Audit on attendance of prison officers finds glaring issues including one staff member off duty for five years before being dismissed

Concerns were raised over how the Irish Prison Service manages officers who take excessive sick leave with one staff member off duty for five years before they were dismissed from their job.

An internal audit looked at 99 cases where disciplinary action was instituted against staff who were frequently absent, and found issues in how more than 70% of the cases were handled.

It found cases where evidence to support the decision to issue a warning letter was not kept properly and where monitoring of attendance of those already given a formal warning was not done in time.

The report explained: “In one example, a period of four years had passed between the issues of an ‘A’ warning letter and ‘B’ warning letter despite continued poor attendance.”

It also found that in 21 cases – where poor attendance continued even after a first warning – no further warning letter had issued to the prison officer involved.

In one case, a prison officer was issued with a letter in September 2018 but were permitted to take part in an intervention programme.

However, by the time the case was examined in 2020, the staff member’s performance had not improved with the Irish Prison Service proposing another warning.

The audit remarked: “An intervention programme is expected to last three to four months, not two years.”

In another case, a letter was issued to a prison officer in October 2018 who told bosses they instead planned to avail of ill-health retirement.

“It is noted that the officer did not retire until July 2019, some nine months after the letter was issued,” said the report.

A third case found that a disciplinary letter was issued to a prison officer in May 2019; however, dismissal did not take place until June 2020.

The report said: “The officer had been absent from their post since 2015.”

County council ordered to pay back €170,000 in ineligible funding for development of a bog walkway

A county council was forced to pay back almost €170,000 in funding for a bog walkway after an audit found invoices with incorrect VAT charges, substantial errors in records, and work believed to have been double claimed using state grants.

The Department of Rural and Community Development said an application for funding for the project in Co Longford was not the same as what had been “delivered on the ground”.

The audit also said Longford County Council seemed to have been “double funded” for parts of the walkway with invoices transferred over to another grant the local authority received.

It said the council had not had all planning requirements, permissions, or consents in place when they began work on the Knappogue Bog Walk and that its true cost now “cannot be verified”.

The audit also found VAT overcharges with rates of 23% on some invoices submitted for work when a lower 13.5% rate should have applied.

It said there were “substantial errors on the compliance checklist submitted” to the department with auditors saying all €168,039 claimed in funding was ineligible.

The audit said: “The project applied for is not the project delivered on the ground and numerous funding agreement conditions have not been adhered to.”

The audit was just one of dozens carried out by the Department of Rural and Community Development, which were obtained under FOI by Right to Know.

You can have a browse through them below.

If you’re working in local media and find any that are of interest, feel free to use … and maybe give Right to Know a plug!

Rising interest rates were positive for Irish banks and meant time was right for state to sell another part of its stake in AIB

Interest rate hikes by the European Central Bank had been “positive for Irish banks” and meant the timing was right for the state to sell more of its share in AIB, according to Department of Finance documents.

In submissions to Minister Paschal Donohoe, department officials said investor appetite for AIB had increased “notwithstanding lingering concerns” of a recession coming in Europe.

They said feedback from investment banks suggested the state could easily sell a stake of between €300 and €400 million in AIB at a much better price than in the most recent previous share offload in June.

A submission said: “The recent ECB rate increases [are] positive for Irish banks as they are among the most rate sensitive banks in Europe.

“The consolidation of the Irish banking sector is driving growth for the remaining banks while there is continued earnings momentum from improved operating leverage.”

Department said global reform of corporation tax strengthened case for retention of generous tax relief scheme for highly-paid executives

The Department of Enterprise said there was an even stronger case to keep a special tax relief scheme for highly-paid multinational executives because of the international crackdown on tax avoidance.

In a pre-budget submission, the department said global reform of how corporation tax was levied made the case for the controversial Special Assignee Relief Programme (SARP) even more compelling.

It said there was a clear relationship between the location of key senior staff and corporation tax, which had been made “increasingly relevant” by international tax developments.

The submission said: “For intangible assets, the contractual right to an asset is no longer sufficient to establish the location of the asset for tax purposes.

“The decision makers, the people who control the risks relating to those assets in an operational and functional sense, must be located in the jurisdiction.”

It said Ireland needed to ensure its personal tax rates did not act as a deterrent to “key management staff … locating [here]”.

Department of Foreign Affairs faces backlog of 30,000 complex foreign birth registrations, many of them post-Brexit applications by U.K. citizens

The Department of Foreign Affairs said they were snowed under with a backlog of more than 30,000 complex foreign birth registrations, many from UK citizens looking for Irish passports after Brexit.

In pre-budget discussions, the department said it had been a difficult year for their passport services, as they struggled to deal with a bounce-back in demand after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

In a letter to the Department of Public Expenditure, they asked for an extra €15 million in funding this year to ensure no backlogs and to help pay for a Passport Reform programme.

The department said they had been granted an extra €10 million for 2022 to help in issuing a record 1.2 million passports this year.

And they said they would need to retain the same allocation this year with passport applications again predicted to be around 1.2 million in 2023.

In the letter, Department Secretary General Joe Hackett wrote: “During 2022, we have seen multiple record months for the number of applications received.

“As you are aware, we encountered some customer service issues, particularly in relation to our call centre. This was primarily due to the challenges in the recruitment of staff. I am pleased that these issues have now been resolved.”

