural land in Dublin” and that a prior estimate of €2.7 million was too low.

Passengers paid more than €660,000 in compensation, refunds, and expenses for flight delays and cancellations

Airline passengers won more than €660,000 in compensation, refunds, and expenses last year because of cancellations, delays, or being denied boarding to a plane.

Almost 1,500 cases were dealt with by the aviation regulator with more than two-thirds of them relating to Ryanair and Aer Lingus.

Refunds from airlines ranged in size from €8,185 in one case involving Aer Lingus to just €6.10 in a case involving a British Airways flight.

There were also more than 500 cases where a customer made a complaint to the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) but no refund or settlement ended up being paid.

A significant drop in cases was seen last year with only 1,475 complaints received – just a third of the 4,543 that were logged in 2020.

However, that “record-breaking” figure was due to widespread disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic with mass cancellation of flights.

Department of Taoiseach insisted on hiring €2,000-an-hour charter aircraft because they didn’t trust reliability of government Learjet

The Defence Forces found out by accident that the Taoiseach’s department wanted to charter an aircraft to fly Micheal Martin to Paris because officials did not trust the government Learjet would be fit to fly.

Internal records detail how officials in the Taoiseach’s office insisted on hiring a €2,000-per-hour aircraft because of the “absolute necessity” of the Taoiseach’s attendance at meetings in Paris and London in early March.

They said the government’s ageing €8 million Learjet could be kept available on standby if it were functional at the time Mr Martin wanted to travel.

In an email to the Department of Defence, Assistant Secretary to the Government Dermot Woods wrote: “We cannot be in doubt as to his attendance and any of the commercial aviation options too significantly reduce the essential flexibility he will need to have in the limited time availability.

“Therefore, will you arrange please, as the primary option for the three-leg travel, to secure option 5 (Luxaviation Citation CJ3 for 6 passengers) for this occasion? If the Learjet were functional it could act as a back-up if needed.”

Records from the Department of Defence also describe how news of leasing an aircraft was met with “some surprise” in the Air Corps who had readied the Learjet and a crew for the mission.

They only found out about the plan after one of the companies asked to provide a quote for a charter plane rang them directly to inquire about using Baldonnel Airport.

An email to the department from a senior officer said: “You might confirm has your Department taken a decision to contract a civil aircraft for a [ministerial air transport] operation from Casement Aerodrome, without informing this Headquarters or Defence Forces Headquarter, or is this request from the operator a contingency?”

The Air Corps also warned that the charter company were mistaken in thinking flying a private plane into a military airport would be straightforward.

They said they had concerns about a civilian aircraft coming through Baldonnel, especially around the “security precautions” for such a flight.

The Air Corps also warned there would be other difficulties around the supply of fuel and handling without a formal contract in place.

An email from Colonel Dave Corcoran said: “At this point, as requested by you last week, I can confirm that our advice is 1 Operations Wing is ready and able to conduct the MATS operation. Both Learjet and CASA aircraft are serviceable and available for that purpose.

“Please urgently confirm the Department of Defence intentions in relation to this civil flight as soon as possible and whether we should continue to plan the operation ourselves or not?”

In response, officials in the department said they wanted to be able to present several options to the Taoiseach for his journey.

One email said: “Given that the Taoiseach has either been let down on a couple of occasions by the Service recently or it has not met his requirements in relation to length of journey … the consultants Altea were asked to obtain quotes from four companies identified through their research.”

The message added: “What we’re all trying to ensure here is that the Taoiseach does not get let down again and every option has to be explored.”

Central Bank exchanges €2.9 million in old punts including €625,000 in coins since 2018

The Central Bank has swapped more than €2.9 million worth of old punts over the last four years including more than €625,000 in coins.

All the largest exchanges last year were worth less than €10,000, according to records with the highest transaction dealing with £7,724, or €9,808 in ‘new money’.

Figures for 2021 show how just over €400,000 – or £317,124 in punts – was exchanged in notes last year, two decades after the euro first came into circulation.

Remarkably, a further €163,000 – or £128,458 in old pound coins and other loose change – were also exchanged by the Central Bank in 2021.

