Almost 1,400 bogus or hoax calls to National Ambulance Service last year

The National Ambulance Service (NAS) received almost 1,400 bogus or hoax calls last year with every single call having to be thoroughly vetted to see first if it’s an emergency.

Figures from the NAS reveal how the number of prank or bogus calls began to rise sharply in the second half of last year from just 76 in the month of January to 151 by year end in December.

There were also higher rates of bogus or hoax calls in months normally associated with school holidays including June (152) and July (153), although the August figure was 125.

The NAS said calls were categorised as a hoax where the caller terminated the conversation before providing sufficient detail to warrant sending an ambulance.

They also arose where the criteria for dispatching an ambulance were not met or in cases where a crew did respond but nothing was found.

The NAS said emergency call takers had expertise in sifting out bogus calls through set questions for verifying whether an ambulance was needed.

They said: “Other indications are the caller laughing (adult or child). The trained emergency call taker would escalate a suspected hoax call to the control supervisor who would assess, analyse and make a decision on the authenticity of the call.”

The NAS said they had received more than 363,000 calls last year, of which only a small fraction were hoax calls.

Detailed data on the number of emergency calls showed spikes in January, July, August, and December when at least 32,000 calls were made each month, or at least 1,000 per day.

Briefing for board of National Transport Authority on the safety of public transport services

Marauding gangs of youths on commuter train services, stones getting thrown at buses, and trams being removed from service because of malicious damage were the key issues in a security update for the board of the National Transport Authority.

However, an internal presentation said that despite perceptions, the overall trend for anti-social activity on public transport was in fact reducing.

Another “noticeable trend” was that most of the anti-social problems being caused typically involved fare evaders, according to a presentation.

Taoiseach left “stranded” in Brussels after Air Corps plane due to fly him back to Ireland develops technical issue

Taoiseach Michéal Martin and his team were left “stranded” in Brussels after an Air Corps aircraft scheduled to fly them home went out of service at the last minute.

The incident caused acute embarrassment in the Department of Defence who were told they had twice in quick succession been unable to support the Taoiseach for strategically important EU and international engagements.

In emails, senior officials at the Taoiseach’s department said the latest breakdown marked a “further deterioration” in the service being provided for flying ministers around the globe.

Garda audit discovers overnight allowance claims for overnight trips that had never taken place

A garda internal audit found that some officers were claiming overnight allowances for overnight trips that had not taken place.

Garda management had approved the practice instead of allowing those involved to claim for overtime, according to an internal audit that was carried out.

The practice came to light after an anonymous complaint saw garda college management carry out an initial review before asking internal auditors to do a full inquiry.

The audit of travel and subsistence payments at the Garda College also discovered other issues including the claiming of travel and subsistence expenses by members not stationed there without pre-approval.

Also discovered were claim forms that were not properly filled out while others had “vague descriptions” of the nature and location of duties carried out.

Internal auditors said they could provide only “limited” assurance on controls in place because of what they described as the “significance” of their findings.

Discussions between Oireachtas, Facebook, and Twitter on support for TDs and Senators facing abuse on social media

Facebook and Twitter are offering special support services for TDs and Senators who feel they are the subject of abuse online.

The two social media giants provided briefings to politicians earlier this year with both promising enhanced facilities for reporting harassment and other harmful content.

According to an internal Oireachtas paper, Facebook opened a new reporting channel that TDs and Senators can have direct access to.

They also promised to deliver briefings to politicians focused on “safety and security” for their use of both Facebook and their parent company Meta’s other major platform Instagram.

These seminars would take place in Leinster House and would be carried out on a regular basis to cater for all working there, according to the briefing.

It said: “Facebook to work with the Oireachtas in encouraging Members to use the [name redacted] reporting channel.”

Twitter said they would be carrying out “best practice” training for TDs, Senators, and their staff, with plans for a series of workshops.

A “partner support portal” was also made available to all political parties and groups with the Oireachtas to take a role in helping “expedite responses” to abusive material that was reported.

Twitter said they would “onboard” a centralised Oireachtas account to the portal that would allow for direct access to report abusive or harmful tweets.

The memo said: “This account owner can also act as a primary point of contact between Twitter and the Houses of Oireachtas for escalations.”

Ninety per cent of jockeys used some form of rapid weight loss measure to make weight for racing with a small number reporting vomiting

A small number of Irish jockeys were using vomiting to control their weight with more than half of jockeys saying it was a constant struggle to achieve the right weight for racing.

The disclosure came in research carried out by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) ahead of moves to end the availability of saunas at racecourses.

More than 80% of jockeys wanted saunas kept open but research detailed how around 10% of jockeys are “severely dehydrated” when riding.

The records also warned of profound mental health effects from the use of rapid weight loss technique including “psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and adverse alcohol use”.

Earlier this year, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) confirmed the permanent closure of saunas with jockeys given an extra weight allowance to create a healthier working environment for them.

Briefings for Ger Deering on appointment as Information Commissioner and Commissioner for Environmental Information

The Information Commissioner was told government departments and public bodies were failing to resource Freedom of Information (FOI) properly and that public servants were not being given enough training to make good quality decisions.

