Guidance on what Met Éireann staff should say when asked if specific extreme weather events are linked to climate change

STAFF in Met Éireann have been told to be non-committal when asked if specific extreme weather events in Ireland are linked to global warning.

The advice is contained in a guidance document for staff on what to do when hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and snow storms are being blamed directly on climate change.

In their “climate attribution statement” Met Éireann said questions linking these specific events to global warming were to be expected.

“There is no simple yes or no answer to the question,” says the guide. “It is a fact that a current weather event is occurring in a climate that is approximately one degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times.

“But that alone does not mean that the event would not have occurred if the climate were colder by one degree (pre-industrial).”

The guide said extreme weather events are more likely to occur because of global warming, but that linking it to specific events was a problem.

It explained: “A comment along the lines of ‘we can’t say if the event is a result of climate change, but it is the type of event that is projected to occur more frequently in a change climate’ can be used if the question arises.”

The guide was much clearer on what to say when asked about the link between human activity and climate change.

It said the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had concluded that “human influence on the climate system is clear”.

“Societies around the world are faced with increasing climate change risks,” said the guide.

It also explained that new climate modelling technology was developed, which might give clearer answers on whether events like the “Beast from the East” snow storm, or Ireland’s summer heatwave, could be linked to climate change.

The guide said: “These model simulations are expensive to run computationally, so it is not possible to get information on attribution in real time.

“Results of attribution studies have statements like ‘the event is 30% more likely to have occurred in a warmer climate.’”

The documents were obtained by Right to Know using EU environmental information regulations.

Séamus Walsh, head of the Climate and Observations Department in Met Éireann, said: “There is no simple yes or no answer and often when we’re explaining this, we’re losing.

“Our forecasters deal essentially with the weather, which is the day to day variation. Everybody thinks because we all work in Met Éireann, we are all experts on climate change. But they are quite different skills so we like forecasters to talk on weather and our climate experts to talk on climate.”

He said that while the science was “more or less settled” on climate change, linking specific events to it was nowhere near as simple.

“The difficulty with these attribution studies is people want to know today and it’s really not possible to do that and it won’t be for a while,” he said.

“Focusing on extremes can muddy the water. The actual global temperature is continuing to rise even if on a day-to-day basis we don’t notice that.

“Man’s influence is written all over that one degree rise, and that does have a knock-on effect on events. However, if you start commenting on individual events, you kind of get caught.

“And while these events will become a lot more frequent in the future; it’s just not that straightforward to link day to day weather events to climate change.”

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Driving down the wrong lane, vehicles on fire, running out of fuel – a year in the life of the country’s busiest motorway

THE country’s busiest motorway has witnessed more than 5,100 accidents and incidents since the beginning of 2017.

Dublin’s M50 ring road has recorded “incidents” at the rate of over 243 per month, according to a detailed list provided by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

The events vary from low priority to major incidents with drivers falling ill at the wheel, wild animals on the road, and cases of motorists going the wrong direction all reported.

The most common incident was breakdown with more than 2,000 cars breaking down over a twenty one month period on the motorway.

Just over 1,000 collisions were also recorded while 643 incidents were reported where dangerous debris was found to be on the roadway.

A total of 49 drivers ran out of fuel on the busy motorway while there were 47 cases of wild or pet animals crossing the carriageways.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland also recorded 272 cases where a pedestrian or cyclist was found to be using the motorway.

Dead animals were reported sixteen times, which can cause motorists to swerve to avoid the carcass and lead to collisions.

Twenty three cases of drivers falling seriously ill were also recorded, while in 25 cases, somebody called for help but there was nobody on the line.

There were two cases of drivers headed the wrong way on the M50 while three cases of serious anti-social behaviour were also recorded.

Other serious incidents reported included heavy winds putting traffic in danger (ten times), 35 cases of vehicles on fire, 121 flat tyres or “blow-outs”, and 173 instances of cars being abandoned by the side of the road.

Less frequently reported but also listed in the database were spillages, flooding, and drivers hopelessly lost and looking for directions.

Of the 5,115 incidents reported, 28 of them were classified as “major incidents”.

These mostly involved serious collisions, or cars broken down in dangerous locations, with some incidents lasting for up to six hours.

Another 905 incidents were classified as “high priority”, a majority of them breakdowns and crashes.

A total of 2,137 events were categorised as “moderate priority” with another 1,779 described as “low priority”, often involving mechanical failures in cars but where the driver was able to get the vehicle to a safe place on the hard shoulder.