Information Commissioner rules right to privacy of TD who secretly photographed staff at Leinster House outweighs public’s right to know his identity

For some time now, Right to Know has been trying to identify the TDs and Senators who flouted public health guidelines in Leinster House and at the Convention Centre.

These incidents included:

  • One Fianna Fáil TD who said he would sooner go to jail than wear a mask.
  • A Labour party representative who was reported to be “aggressive” in telling a member of the compliance team they were not allowed in a meeting room.
  • A male TD who secretly took photographs of Leinster House staff, and against whom no action was taken.
  • Multiple reports of aggressive, dismissive, and abusive behaviour by TDs and Senators towards the compliance staff.

Redacted details of this have been published before but we were not happy with the response and believed that how named parliamentarians conduct themselves is a matter of significant public interest.

Our appeal to the Information Commissioner has unfortunately failed and the identities of all the above will remain secret.

And even though we are aware of who most of them are, they will have to remain unidentified because of Ireland’s draconian defamation laws.

In the decision, the Information Commissioner ruled that there was no public interest factor that outweighed the right to privacy of those named in these records.

Additional details were released however, including the party affiliation of certain TDs and Senators, along with specific units within the Oireachtas.

One point worthy of note is that the Oireachtas put a lot of emphasis on how their system of compliance for public health measures could be compromised if the names of those involved were disclosed.

However, long before this decision issued, that compliance system had effectively been dismantled.

The revised documents are published below.

Limerick council spends around €100,000 sending 27 politicians and officials abroad for St Patrick’s Day

Local authorities around the country spent almost €320,000 sending county councillors and officials abroad for St Patrick’s Day with one council accounting for nearly a third of the spending.

Limerick City and County Council spent around €100,000 sending no less than 27 politicians and officials to New York, Savannah, and London for the March 17 celebrations.

Another local authority – Wexford County Council – spent over €45,000 with councillors and staff jetting off to New York, Savannah, and the French city of Dunkirk.

Other councils were far more economical in comparison with just a single representative from Leitrim travelling to New York at a total cost of €1,937.

Galway City Council also kept costs to a minimum taking advantage of a free hotel stay in Seattle for their representatives for a total St Patrick’s Day bill of less than €5,000.

Dublin Airport Authority repeatedly requested not to be levied with fines by aviation regulator for lengthy security queues

The authority responsible for running Dublin Airport repeatedly asked not to be hit with fines because of lengthy queues at the airport saying that it could compromise security.

In correspondence with the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR), DAA said their emphasis had to remain on safety, rather than waiting times.

And they said any over-emphasis on queuing times risked the potential for non-compliance with stringent EU rules on security.

In letters to CAR, the DAA wrote: “Our focus in security is to ensure that something does not get on an aircraft that shouldn’t, complying fully with all European and Irish regulations.

“While we do not want any passengers delayed coming through the screening process, our focus cannot prioritise this over passenger security and safety.”

Dublin Airport’s managing director Vincent Harrison added: “The re-introduction of fines increases the risk of focus being leaned too heavily on queue times, resulting in potential non-compliance with regulations.”

The DAA appealed for a ‘force majeure’ saying that the impact of Covid-19 had been so severe that there were no further reasonable steps they could take to improve waiting times.

This thread from Ken Foxe explains some of the background to how these records were released.

County council perplexed by decision ordering them to release video and audio recordings of controversial planning meetings

A county council said there was an “inherent inconsistency” in having to make available video and audio recordings of development plan meetings claiming the Data Protection Commission had advised them not to release them.

Meath County Council said a decision made by the Information Commissioner that they must release the recordings was something they were “still trying to rationalise” in internal emails.

Officials said it was difficult to understand how “two arms of the state [can] provide very different advice on the same records”.

In an email to the Department of Public Expenditure, a local authority official said: “It is very difficult for a public body, such as this council, to navigate these choppy waters.”

Meath County Council were told late last year they had to release the recordings of the development plan meetings, which had caused considerable controversy among councillors.

The council had originally said release of the tapes would involve the disclosure of personal information, which would be in breach of GDPR, and had proposed deleting them.

However, the Information Commissioner disagreed and ordered their release in a decision with far-reaching implications for other local authorities and public bodies.

The case had originally been taken by FP Logue Solicitors on behalf of a number of councillors in co Meath.