25% isn't a bad standard, is it SIPO?

I had a good one due to go up today, a really good one, honest. Unfortunately the judicial process took a chunk out of it, then while I was parsing data I discovered there was way more to it than I’d realised. So, I’m going to continue digging and publish that at some point in the future, when on more concrete legal ground.

In the meantime, I was due to pitch this yarn to the papers but I’ve been working 16 hour days and haven’t got ’round to it. If you’re a journo reading this, feel free to rewrite it – but I want a co-byline, which I will invoice for, muthafuckers (or at least a credit for this website, pretty please.)

Way back in July the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) published their annual report for 2008. Until about two weeks ago I was in prolonged correspondence with their press spokesperson about it.

For those unaccustomed with them, SIPO are tasked with ensuring our political parties and that crew in the Leinster House comply with the accounting rules, expenses regulations, donations limits an’ all dah’. Many of their reports, while rarely covered in the press, are worth reading. Unfortunately, they’re working with awful legislation, but doing an pretty poor job on top of that, at least in some areas, as I found out.

So, I was looking through the report the day it was published when, under the subhead “Accounting Units of political parties“, I came across this paragraph:

During 2008, the Standards Commission wrote to 202 accounting units which were identified by the relevant political parties (158 accounting units had been contacted in 2007). 62 accounting units furnished the required statutory documentation by the statutory deadline of 31 March 2008. 78 accounting units failed to furnish their statutory documentation on time. 12 branches of political parties informed the Standards Commission that they have never been an accounting unit or are no longer active. 15 accounting units did not reply.

FYI – An accounting unit is a branch of a political party.

That paragraph made my eyebrow twitch and I know when my eyebrow starts twitching, I’m onto something (that was a lie). 78 is a serious number to fail to furnish required documentation on time, but it was too big to look into on my own. 12 units informing SIPO they’re not active was of little interest, but I followed this up, and the number proved correct.

But 15 units not replying, eh? That sounds juicy. Which party branches would they be? What did SIPO do when they didn’t reply? How were they punished? I put these questions to the Commission spokesperson.

“What measures did SIPO take when the accounting units did not reply?” I asked first…

Continue reading “25% isn't a bad standard, is it SIPO?”

Those NTMA pay scales

Last week I blogged a response I had received from the Department of Finance concerning Government consultations over the establishment of NAMA. The response was prompted by an FOI request, seeking the titles, dates and authors of consultation reports for the Government (seeking the documents themselves would have been refused outright).

What it brought to light, in a small way, was how little in-house expertise the Government has. Reports were written for the Government by Merrill Lynch, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Arthur Cox, Peter Bacon, Rothschild, and HSBC. If you are wondering who drafted the NAMA legislation, the answer lies somewhere between all of these companies and people, the Department of Finance and the Minister. It would also be fair to say that the Irish banks must have had input into the process, since they are the ones who are being saved from bankruptcy.

Many of these companies though were engaged not by the Department of Finance, but by the National Treasury Management Agency. They are the guys who issue sovereign bonds and manage the national debt, or as their website says:

The 1990 Act empowers the NTMA “to borrow moneys for the Exchequer and to manage the National Debt on behalf of and subject to the control and general superintendence of the Minister for Finance and to perform certain related functions and to provide for connected matters”.

Now my interest is piqued because the salary of NTMA chief executive Michael Somers is secret. The same is true, it appears, of all other staff at the NTMA.

Thanks to some helpful readers, from what I can gather, NTMA pay bands are as follows:

91 members of staff are paid below €80,000 a year.
22 staff are paid between €80,000 and €100,000 a year.
27 staff are paid between €100,000 and €200,000 a year.
9 staff are paid over €200,000 a year.

The average bonus paid in 2008, for work during 2007, was €21,447.

I make that 149 members of staff. I also make that a bonus fund mean of €3.1 million for 2007. If we take the lower tier staff, and take the upper range of figures, we could surmise that at the maximum budget allowed (if people are all paid at the top of the range, which is unlikely) is:


Which would make €14.8m at the maximum allowable wage for all staff collectively. Add that to bonuses of another €3.1m. This excludes the 9 staff, since there is no ceiling there. We are hitting €20m in staff costs alone, minus directors. It is rumoured that Mr Somers earns anywhere between €200,000 and €1,000,000 a year.

The question is this: As a taxpayer am I entitled to know the salary of Mr Somers, and other highly paid staff at the NTMA? Is the public interest better served by this information being available, or is it better served by it being secret? The Government would argue that such high wages are needed to get the skills necessary from the private sector, and if these people were not working in the public sector, they could be earning more in the private sector – therefore we need high wages.

