Bill of €590,000 this year for private security at homes of five ministers or officeholders amid surge in incidents of intimidation

The Office of Public Works has spent more than €3.6 million on security at the homes of politicians and other officeholders over the past six years amid an upsurge in intimidating protests and far right activity in Ireland.

Spending this year is on track to exceed €1 million with over €590,000 already spent on the provision of extra security at private residences during the first six months of the year.

The average expenditure on each project has also risen substantially with each of the installations this year costing an average of €118,000, according to figures from the OPW.

The OPW said they were not involved in deciding who got security at their home and that they acted on the instructions of the Department of Justice based on a threat assessment by gardaí.

Information Commissioner orders release of Department of Defence documents on accidental publication of whistleblower report containing information that was meant to be redacted

The Information Commissioner (OIC) has found in favour of Right to Know in a case taken over access to records about the accidental release of an unredacted report on a protected disclosure.

A protected disclosure was made in March 2021 about an event held in McKee Barracks in Dublin, which alleged a breach of COVID-19 regulations, and the physical and sexual assault of two female Defence Forces personnel.

As a result, senior counsel Hugh Mohan was asked to carry out an investigation, the findings of which subsequently became known as the Mohan report.

When it was finalised in March of this year, the Department of Defence published a version of the report that contained details which were supposed to be redacted.

Right to Know sought a copy of records relating to this but both after initial request and internal review, the Department of Defence refused release saying the records related to a protected disclosure.

The case then took on an added significance because if the Department’s position had been correct, any record, no matter how distantly linked to the original protected disclosure, would automatically be exempt from release under FOI.

Taken to its conclusion, this could have meant people could not even inquire about how many protected disclosures were made to a public body.

The department’s position was described as: “In further submissions, the Department said that the records in question only exist because a protected disclosure was made.

“It said that the records sought relate to a report made under the Protected Disclosures Act though it also acknowledged that ‘it is apparent that they are somewhat distant from the actual disclosure made’. It said that section 42(ja) does not provide for any ‘degree of proximity’ between the relevant records and the report.”

The Department also claimed having to deal with any records relating to a protected disclosure under FOI could put them at “considerable risk” if a mistake was made.

The Information Commissioner did not agree sand said FOI often carried such risks for decision makers about what to make public or not.

The investigator wrote: “I am not satisfied that there is a sufficiently substantial link between the original protected disclosure and administrative records relating to the publication of an incorrectly redacted version of a subsequent report.

“I am not satisfied that the content of the specific records sought is such that they could be said to relate to a protected disclosure.”

You can read a full copy of the decision below:

Courts Service HQ report highlights damp, black mould, and fire escapes frequently blocked by storage and clutter

A report on the headquarters of the Courts Service found damp, broken tiles, patches of black mould, as well as fire exits that were regularly blocked because of files being stored in corridors.

The report also explained how staff often ate lunch at their desks because there were no spaces to “sit and socialise” with colleagues while some of the most attractive parts of the office were crammed with papers and documents.

A survey of employees was told that the Dublin HQ was “very poorly laid out” with a high density of desks and “excessive storage”.

The report said there was an “unwelcoming reception” area which was dark and dated and created an “uninspiring experience” for staff and visitors to the building.

It said there was no building fire strategy in place with “storage and clutter … kept in corridors, often blocking fire exits”.

Technology was not up to date either making it difficult to carry out “hybrid” meetings between staff who were in the office and those working from home or elsewhere.

Briefings for Minister Catherine Martin on the spending controversy at RTÉ

These are a series of briefings prepared for Minister Catherine Martin on what to say when questioned about the ongoing expenditure controversy at RTÉ.

In them, Minister Martin was given question and answer style briefs for questions she was likely to face in the media and elsewhere.

These included responses on what to say if asked whether the RTÉ board should all be removed, if Kevin Bakhurst was the right person to lead change at the public service broadcaster, and why she didn’t act earlier when she was first alerted to governance issues at Montrose.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland warned about risks of trying to extend life of Luas trams that were over twenty years old

The operators of light rail networks in other countries strongly advised Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) against any attempt to prolong the life of forty Luas trams that have been in service for more than two decades.

TII were told that so-called “life extension” programmes for the vehicles sometimes ended up costing over double what was anticipated.

A review examining the future of the forty original trams from the Luas network said they already had a “very low level of reliability” and that significant investment would be required to bring them back to perfect condition.

It said the ‘design life’ of the trams was thought to have been 30 years but that in other cities where similar vehicles were in use, they had given around 25 years of useful service.

The report said that while ‘life-extending’ the trams might initially appear a good option with potential savings of €20 million, problems of reliability were likely to continue even after they were modernised.

It said “soundings” had been taken from other countries that operate light rail networks with all but two advising against any life-extension programme “if at all possible”.

Transport operators in Boston and Melbourne said they had modernised some of their fleet, but only because they had left it too late to order replacement trams and they effectively had no alternative.

The report said: “They advised that in all cases of life-extension programmes, the final outturn costs compared to the original budgets inclusive of contingencies and risk allocations were always significantly higher, in some cases ‘more than double’.”

