Minutes and agendas of the “Senior Officials Group” released to Right to Know following decision from Information Commissioner

These are the agendas and minutes of the so-called Senior Officials Group, a key part of the government’s pandemic response.

We first sought these records back in early June but access was refused using the section of the FOI Act exempting records relating to the Cabinet.

We appealed that case on the basis that these records were not solely prepared for transaction of business at Cabinet.

In his decision, the Information Commissioner ruled in our favour saying: “The minutes reflect that the Group is engaged with dealing with the many practical aspects of responding to and seeking to contain and mitigate the pandemic’s wide impact on the country and the relevant records document and facilitate that work. In the circumstances, I am not satisfied that section 28(1)(c) applies.”

You can see them in full here. We have since sought a more recent set of the same records from the Department of the Taoiseach.

Gardaí warned of challenges in recruiting officers to regional cyber-crime units given their exposure to graphic sexual abuse material

Gardaí warned they would face difficulties in finding suitable staff for specialised cyber-crime units because of the extreme and explicit material members would be forced to deal with every day.

The Department of Justice were also told that training up staff to deal with cybercrime would make them vulnerable to being poached by the private sector because of the “highly sought after” skills they would develop.

Separately, some officials at the department queried whether the creation of six regional cyber-crime units was the correct approach and whether a national centre of excellence should not be established instead.

Questions were also asked about why so many of the staff at the centres would be garda officers when some of the roles could be filled by civilians and why a business case for the units was so “light on benefits analysis”.

Another significant landslide on Co Leitrim mountainside considered almost inevitable says new report

Another significant landslide on the side of a mountain in Co Leitrim is highly likely according to the latest report into the incident.

Dry weather during the summer caused thousands of tonnes of peat to dislodge inundating local roads and enveloping the Dawn of Hope Bridge near Shass Mountain in the county.

A new report into the incident has now warned of a high risk to land, property, and infrastructure in the area from a further landslide.

It said the risk to life for road users, including those using the Dawn of Hope Bridge which was damaged in June, was assessed to be within the “tolerable range” and unlikely however.

The latest report – released following a request for environmental information – said the landslide took place after a period of prolonged dry weather followed by heavy rainfall.

Tusla concerns over Mother and Baby Home archive and risk of “negative media attention” from having to refuse some requests for personal records

Tusla expressed serious concerns about taking responsibility for the archive of the Mother and Baby Home Commission fearing they would be blamed for refusing access to records of survivors and adoptees.

The child and family agency were also worried about the accuracy of records which they had not created, how to safely secure the material, and serious reputational issues from being seen as responsible for withholding information.

Concerns were also raised that Tusla were being asked to take more material than originally agreed and that they had a “particularly fragile” legal basis on which to hold and use the records.

Internal records also flag concerns of a high risk of data protection issues relating to “highly vulnerable” people, the very short timeline for taking responsibility for the archive, and inevitable “negative media attention”.

A datadump of expenditure by the HSE covering the period from 2017 to the second quarter of 2020

This is a datadump of HSE expenditure encompassing the second half of 2017 all the way up to June of this year.

It’s the most detailed public look ever at tens of millions worth of spending by the health services in Ireland.

The data was released under FOI to Right to Know and is being made available here as part of our transparency work.

Under government rules, every public body in Ireland is supposed to make available a quarterly report on purchase orders worth more than €20,000.

Many public bodies do this as a matter of course, but some have chosen not to. We are trying to address some of those gaps.

More than €1.65 million in “hardship” allowances for Department of Foreign Affairs staff over past two years

Diplomats at the Department of Foreign Affairs have been paid more than €1.65 million in so-called “hardship” allowances over the past two years.

The allowances are paid for international postings in cities including Beijing, Moscow, and Buenos Aires.

The rate is calculated based on the level of hardship in each place, with different cities ranked from A to E according to attractiveness and dangers at the location.