I don’t buy it. Where is the spirit of public service, like we see in the US? I am certain that many of the people working in the finance arms of the Obama administration want to work in service of the State because it is a part of a citizen’s duty. The salaries of many high ranking officials are freely available too. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner earns $191,300 a year, minus expenses. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke earns the same amount minus expenses (Although Geithner’s predecessor had an estimated net worth of $500m thanks to his years at Goldman Sachs).

The salaries of people who are being paid by the taxpayer, such as people at the NTMA, should be published on their website. We have to ask ourselves how the public interest is served by keeping this information secret, and if any arguments in favour of secrecy have merit. The interest in their salaries is not prurient, it is simply how accountable systems work. Publish the information, then we know.

No big deal, right?

So the next question is this: Under what section and subsection of the FOI act would a request for salaries be refused?

Fás Internal Audit (INV 137) now online

TheStory has obtained a copy of the internal audit which triggered the recent C&AG report into Fás and we’re digging through the details. We believe we have uncovered a mass of new information, the details of which we will publish early next week.

For now, we’re simply going to put the document into the public domain. It is heavily redacted.

However, The Irish Times has seen an unredacted version and reported some of its contents. The Sunday Times has also covered the story in some depth, including this piece, probably the most comprehensive one on the subject.

The document also contains two names which, it appears, were accidentally unredacted. As we are most unlike other media, who have teams of lawyers to check each item published for legal issues, we have added redactions ourselves in those two areas. This is simply us being highly cautious. But we assure you, the unredecated names will be published once we get advice on the matter. Note: Our redactions are on page 7 and page 31.

The audit was the result by an anonymous letter sent to Mary Harney in 2005, when she was Enterprise Minister. The letter made seven allegations specifically against Greg Craig, who was the director of corporate affairs in Fás at the time. It is important to note that the audit team found “no evidence” to support six of the seven allegations and that the one other was only partially true. Mr Craig is now director of health and safety in Fás following a period of paid suspension.

While our digging has uncovered, we believe, some odd connections between some companies named in the report and various other people of interest, we’re at a loss in some areas.

We’d appreciate help uncovering information about a number of companies and one individual. In particular we’d like to answer the “how did…” type questions raised about them in the audit.

The companies are:

Ultimate Communications, directed by Niall Gallen and Audrey Browne. We’d like to know if this company had any connection with Greg Craig (who appears to have known many of the contractors personally or have dealt with them professionally for a long period) or political parties. The company has an address in Kiltallaght House, Grangebellew, Co. Louth. They were contracted to build the Fás website 10 days after they incorporated and received €3.55m worth of work from Fás in their first year operating.

Helm O’Connor O’Sullivan, directed by Donald Helme and Dale Parry with an address in Serpentine Avenue, Ballsbridge. An advertising agency.

Posterplan Ltd (now called Kinetic Advertising), directed by Brian Townshend, Carol Ann Hogan and Simon Rupert Durham with an address at 31 Ballsbridge Terrace. Shareholders include POA Holdings Limited. Posterplan are a well-known company who sell advertising space on billboards, bus shelters and the likes…

Display Contracts Ltd, directed by James O’Brien and James O’Brien Junior with an address in Beau Lane House, Mercer Street, Dublin 2. Shareholders include Adrienne O’Brien, James O’Brien, James E O’Brien, Margaret O’Brien, Nofleen O’Brien, Paula O’Brien and Tony O’Brien.

Design House“, the only information we could uncover about this company is in the report, it says it is directed by a Robert Saunders.

We’d also like to know the name of a “daughter of a well-known property developer and friend of Greg Craig“. That’s how she is described in the report. We have an idea as to their names but would like confirmation, or an additional lead.

Of course all of these companies and individuals were surely operating entirely lawfully in all of their dealings, including those with Fás, but we’d like to know a little more about them, how their structured, and their contact, if any, with Fás and in particularly, Greg Craig.

Tips can be sent to tips [at] thestory.ie or we can be contacted individually via coughlanmp [at] gmail.com or gavinsblog [at] gmail.com

More early next week…

JO'D expenses and allowances documents

Update: Word reaches TheStory that these documents were dumped solely because they were released to The Sunday Tribune earlier today via FOI at the cost of €600.

The Tribune were charged for the documents (€600 is a massive fee for an FOI) then they were put in the Dáil library almost immediately.