Ambulances were involved in crashes and minor collisions or suffered mechanical failures more than 130 times in 2022

Ambulances were involved in crashes or prangs more than 400 times over the past four years.

The National Ambulance Service said there were also nineteen occasions last year where one of their vehicles broke down due to a puncture, mechanical failure, or warning lights which needed immediate investigation.

In the first half of this year, ambulances were in 69 collisions while the full-year figure for 2022 was 114, according to figures provided under FOI.

There were a further 117 crashes or mishaps involving emergency vehicles in 2021 and a total of 113 in the year prior to that.

The National Ambulance Service said that the number of incidents of vehicle damage was very low and that many were minor incidents.

They added: “Approximately 40 per cent of all vehicle damage arises from reversing incidents, i.e. narrow gates or overhanging obstacles during poor visibility in emergency situations.”

Department of Justice flooded with furious emails about anti-social behaviour after violent assault on Dublin’s Talbot Street

Justice Minister Helen McEntee was inundated with dozens of angry  emails and letters from the public after her ‘walkabout’ in Dublin’s north inner city following a spate of violent incidents in the capital.

The overwhelming majority of correspondence was deeply critical of comments made by Ms McEntee that Dublin was a “safe city” with many criticising the lack of garda presence on the streets.

In a handwritten note, one person explained how they had been visiting Dublin’s city centre for decades.

“[I] would not entertain being out alone after 7pm,” they said, “I could easily see addicts shooting up [and] was shocked at the aggression in those gangs of feral youths loitering at so many locations.”

Another visitor to the city wrote about being asked by an “addict” why they were not wearing a bikini given that the sun was out.

Their email described how they had been called a “big fat c***” saying the abuse had been a terrible experience and that in their time in Dublin, they had not seen a single garda.

One letter said they had been walking up Talbot Street when a group of men began “aggressively firing glass bottles” at another person.

“There was absolutely NO garda presence … at this time (6.00pm on a Saturday evening) despite the recent attack on an American tourist in this vicinity.”

In an email, one member of the public said anybody who thought Dublin was safe “must be living in cloud cuckoo land”.

Behind the scenes of Horse Racing Ireland’s €200,000 ‘influencer’ campaigns – make sure it doesn’t look like a “sales message”

Briefings for ‘influencers’ to promote horse racing asked one celebrity to talk about the “unbelievable care and attention” given to horses.

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) spent close to €200,000 paying influencers to help market racing over a five-year period with campaigns involving former rugby player Rob Kearney, RTÉ presenter Doireann Garrihy, and the 2 Johnnies.

A briefing for Doireann Garrihy said they were not looking for a “huge output” from her and that they would love input from her on creating content “that will speak to her audiences … and she knows them best”.

In a creative plan, Horse Racing Ireland said they would like the RTÉ presenter to announce to her followers that she would be attending the Dublin Racing Festival last year but that it should not come across as “a sales message”.

The brief said: “She’s excited to go, what should she wear [Outfit] A or Outfit B.”

Prison Service’s €320,000 project to brighten up “austere” jail yards and landings

The Irish Prison Service is spending around €320,000 at three jails on a graphic design project to try and lift the “mundane and dreary” atmosphere in prison yards and landings.

The wall graphics are intended to brighten up the most “austere” areas of Castlerea Prison in Roscommon, Cloverhill in Dublin, as well as Cork Prison.

The decorations include inspiring quotes intended to lift the mood of prisoners and staff, as well as photographs of nature and iconic snaps of crowds in Croke Park and the Sam Maguire being hoisted in front of Hill 16.

A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said: “An important part of providing equivalence of mental health care is the provision of ‘whole population’ preventative approaches, often witnessed in the community.

“The Prison Service have commenced a program of upgrades to enhance the aesthetics of the exercise yards in a number of prisons across the estate. The Irish Prison Service intends to rollout this program across the entire prison estate.”

Department of Health refused COVID-19 pandemic recognition payment to staff at Irish Blood Transfusion Service despite pleas for them to be included

A decision by the Department of Health to exclude frontline blood transfusion workers from a COVID-19 bonus payment scheme led to plummeting morale for the workers who were rejected.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) said that 434 of their staff had faced higher exposure to infection because of working closely with thousands of donors, blood, body substances, and potentially infectious materials during their every-day work.

In an appeal to the Minister for Health, the IBTS said they were “very concerned” about the exclusion of their staff from the €1,000 pandemic bonus scheme and that it was having a “very negative impact on staff morale” when they were struggling to retain people.

Correspondence reveals how the Department of Health said that blood transfusion staff had not been exposed to COVID-19 because people with symptoms were urged not to attend donation clinics.

In response, the IBTS said this was difficult to square with the fact that an entire team in Cork had been exposed, and subsequently developed COVID-19, after being involved in providing services.

They also said there were multiple occasions where non-symptomatic people had attended clinics with their donations subsequently recalled due to notification of a positive test.

A letter from the IBTS said: “We accept that we asked donors with symptoms not to attend donation clinics, but so too did every other health service provider, including hospitals.”