Staff at council earned up to €33,000 in overtime with some signing off on their own time sheets

Employees at one local authority were earning up to €33,000 in overtime with significant shortcomings in how the extra work was being accounted for.

An internal audit looked at 550 overtime transactions and found that 20% of them, worth €23,083, did not indicate the start or end time of hours worked and could not be verified correctly.

For another 66 claims – valued at €12,362 – the timesheet gave no explanation of what the overtime was even being claimed for at Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

Another 25 transactions, together worth €3,741, did not include the hours being claimed for and therefore could not be tested for accuracy by auditors.

Across an eighteen-month period, 232 waged employees were paid a total of €1.247 million in overtime with the top ten payments ranging from €17,650 to €27,359.

A further 62 salaried employees of the council were paid a combined €449,322 in overtime during the same period.

The top ten highest payments in that category of worker ranged in size from €14,518 to €33,334 with some people earning up to 64% on top of their “basic annual pay ranges”.

The audit also found that in some cases, employees were signing off on their own overtime sheets.

An analysis of 550 transactions found 61 cases – worth a combined €10,795 – where the claimant themselves had signed off on the timesheet.

For another fifty of the claims examined, the timesheets did not have “appropriate approval”, meaning they had not been signed off by a supervisor or foreman as required.

Twenty five of the overtime claims did not have any sign-off at all, but the €4,885 claimed on them was still paid out by the council.

These findings were considered “high priority” by the auditors Mazars with a further six medium priority findings also made by the firm.

Security concerns, faulty air conditioning, peeling paint and bubbling plaster at Irish diplomatic buildings in Washington DC

Conditions at Ireland’s chief diplomatic outpost in Washington DC had become so bad that staff felt they could not hold events, or even meetings, there.

Peeling paint, bubbling plaster, flooring and carpeting that was past its useful life, and a range of other issues including security risks had made for a “very poor working environment”.

A review of the chancery building in the U.S. capital also said “major concerns” had arisen with the mechanical and electrical systems, which were at “end of life”.

The confidential report said: “The poor working environment … already identified in the last review (2012) has deteriorated significantly in the interim, with numerous issues, including health and safety, and security concerns, clearly in evidence throughout the building.”

The department has since leased another building in Washington DC as they make plans for an improved chancery and residence for the Irish Ambassador and his team in the United States.

The mission review also detailed how the air conditioning system at the chancery had failed for an extended period during what can be sweltering conditions in the summer in the U.S. capital.

“This is a cause for concern as we move into the summer period once again,” said the report.

“Regrettably, because of the multitude of concerns, the Embassy team had to come to the view that it was no longer possible to hold events, or even meetings, in the Chancery.”

Outbreak of antibiotic-resistant infection at neo-natal intensive care unit in one of country’s busiest maternity hospitals last year

Eight babies at one of the country’s busiest maternity hospitals developed a potentially dangerous infection that is resistant to multiple antibiotics.

The outbreak of S.capitis at the Rotunda Hospital meant the infants had to be isolated or nursed with strict contact precautions in the neo-natal intensive care unit.

Results showed that the eight infections, all discovered last year, were related and were likely due to “cross transmission”.

In an internal report, the Rotunda said dealing with the outbreak had been challenging due to “staffing and infrastructural deficits” at the hospital.

It said the “opportunistic pathogen” had been identified as a cause of infection in maternity and paediatric hospitals in France, the UK, Belgium, and Australia.

The report said it was resistant to “multiple antibiotics” and that babies infected needed to be treated with an “adequate spectrum of activity” to deal with it.

The Rotunda alerted neighbouring maternity and paediatric hospitals asking them to review old samples to see if the infection was present.

It said that thirty samples submitted by four different hospitals – three in Dublin and one in Munster – had “revealed relatedness between isolates from different hospitals”.

The report said it appeared the S.capitis clone was “endemic” in neo-natal units but that the origin of it was still unknown.

“The clone identified is not the [type] reported elsewhere, but appears to be a predominant Irish clone which will require more extensive studies,” it added.

Complaints to Irish Water last year included 474 from customers saying drinking water had made them ill

Irish Water received nearly 1,800 complaints last year including 474 from people claiming they had got sick due to water quality issues.

There were also 479 who contacted the utility, which has recently rebranded as Uisce Éireann, to say that discoloured water was flowing out of their taps.

Another 28 complaints were logged from customers who said there was a funny odour from their drinking supply while 82 said their water tasted strange.

Nearly a third of the complaints, 557 in total, were about water outages where no supply was available at all while 15 people contacted the utility to complain about drinking water restriction notices.

There were also 57 gripes from people about boil water notices, where they had been informed that their tap water was not safe to drink.

Overall, 1,790 formal complaints were logged with Uisce Éireann with at least 200 recorded in each of August, September, and October, the three busiest months for complaints.

Garda allowances bill for last year exceeded €205 million

Gardaí were paid more than €205 million in allowances last year, including boot allowances, Gaeltacht allowances, and payments for serving in the ministerial pool of drivers.