This is the most incredible behaviour from John O’Donoghue in attempting to get one over The Sunday Tribune who have consistently been a thorn in the side of expense-account-abusing public representatives for the last number of months.

John O’Donoghue clearly realises he can only hide for so long.

Update 2:

I have tabulated the foreign travel into a spreadsheet.

Total cost for foreign travel, 2007 – 2009: €89,277.74
Total cost for official entertainment: €5,010.15
Total cost for domestic travel: €13,305.57

All credit to the Sunday Tribune and Ken Foxe for getting this information out. Albeit earlier than they had intended – Gavin

Update 3:

All receipts (PDFs):

Explanatory document on CC expenses

Schedule 1 – Allowances and Expenses
Schedule 2 Domestic flights
Schedule 3 Details of foreign travel
Schedule 4 – Official entertainment


Domestic Travel 1
Domestic Travel 2
Domestic Travel 3
Domestic Travel 4
Domestic Travel 5

1 Stop Shop Constituency Expenses

John O’Donoghue’s cost claims while Ceann Comhairle were unexpectedly put into the Dáil library today – yes, a Friday, the Friday before Lisbon results, no less.

I’m told they are absolutely massive, far too big to send in an email, but the House of the Oireachtas press office has kindly supplied me with partial summaries. They’re all linked below…

I haven’t had time to check them out, I’m working on another project – all I spotted was the number of flights between Dublin and Kerry. It looks like he flew from one to the other once a week on average between June 07 and December 08. Where was his ministerial car? I hope it wasn’t following him down on the road, as I’ve heard some ministers have ordered in the past.

Anyway, enjoy…

Overview of all payments to current Ceann Comhairle from the House of Oireachtas

Details of expenses and allowances claimed by Ceann Comhairle from Houses of Oireachtas

Details of domestic flights taken by CC

Details of foreign travel undertaken by CC

Library version of official entertainment bill

Remember, down the bottom of each spreadsheet may be a number of other tabs, what you see initially may only be part of the story.

You can gain access to the Dáil library and examine the documents in full yourself. I plan on doing so on my next day off, sometime next week.

Mary Hanafin's trip to India

In 2006 the Government went on a trade mission to India. Mary Hanafin as Minister for Education went along. I put in the following FOI request:

1) The Minister’s schedule and appointments between January 1, 2006 and March 1, 2006.

2) A breakdown of flight costs, accommodation costs, hospitality costs, and any other costs borne by the Department for a trip taken by the Minister to India in January 2006, and a breakdown of any expenses claimed.

I will upload the schedule later. The total trip cost €26,421.14. Flights cost €20,912.84. Ms Hanafin’s flight alone cost €8,990.28.

For now, here is the spreadsheet of costs (go to the bottom of the sheet and click “costs India trip” :

Hanafin India 2006

I do not believe removing the names of other people who went on the trip is warranted under Section 28 (1) (personal information). I may appeal this element of the request.

Sean FitzPatrick's loans

The Independent leads tomorrow with a story about €100m in outstanding loans on which former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean FitzPatrick is apparently not paying interest. That’s an interest bill of €400,000 a month, but no repayments are being made.

This actually partly relates to my story the other day about Anglo-Irish Nominees Ltd.

We know Mr FitzPatrick had personal loans from Anglo. But those loans did not include lending like the Atrium deal set out here. Money was lent to a company in which he appears to have had a beneficial interest. I wonder how much of Anglo’s lending related to Mr FitzPatrick’s personal interest in investments? This is on top of the personal loans we are already aware of.

The shareholders in Tysan, John Kerry Keane, Paul Coulson, Denis O’Brien, Lindat Limited, Lar Bradshaw, Sean Fitzpatrick, Gary McGann, Paddy Wright, Sean Melly, Pat Gunne, Longstone Estates Limited and Lochlann Quinn, don’t seem to have invested anything in the company apart from €3k share capital.

The liabilities of the company are pretty much all bank loans. The charge indicates there is no personal recourse to the borrowers. Anglo funded €70m of the purchase in 2005 and the 2006 accounts for Balcuik show an “ultimate shareholders loan” of €30m (probably lent by Anglo). The property was then revalued to €137m, handy that, and Anglo increased the borrowings and repaid the €30m to the shareholders. So there is no equity. Anglo get arrangement fees of around €2m and as much interest as possible and probably all of the risk.

And how many more of Anglo’s staff have loans, directly or indirectly, with Anglo?

And how many of these loans are going to be written off at taxpayer expense?