Most cities in the European Union are not ranked at all with only the Bulgarian capital of Sofia given the lightest ranking of E, according to Department of Foreign Affairs records.

An information note from the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “Hardship allowance is paid at certain missions to compensate officers for the level of hardship at a post. The amount payable depends on the level of hardship.

“Hardship allowances are designed to take into account a number of factors at designated locations including climate, health, air pollution, language and culture, goods and services, isolation, social network and leisure, housing, utilities and education, personal security and political tension.”

The Department said they were calculated based on independently sourced data and were the subject of review every year.

Copies of inspection reports from meat processing plant inspections released; Right to Know to challenge decision to redact names of the factories

Staff working “face to face”, ill-fitted specialist masks, lack of social distancing, and tightly spaced locker rooms were among the issues highlighted in inspections of meat processing plants by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

The reports have been released by the HSA with the identity of the specific factories removed along with the dates of the inspection.

In one report, multiple issues were highlighted with face coverings not being used across the site, especially in areas where social distancing could not be observed.

Staff wearing specialist masks had them “ill-fitted” or worn incorrectly while “pinch points” where staff were congregating were observed at hygiene stations, locker rooms, as well as entrances and exits.

As part of this request, Right to Know had taken a case to the Information Commissioner seeking release of these reports.

The HSA offered to release redacted copies of the reports and we accepted that based on the thinking it was better that this information would then be in the public domain more quickly.

However, we do not accept that the identities of the factories involved should be kept secret and we will be taking a new case to seek release of that detail.

Complaints about TDs and Senators failing to observe Covid-19 public health measures and lack of social distancing in Leinster House and the Convention Centre

The Oireachtas has refused to release dozens of reports about failures to comply with Covid-19 health guidelines in the Leinster House complex and during sittings in the Convention Centre.

The records include a complaint by a political staffer that a named TD or Senator was failing to observe Covid-19 measures.

In another case, a member of staff complained about the impact of “members’ non-compliance on [their] own health” while other reports contain “observations about named members”.

A significant number of reports from relatively junior members of Oireachtas staff have also been withheld where their duties have involved trying to persuade TDs, Senators, and others to remain compliant with public health measures.

The records that were released by the Oireachtas include an email from the Health and Safety Manager of the Convention Centre who raised concerns over breaches of the Covid-19 health measures in the Forum area of the building.

The email, dated 9 September, said: “There were many observations last week in the Forum where social distancing was not being adhered to. This is critical for the safety of all the members and Oireachtas staff and the CCD [Convention Centre] staff also.”

A log of incidents on Ireland’s busiest road, including hazardous chemical spills, burning cars, and vehicles driving in the wrong direction

Ireland’s busiest road has seen more than 4,100 accidents, incidents, and breakdowns since the start of January last year.

Spills of hazardous material, burning cars, loose animals, and vehicles driving in the wrong direction were among the incidents logged.

There were 21 “major” incidents recorded on the M50 ring road, according to figures released by Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

Another 969 high priority incidents were also reported over the course of the past twenty one months.

A log of incidents reveals there were two incidents involving spills of hazardous chemicals and twenty four reports of vehicles on fire. In seven cases, a car or truck was reported to be travelling in the wrong direction on the road, which has for most of its length a 100 km/h limit.

Records from Dublin City Council on the controversial demolition of the ‘O’Rahilly House’ – developers said they had complied with all applicable laws

The developers who knocked down the historic ‘O’Rahilly House’ insisted the demolition had taken place “in accordance with all applicable laws” and that they had kept Dublin City Council fully briefed on their plans.

In correspondence with Dublin City Council, the developers said they had told the council of the planned demolition on 15 September and that it was “not clear” what conditions in the planning permission had not been complied with.

They also said that a commencement notice had been returned by the council and confirmed “deemed valid” with an instruction only that work should not take place before 29 September – the day the house was knocked down.

The developers also warned that demolition work on the site had not been properly finished and that it was not “best practice” to leave the work unfinished.