Mr Hackett said the extra funding would also be used to tackle a 30,000-long backlog in “complex foreign birth registration applications”.

Fáilte Ireland CEO said he did not “in principle” like to support accommodation providers who used their promotional work and the Ukraine crisis to hike prices and damage Ireland’s brand

The chief executive of Fáilte Ireland Paul Kelly suggested the lack of affordable hotel accommodation available at popular Irish tourist spots might be an opportunity to promote “lesser-known destinations”.

With the tourism industry dogged by complaints about value for money this summer, Mr Kelly also told colleagues he did not “in principle” like supporting tourism businesses that had used Fáilte Ireland’s work and the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine to charge prices that had caused “reputation damage” to Ireland’s brand.

The Fáilte Ireland CEO suggested they could consider targeted marketing campaigns for accommodation that was willing to provide good deals for visitors.

He also said the tourism agency would not have a “better chance to spread the love” to lesser-visited counties like Carlow, Monaghan, Tipperary, Roscommon, and others.

Mr Kelly said in emails early this summer that the most popular tourism locations were “pretty full” but that Fáilte Ireland had budget available for marketing other places.

The message said: “Is [there an] opportunity in this availability crisis to put these places on the domestic tourism map? Should we be pivoting to highly targeted campaigns for these areas.”

Minutes of national operations group of Irish Blood Transfusion Service detail struggles with phone system, illness, and Covid restrictions

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) spent months struggling with a failing phone system which was unable to cope with the volume of calls they had to deal with as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

The service said their phone system had never been designed to deal with such high demand with walk-in donations replaced overnight by an “appointment only” system.

In meetings of their National Operations Group, the IBTS reported how they were receiving “many many donor complaints” from people struggling to get through even as stocks of blood ran perilously low.

Throughout the first five months of this year, the phone system was flagged as “a major concern”, and classified at one stage as a “red risk” with donors unable to get calls answered or even leave a message.

The IBTS said the system had been replaced in August, meaning the issue had finally been resolved after several months of problems.

Minutes of meetings of their National Operations Group describe how precarious blood supply issues became during the first half of the year between staff illnesses, phone problems, and struggles with getting donations.

More than a third of applications for scheme to regularise status of undocumented migrants have been approved so far

Around a half of all applications in a scheme allowing undocumented migrants to stay in Ireland came from three countries, Brazil, Pakistan, and China.

The Department of Justice said there had been more than 8,300 individual applicants – including families – for the scheme, which had so far generated more than €3.73 million in fees.

The department said that 2,835 applications have been granted with another 39 withdrawn while just 34 applications have been refused.

Applications relating to 5,307 people are yet to be determined while the figures also show that a significant majority of applications came from men, or around 64% of the total.

The highest number of applications came from citizens of Brazil from where there were 1,504 people applying to regularise their status.

There were a further 1,307 applicants from Pakistan and 1,159 from China, including Hong Kong, according to department figures.

Significant numbers of applicants also came from the Philippines (751 applicants), Nigeria (446 applicants), and India (313 applicants).

There were also 26 people from Russia applying for regularisation of their status and 77 from Ukraine, the figures show.

Thirty three applicants came from U.S. citizens, thirteen from Canada, thirteen from New Zealand, and 13 from an “unknown” country.

County council puzzled by failure of pedestrian bridge that was certified to last a century but had to be removed after just over twenty years

A county council said they are still trying to figure out why a bridge built to last a century failed after little more than twenty years and had to be quickly removed.

The Millennium Bridge in the historic castle town of Trim, Co Meath had to be shut this summer after an inspection found it was at immediate risk of collapse.

The footbridge over the River Boyne had only been opened in 2001 at a cost of €111,000 with tender documents specifying a structure intended to last for one hundred years.

However, a civil engineering consultant ordered it be closed immediately this summer due to what it said was a “danger of total failure”.

The emergency removal of the bridge ended up costing the taxpayer another €10,000 with a temporary ‘Bailey Bridge’ installed with the assistance of the Defence Forces.

Meath County Council said that design works for a new bridge are currently underway and they cannot say how much a permanent replacement will cost.

Councillors have been told it could be between €500,000 and €600,000 with a cost benefit analysis looking at the best option for replacing it.

A copy of an inspection report, released under FOI, explained how the bridge had scored a maximum five in a safety rating system indicating “ultimate damage”.

It described how key parts of the structure’s support system were rotten and that “similar rotting” was almost certain in joints within the bridge.

The report by civil engineers Mark Murphy Consultancy said: “The bridge is no longer fit for purpose.”

It said the footbridge should be closed immediately to all pedestrian traffic and inquiries made to see if similar issues had occurred with structures built from the same type of timber.

Oireachtas redacts details of payments made under special secretarial allowance scheme to TDs and Senators for the first time

Payments to the Gaiety School of Acting, a firm headed by former radio host Ivan Yates, and the well-known PR firm the Communications Clinic were part of more than €1.27 million paid out by the Oireachtas through a special allowance over the past year.

For the first time however, the Oireachtas has refused to release the names of dozens of individuals who were hired through the special secretarial allowance saying it was personal information.

The log of €1.274 million in expenditure is heavily redacted with the identities of people providing public relations, communications, and secretarial services to Ministers and TDs redacted.

The case has already been appealed by Right to Know and we will keep you posted on developments.