And of course the other question is this:

When Brian Lenihan met Sean FitzPatrick on September 18, 2008, the same day the first PwC report was requested, was Mr Lenihan, or the Regulator or Central Bank, already aware or made aware, of the extent of Mr FitzPatrick’s loans, direct or indirect?

It seems to me that when the results of that first PwC report on Anglo were given to the Government on September 27, just two days before the night of the bank guarantee, the Government, or its regulatory agencies, or Mr Lenihan himself, must have been aware of the extent of Mr FitzPatrick’s loans. The loans were too big for them not to be aware.

And were that the case, Anglo, including all of its deposits and liabilities, was guaranteed despite that knowledge.


Reports prepared for NAMA

Some time ago I sought the following information from the Department of Finance:

1) The titles, dates and authors of all cost-benefit analyses, impact reports or preparatory reports that have been carried out by the Department in relation to NAMA

2) The titles, dates and authors of all cost-benefit analyses, impact reports or preparatory reports that have been carried out by people or companies working on behalf of, or at the request, of the Department, in relation to NAMA

Outside of the FOI (though I still intend pursuing this information through FOI, whether or not it is rejected) I received the following information:

Merrill Lynch (engaged by NTMA)

A number of reports setting out options for the Irish banking sector, including the treatment of impaired assets

PwC (engaged by Financial Regulator)

Various reports produced by PwC, including due diligence on covered institutions arising from the Government guarantee Scheme and recapitalisation programme (in cases with the input of Jones Lang LaSalle)

Arthur Cox

Various legal assessments of covered institutions arising from the Government guarantee Scheme and recapitalisation programme

Peter Bacon, Special Advisor to the Minister / NTMA

Evaluation of options for resolving property loan impairments and associated capital adequacy of Irish credit institutions: Proposal for a National Asset Management Agency and associated required policy initiatives

Rothschild (engaged by NTMA)

Various reports and inputs into the preparations for the establishment of NAMA

Central Bank & Financial Regulator Reports

Various reports produced within normal operating parameters as well as certain assessments of the impact of contingency proposals

HSBC (engaged by NTMA)

A number of reports produced for the interim NAMA and the Minister

NTMA is a curious entity. Back in May were were promised salary scales for NAMA. Have you seen any? The salary of Mr Somers, the head of the NTMA is also secret, apparently. I feel another FOI request coming on.

Some questions for Mr Lenihan

The Daily Mail and Sunday Times have commented already on Lenihan’s diary as published here last week. The Daily Mail concentrated on the meeting with Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone on November 12, 2008. The Sunday Times was more concerned with all the constituency work Mr Lenihan was doing when he perhaps should have been doing more important work.

For my own part I’ve been parsing the document to see what dates coincide. I’ve also drafted and sent two follow up FOIs on the basis of information gleaned from Mr Lenihan’s diary. There will likely be follow ups to those too.

However, the diary itself raises a number of questions that I will list here.

1) Why was a meeting with Sean FitzPatrick on September 18 not listed in the diary?

2) Were instructions given by the Minister to PwC, following the meeting with Mr FitzPatrick, to begin its inquiry into Anglo?

2) What was the purpose of the meeting with Pat McLoughlin of IPSO on September 25? Was this related to lobbying in relation to cheque usage and ATM charges?

3) On the night of the bank guarantee, September 25, who was present at the Department of the Taoiseach with Mr Lenihan and Mr Cowen? No names are listed in the diary, but names were reported in the media.

4) What was the purpose of the meeting with Independent News & Media chairman Brian Hillery on October 31, 2008?

5) What was the purpose of the meeting with Ivan Yates on November 5, 2008?

6) What was the purpose of the meeting with Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone on November 12, 2008, and with James McGuill of the Law Society the same day?

7) What was the purpose of the meeting with Michael Ryan and Paul Ryan of Merrill Lynch on November 13, 2008?

8 ) What was the purpose of the meeting with Andre Orcell of Merrill Lynch and then Lochlainn Quinn on November 24, 2008?

9) What was the purpose of the meeting with Sean FitzPatrick and Donal Drumm of Anglo, on December 16, and why does the diary entry merely list the meeting as “Anglo Irish” instead of their names?

10) Why is there no mention of any meetings with Patrick Neary, the then Financial Regulator, right up until his resignation on the night of Friday, January 9?

11) What was the purpose of the meeting with property developer Stephen Vernon of Green Property on January 30, and with Axel Wieandt of Hypo Real Estate on the same day?

12) What was the purpose of the meeting with Rick Lazio of JP Morgan Chase (who ran against Hilary Clinton in New York in 2000) on April 24?