The time of year doesn’t appear to have much impact on how many incidents take place with numbers fluctuating randomly from month to month.

The worst month over the past twenty one months was in May 2017 when 320 incidents were recorded, more than 10% higher than any other similar period.

The “Beast from the East” snowstorms in March don’t appear to have had a significant effect on the numbers of incidents with 222 recorded that month.

That figure did drop however in April to just 174 – the lowest since the beginning of January 2017 – before rebounding again during the summer.

A spokesman for Transport Infrastructure Ireland said that with 50 million journeys a year, the motorway was no longer a ring road but rather within the city suburbs.

Sean O’Neill said: “Options for increasing capacity are not endless and eventually there comes a point when adding lanes and upgrading junctions is no longer feasible.”

He said incidents on the M50 combined with heavy traffic were a recipe for long delays.

“Incidents can include anything from simple breakdowns, or debris on the motorway right up to major collisions involving multiple vehicles,” he said.

“More serious incidents generally require the involvement of many different agencies including An Garda Síochána, Dublin Fire Brigade, the four Dublin local authorities, [ourselves] and the Motorway Traffic Control Centre.”

As part of plans to ease congestion on the road, Transport Infrastructure Ireland is planning to introduce “intelligent transport systems technologies” including variable speed limits as well as lane usage instructions by 2020.

“A regulated speed limit will reduce the need to brake suddenly in response to standstill traffic and reduce the number of ‘stops and starts’ that take place,” said Sean O’Neill.

“Additionally, by regulating speed you reduce the potential for accidents to occur as well as the severity. You can also manage lane usage before an incident, thus improving safety and recovery time operations.”

Raw data to come:

Attorney General advised Department of Justice it did not have to search private email address for correspondence between ex-minister Frances Fitzgerald and PR advisor Terry Prone

THE Information Commissioner threatened to use his legal powers to force the Department of Justice to have searches carried out on private emails between former minister Frances Fitzgerald and PR advisor Terry Prone.

The request was made as part of the handling of a Right to Know request for correspondence between Ms Fitzgerald and Ms Prone over a three year period.

Internal emails reveal that the Department believed the Information Commissioner were “pushing the boundaries” in asking them to contact Ms Fitzgerald to search her private email account for relevant records.

“The attitude they’re taking to this is unbelievable,” wrote one official.

Separately, the Department of Justice sought legal advice from the Attorney General on whether they should contact Ms Fitzgerald and ask her to search her Gmail account, which she occasionally used for official business.

In an email to Deputy Secretary General Oonagh McPhillips, a senior official said: “I have advice from the AGO [Attorney General’s Office] supporting the position that it would not be appropriate for us to contact her in relation to this matter.”

A formal email to the Information Commissioner repeated that point of view.

A senior official wrote: “These advices support the Department’s view that this would not be an appropriate step for the Department to take.

“I wish therefore to reconfirm the Department’s position that it does not feel in a position to go outside the scope of the FOI Act and seek such information from Deputy Fitzgerald in an attempt to respond to an FOI request.”

Despite the emails, the Department of Justice did end up contacting Ms Fitzgerald seeking additional records. It is unclear what prompted this change of mind (will update if I find out more).

The former justice minister sent back a number of relevant emails, many of which had already been discovered during departmental searches of official email accounts.

Records released in response to an FOI request also reveal that when the original request was made in March 2017, two special advisers to Minister Fitzgerald told colleagues handling the request they did not have any relevant records.

An internal email said: “You will wish to note that I spoke to [Special Adviser 1] prior to the MinMac meeting this afternoon – who indicated a nil obs return and [Special Adviser 2] after the meeting who also indicated that she did not have material in relation to this request.”

Special Adviser 2 was in regular contact with Ms Prone over an extended period of time seeking strategic advice and speech-writing tips on behalf of the justice minister.

In emails to the Information Commissioner, the Department of Justice described the additional steps they had taken to discover more than 70 relevant records, which in their original decision said did not exist.

“A decision was recently taken to search the archived email accounts of the former minister and her political advisers,” they said.

“A search of the archived accounts has now been completed and despite previous assurances, a number of relevant records have now been located and the Department has retrieved material which we believe falls within the scope of this request.”

You can read the Information Commissioner decision in this important case here.

You can also see some of the records quoted here in this Twitter thread. Unfortunately, the records have not been provided in a format that makes them straightforward to scan.

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Department of Education saw “mixed messages” and “apparent inconsistencies” in latest fall for Irish universities in international rankings

THE Department of Education believed there were “apparent inconsistencies” and “mixed messages” from the latest set of university rankings which saw Irish third level institutions fall yet again in league tables.

