Taoiseach Micheal Martin not to blame over repayment of €1,000 donation to Fianna Fáil amid confusion over party’s registration as a corporate donor

Fianna Fáil’s finance director told the Standards Commission (SIPO) that Taoiseach Micheal Martin was not to blame for wrongly accepting a €1,000 donation from his own party.

David Burke wrote to SIPO to say that Mr Martin had followed his advice at all times asking if this could be taken note of by the commission.

Records obtained under FOI reveal how Fianna Fáil told the Commission they had an “exemplary record” on compliance with electoral law over the past ten years.

However, they said they regretted the “unintended oversight” of having allowed the Taoiseach and Senator Malcolm Byrne to accept donations of €1,000 and €2,900 from the party which were not allowed.

Under electoral legislation, if a party wants to contribute to a member of their party, they are first supposed to register as a corporate donor.

However, two of the government parties – Fianna Fáil and the Green Party – did not do this and were subsequently asked to return donations that had been made to a number of members.

A data-dump of nearly €3 million in Department of Foreign Affairs spending on three consular refurbishment projects

The Department of Foreign Affairs spent nearly €3 million on three major refurbishment projects of Irish embassies and consulates.

The programme of work included spending of just over €800,000 at a new consulate in Mumbai, India, €1.3 million on the recently opened consulate in Vancouver, Canada, and €828,000 in expenditure at the Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand.

At the Wellington Embassy, €1,736 was spent on a designer handmade rug called a Teadra Round, according to a database of expenditure released under FOI.

Another €2,263 was paid out for what was described as “wool Donegal tweed” with €5,593 paid to a company for interior design and layout services.

The bulk of the €828,000 spent went to construction firms for the actual fit-out with €5,850 paid out in professional fees for logistical and technical support.

In the Vancouver consulate, just over €6,000 was spent on artwork including €1,790 paid for a triptych called Golden Reeds Winter by the artist and photographer Hugh MacConville.

Garda internal audit discloses payment of €270,000 VAT bill to Revenue and latest on controversial lease of OPW lands in Templemore

Gardaí have made a payment of nearly €270,000 to the Revenue Commissioners in settlement of a VAT bill for the restaurant and shop at their training college.

The payment was made as a “technical adjustment” according to a garda audit and without any penalties being applied.

Confusion had arisen over how goods sold at the restaurant and shop in Templemore should be charged for VAT, according to the report.

The audit also discusses the resolution of issues around the controversial lease of OPW land in Templemore by gardaí where rent was never passed on to the Office of Public Works.

Records on witness evidence, data protection concerns, and the evidence of the confidential committee of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission

The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) wrote repeatedly to the Mother and Baby Home Commission raising concerns about the handling of sensitive survivor testimony and delays in responding to queries.

The DPC also said they were “disappointed” that the Commission had not quickly responded to one of their letters and warned that failure to respond to their concerns could be a breach of their duty of cooperation under data regulations.

In response, the Mother and Baby Home Commission said they had been given insufficient time to deal with the queries and said issues were being “conflated” in the letters.

The DPC said answers to their concerns should have been “immediately to hand” and that the tight deadlines were necessary given the commission was going to be wound down at the end of February.

A letter said: “This of itself unfortunately raises issues about the Commission’s compliance with its GDPR obligations.”

Streams of urine, open drug dealing, threats and intimidation – letters to Dublin City Council from Portobello residents about anti-social behaviour

A city council shut down a popular plaza after local residents wrote to complain of “streams of urine” on their streets, people offering money to use their bathrooms, open drug dealing, along with threats and intimidation.

Dublin City Council faced a backlash after deciding to close down Portobello Plaza because of large crowds gathering in the area at weekends.

However, correspondence to the council reveals local residents wrote of “pure hell” living beside the canal harbour and one said they had been forced to sell their home.

The council also received a large number of representations from those opposed to the closure. You can read them all in full below:

Department of Defence sensitivities over installation of “defensive aid suites” in order for two new €110 million aircraft

The Department of Defence recommended spending over €15 million adding defensive equipment to a new aircraft order but were worried it might be seen as policy approval for use in “possible hostile scenarios”.