Almost a third of the money – or €73.2 million – was paid out in a Sunday allowance to more than 13,500 members, for an average of around €5,400 per person.

Another €43 million was paid out in rostered night duty to more than 13,000 members, with the average payment working out at just over €3,200 for each member.

There was also a payment of around €18.9 million in public holiday allowances, shared between over 13,360 individual gardaí.

Annual premium payments worth €12.47 million were paid as well to 13,804 different people according to figures released under FOI.

Boot allowances totalling €2.1 million were paid to more than 14,000 individual gardaí, each worth about €150 per person.

There were also a variety of uniform allowances paid, which together came to a cost of around €2.9 million, the garda figures showed.

Other more specific payments were made to gardaí in particular jobs with €3.57 million paid in a “detective allowance” to 4,879 different gardaí.

There was an “availability allowance” paid to 318 members, which came to a combined €2.18 million, or around €6,900 per person.

Instructor allowances totalling €2.16 million were paid out to 408 gardaí, while 3,440 members shared €1.875 million in a “plain clothes allowance”.

Payments totalling €960,000 were paid to 82 gardaí for working in the minister’s pool, providing driving and security services to officeholders.

Gaeltacht allowances cost €789,859 and were paid to 194 members serving in Irish-speaking regions, or an average of €4,071 per person.

Other payments made last year included €712,661 in transport allowances, €615,119 in overseas allowances, and €487,821 in a “scene of crimes allowance”.

Over 200 complaints about NCT service last year including car tested only for wheel to break off a fortnight later

More than two hundred people made formal complaints about their NCT last year including their brakes failing immediately after a test, “spurious” results, and a wheel that broke off just two weeks after going in for a roadworthiness check.

The Road Safety Authority said there had been an average of around seventeen official complaints each month in 2022 with frustration also growing about recent delays in scheduling a test.

In one case, a motorist said their car had gone through its NCT – yet two weeks later “the wheel broke off my car while driving”.

In another, a person said they had taken their wife’s car for a test and immediately after they left the centre, the brakes of the car would not work.

They wrote: “We travelled 400 metres up the road to a crossroads and when I tried to stop the car, the brakes failed.

“Fortunately, I managed to bring the car to a halt without hitting anyone. I returned to the NCT centre where the car was inspected. The technician was baffled and could only offer the explanation that the emergency brake test had broken the brake calliper.”

OPW staff threatened with dogs, had members of the public expose themselves, and were abused by a member of the public “playing bagpipes”

Staff at the Office of Public Works had members of the public expose themselves to them, were threatened with attack dogs, and suffered a litany of verbal assaults and attacks.

A log of threats and intimidation details nearly three dozen incidents over the past two years including two cases where a visitor to a heritage site exposed their private parts to a staff member.

The OPW said there was an incident of “indecent exposure” in the car park of one of their sites in the North East of the country in May 2021.

Another similar case was also recorded in September that year at a heritage site in the West when a “staff member was intimidated by a member of the public exposing himself”.

In October 2022, an employee was verbally abused at a location in the South East with the member of the public also readying “his dog to attack”.

A bizarre incident in July saw a staff member come in for a volley of abuse after telling somebody they did not have permission “to play bagpipes on the site” in the North East of the country.

Over 320 people appear before District Court for offences relating to possession of child pornography since 2019

More than 320 people have been brought before the courts for offences relating to the possession of child pornography over the past four years.

Figures from the Courts Service detail how 80 people were charged with possession of imagery or videos of child sexual exploitation last year in relation to 126 separate offences.

The figures were slightly down on 2021 when 87 people were before the District Courts charged with 178 separate offences.

The Courts Service data also shows that nearly 90% of the child pornography offences that come before the District Court are sent on for trial at a higher court, reflecting the seriousness with which the crime is taken.

Finance Minister urged to introduce zero VAT rating for Covid-19 antigen tests after budget “oversight” left them facing significant price hikes

Finance Minister Michael McGrath was urged to implement a zero VAT rating on Covid-19 antigen tests on a “care and management basis” after an oversight threatened to see their prices rise for consumers.

The minister was told that the 0% VAT rate applying to the tests had not been considered during last year’s finance bill discussions due to an “oversight”.

Mr McGrath was warned that while Ireland’s vaccination programme had been a success, there still remained “significant levels of this virus in general circulation”.

A submission said: “This is reinforced by the public health guidelines which continue to advise caution, in particular recommending self-isolation if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and Covid testing for [certain] categories [of people].”

Officials said that antigen tests had been subject to a zero VAT rate up until 31 December of last year based on a derogation from the EU Commission during the pandemic.

They said the derogation had now expired but it was now possible to introduce changes that would ensure the 0% rate would apply permanently.

The submission added: “Due to an oversight this was not considered as part of the Finance Bill 2022 process.”

Officials said it should now be introduced with immediate effect but that it would require legislation, which could take time.

However, the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners had said he would “listen to a request” for a zero rating to apply on a care and management basis until the necessary laws were in place.