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Fine Gael Minister Michael Ring allocates almost one-eighth of national funding pot to home county

THE constituency of Minister Michael Ring got almost one eighth of the national pot of money from a recreation scheme funded by his Department.

Mayo received €216,000, over €26,000 more than the next highest allocation given to a county under the scheme according to departmental records.

Altogether, €1.82 million was given out in the first round of this year’s outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme – nearly 12% of which ended up going to Co Mayo.

The Department defended the funding allocations saying that when populations were calculated, some other counties had actually done better than Mayo on a per capita basis.

There were 128 local projects funded around the country, with eleven of those selected in Co Mayo.
Ten projects in Minister Ring’s constituency got €20,000 each in funding, the maximum award under this round of the scheme while one got €16,000.

Most of the funding was for “repair and maintenance” with projects benefitting including the Great Western Greenway between Westport and Achill and the Croaghpatrick Heritage Trail. Others to benefit from the maximum grant were the Erris Head Loop Walk and the Foxford Way.

Some counties got hardly any funding with three receiving nothing at all: Donegal, Kildare, and Louth although it is not clear how many applications were made from each of them.

Dublin was not eligible for “this rural scheme”, according to the Department though parts of Fingal are classified as rural for other funding.

A spokesman for the Minister said a total of 267 applications had been made for funding and that every one of the 128 eligible applications had been funded.

“Unsuccessful applications were declined on the basis that they did not meet the criteria for funding. Reasons included, failure to provide evidence of planning permission or evidence of matched funding,” he said.

The spokesman queried calculations based on population and said that when per capita figures were worked out, Sligo, Monaghan and Westmeath had actually done better than Mayo.

Based on national population, Mayo received 11.8% of the fund despite the fact that its population is less than 3% of the total.

The spokesman said: “[That] calculation of the population includes Dublin which is not a recipient in this rural scheme. When Dublin’s population is excluded from this calculation, which it should be, the proportion of the population represented by Mayo and other counties increases.”

With Dublin excluded from the figure, Mayo still makes up less than 4% of the national population but its share of the fund of course stays unchanged at just below 12%.

Announcing the grants, Minister Michael Ring said the projects would “enhance existing recreational facilities for the benefit of the communities who use them every day, and also for the many tourists who enjoy visiting our rural areas”.

Projects funded including walking trail upgrades, route signage improvements, development of promotional materials, and provision of bike stands.

This is not the first time the constituency of Minister Ring has done well in funding decisions from his Department of Rural and Community Development.

Last year, from a €21 million fund under the town and village scheme, Mayo got the single largest funding boost of €1.348 million (just over 6% of the total fund).

Mr Ring’s home county also did well in previous rounds of the outdoor recreation scheme. Last year, from a final pot of €11.4 million – Mayo got just under 10% of the total.

Mr Ring had attracted criticism when appointed minister for appearing to suggest he would do his best to bring funding to his home county.

He told a homecoming celebration at the time: “I will do the best that I can as a minister for this county, but particularly for this country. I will continue to bring all the money that I have brought into Ballina, and to Ballycastle, and to Killala, and every part of the county that I have an opportunity.”

Full list of allocations below:

Mayo 216000
Kerry 189198
Sligo 179840
Westmeath 172000
Wexford 140342.58
Monaghan 110024
Offaly 107730
Cavan 102956
Cork 98486.29
Limerick 79320.8
Meath 59857.7
Clare 58370.79
Carlow 47268.01
Wicklow 46280
Tipperary 43514
Laois 40184.8
Leitrim 40000
Kilkenny 31276
Longford 20000
Galway 17811.75
Roscommon 15378
Waterford 8000
Grand Total 1823838.72

The Terry Prone & Frances Fitzgerald e-mails: €55,000 paid out for consultancy services over three years

Records released by the Department of Justice show PR expert Terry Prone and her company the Communications Clinic were paid €55,000 for advice on speech writing and strategy by former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald.

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HSE provided Scally Report with ‘extremely cumbersome’ scanned copies of records

A graphic from the Scally Report

THE cervical cancer review was still having major problems getting access to records even after the health minister described HSE handing over material that could not be searched as “absolutely pathetic”.

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2016 Drought plan would have ‘used drought situation’ to promote metering

Irish Water’s National Draught Plan from 2016 recommended focusing communications on ‘using drought situations’ to promote controversial policies like water metering, while no mention of climate change awareness was made.

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