Internal memos – released by the department – reveal how there were high-level discussions over whether two new C295 aircraft should be fitted with a suite of equipment to protect it in the event of attack.

However, the Department were at pains to say this was not confirmation that the two maritime patrol aircraft might be used in “possible future deployments to conflict zones”.

The two airplanes are currently on order from Airbus Defence and Space manufacturing facilities in Spain with planned delivery dates of March and July 2023.

These submissions were released to Right to Know following an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

You can read the decision here; it makes some important points about public bodies over-reaching with exemptions for cabinet confidentiality.

A database of €3.69 million in expenditure by the Mother & Baby Home Commission over the course of two years

A restaurant bill of €123.75, spending of €36,946 on travel, and more than €140,000 in costs for excavation of a former home were among the costs run up by the Mother and Baby Home Commission over the past two years.

Legal costs of more than €380,000, as well as €263,000 in fees and expenses for commissioners and the inquiry’s confidential committee, were also incurred.

A detailed breakdown of more than €3.69 million in costs including staff salaries paid out during 2019 and 2020 also reveals a near half a million euro spend on consultancy projects and services.

A database of expenditure – released under FOI – provides the most detailed glimpse yet at costs involved in the controversial Commission, which has cost the state at least €13.5 million.

The Department of Children had originally refused to release the breakdown of costs. However, that was appealed to the Information Commissioner by transparency group Right to Know and the data was subsequently provided.

Behind the scenes of Department of Agriculture efforts to introduce rapid Covid-19 testing at meat processing plants

The Department of Agriculture spent more than four months trying to convince public health authorities of the merits of introducing rapid Covid-19 testing for workers at meat processing plants.

However, they were met with “negative sentiments” and a “continued unexplained reluctance” to endorse their plans to try and tackle outbreaks in the meat industry, according to internal records.

The Department had been involved in a pilot study of a factory last year, which found particularly high risks of infection in areas where meat was cut.

It discovered that 60 of the 100 workers who tested positive for Covid-19 had been working shifts in the boning hall where chilled air was being recirculated to keep conditions cool for food hygiene reasons.

As part of its recommendations, the report said the possibility of introducing rapid testing for meat processing plants should be considered.

Internal records reveal how the department began writing to the HSE as last September recommending “mass testing of the workforce in food businesses”.

Closure of crosswind runway at Dublin Airport could cost €48 million annually

Closing down a runway at Dublin’s Airport which is used to deal with problem wind conditions could cost airlines and passenger up to €48 million per year, according to an official report.

The Commission for Aviation Regulation were asked by the Department of Transport to look at the impact of closing the airport’s “crosswind runway” and whether climate change would have an impact on its use.

The report also examined how other major international airports managed without such a runway and if there were particular weather conditions in Dublin that made it essential.

It found that closure could lead to 1,468 and 2,251 flights not being able to operate annually, which made up around 0.5% to 0.8% of flights in a sample schedule used.

The report said taking into account flight diversions for airlines and the direct cost to passengers in lost time, the annual costs would be between €29 and €48 million.

This report was released on foot of a decision by the Information Commissioner. Just as an FYI, this case was not taken by Right to Know.

Ambulances were delayed by over sixty minutes in 47 critical incidents a month as two emergency responses exceeded two hours

Almost fifty cases a month were logged of ambulances turning up over an hour after they were first called to a life-threatening event, according to National Ambulance Service records.

In two cases – both in Co Cork – the ambulance took over two hours to get there; once because of the distance involved, and once due to a road having been blocked by fallen trees.

Detailed data from the National Ambulance Service (NAS) also show how response performance suffered as Ireland began to grapple with the Christmas wave of Covid-19 infection.

Long delays were most common in Cork due to the sheer size of the county with one in six of the over one-hour-long waits recorded in the county.

The records cover the second half of last year with 282 cases – or 47 a month – where patients were waiting at least sixty minutes for an ambulance to arrive at their location.

The National Ambulance Service said however, that this represented just a small fraction from the 81,718 highest priority calls they had received during that time.