A briefing for the recently appointed Information Commissioner Ger Deering said that public bodies had consistently failed to allocate enough resources to adequately fund FOI.

It also highlighted the failure of public bodies to make sure those tasked with making decisions had enough access to training, support, and expertise.

The analysis stands in stark contrast to comments made by Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath who has repeatedly claimed FOI is “robust and functioning well”.

The briefing – which was prepared late last year by officials – paints a somewhat bleak picture of information access in Ireland saying the Information Commissioner needed to do more to ensure public bodies dedicated adequate resources to FOI.

It said: “[We have] had very few interactions in recent years with heads of [public] bodies who might need some encouragement to make such commitments and it is an area in which we should do more.”

The briefing said FOI decision making was almost always “tagged on as an additional function” to civil servants who had other jobs.

And it said that FOI officers tended to be replaced quite regularly, thus “continuing the cycle of inexperienced decision makers making decisions”.

The Information Commissioner had themselves recruited somebody to develop an outreach programme to help public bodies whose decision making they considered “deficient”. However, this person had left their post with significant delays in filling the vacancy.

“As such, we have undertaken very little outreach work since May 2021,” said the briefing, “which we are keen to restart.”

The Information Commissioner (OIC) said they had their own difficulties in keeping staff with many of their senior staff taking advantage of a “mobility scheme” to move elsewhere in the public service.

The briefing explained: “OIC is experiencing higher staff turnover and are facing lengthy delays in having vacancies filled. The problems are more acute for the OIC, given the specific skills set we believe to be necessary for high calibre case workers.

“OIC has lost significant expertise in recent years, and it has a relatively inexperienced team overall. This is not helpful in circumstances where demand for our services has been increasing.”

The new Information Commissioner was also told of the “significant resource implications” of FOI decisions being appealed to court in terms of time and costs.

They said this influenced their approach to “engagement with parties to a review” and the level of detail they provided in their decisions.

The briefing concluded: “It remains an ongoing concern.”

A separate briefing for Ger Deering on FOI’s sister system for requesting records, the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations, detailed how cases in that area had doubled in the space of three years.

It said that the current environmental and housing crises meant this would continue and explained how negative findings had been made against Ireland on how it dealt with such requests by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee.

A slideshow presentation said that in one year 19% of cases they received were ending up in the High Court, but that this had brought “clarity to the law” and a subsequent fall-off in court appeals.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner said that since the briefing was drafted in November last year, they had been able to recruit three additional staff.

He said: “In addition, existing staff have continued to further develop the skills and knowledge required to carry out their roles.”

The spokesman said that the newly appointed commissioner Ger Deering planned to engage with public bodies and raise all the issues highlighted in the briefing, including the lack of resources and training for information access.

Forty three prisoners escaped or absconded from jail over the past four years – only two remain at large

Forty three prisoners, including criminals serving time for kidnapping, robbery, threats to murder, and homicide offences have escaped or absconded from jail over the past four years.

However, of all those who made a run for it, forty-one have been returned to custody and only two of them remain unaccounted for.

The Irish Prison Service said that between 2018 and 2021, eight prisoners had escaped from closed prisons, or while they were on a prison escort, appearing in court, or during a hospital or medical appointment.

All eight of them have been recaptured however and were returned to prison to serve the rest of their sentence.

Another 35 prisoners absconded from the country’s two low-security ‘open’ prisons, Loughan House in Co Cavan and Shelton Abbey in Co Wicklow.

Ministers claim more than €260,000 in special tax allowance for purchase or rental of a second home in Dublin

Government ministers have claimed almost €260,000 in a special allowance that lets them buy or rent a second home in Dublin.

The Revenue Commissioners said that between ten and fourteen ministers had been in receipt of the so-called ‘dual abode allowance’ in each of the past four years.

The more than forty claims made since 2018 resulted in tax write-offs of over €103,000 for the politicians, each of whom already earn between €141,000 and €183,000 every year, or over €200,000 in the case of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.

Revenue said that fewer than ten senior politicians had availed of the dual abode allowance last year, claiming €30,050 and resulting in tax savings of €12,020.

However, those figures are likely to rise as a four-year time limit is in place for the special tax break.

Department of Finance officials warned forcing banks to pay higher levy would lead to extra costs for customers

Officials at the Department of Finance warned that forcing the state’s three banks to pay €150 million in the bank levy this year could lead to “further cost cutting”, higher costs for consumers, and would be “particularly onerous” for the smallest of them Permanent TSB.

In submissions for Minister Paschal Donohoe, officials said that maintaining annual income from the levy as KBC and Ulster Bank departed the Irish market would leave AIB, Bank of Ireland, and Permanent TSB to foot the full annual bill.

They said forcing the three banks to bear a “higher share” of the levy would ultimately hit consumers in the form of higher charges and lending rates.

In detailed arguments on the future of bank levy, they said it remained a factor that any new bank looking to enter the Irish market would consider if planning to do business here.

It also said that the levy – no matter what – would “never provide for the recovery of the costs of the financial crisis”.