Road Safety Authority research flagged concerns over effectiveness of doubling fines with many Irish drivers feeling they are “unlikely to be apprehended”

Road Safety Authority (RSA) research raised concerns that increased fines for speeding and using mobile phones might not work as many drivers believed they were unlikely to be caught while others were not bothered by a potential doubling of fines.

In research submitted to the Department of Transport, the RSA said there was a perception there were “not enough [gardaí] policing the roads” of Ireland.

This meant many drivers felt they were “unlikely to be apprehended while engaging in traffic offences”, according to the paper.

The research paper was submitted to the department in August, a few months before the department announced fines for 16 road safety offences would be doubled from last October.

The report by the RSA’s research department examined multiple pieces of work from recent years on driver behaviour in Ireland.

They said a major concern was that less than half – or between 35 and 44% – of drivers had said doubling fines would have a positive impact on their driving behaviour.

It said more research was needed on how penalty severity, swiftness of punishment, and likelihood of apprehension would deter offending.

The RSA research also flagged “enforcement perceptions” particularly around the number of gardaí who policed the roads.

It said: “Enforcement is critical to the success of any penalty increases, as deterrence theory posits that people will not change their behaviour unless they believe they are likely to be detected, and then receive a swift and severe punishment.”

Department of Defence claimed it was “grossly inequitable” to take savings they made on military pay away from them

The Department of Defence said it was “grossly inequitable” they were to be penalised for making savings on military pay which they wanted to use to help plug gaps in rest of their budget.

In pre-budget discussions, the department’s secretary general told the Department of Public Expenditure there was a long-standing arrangement they could keep the cash they saved for military equipment, buildings, and other needs.

In a strongly-worded letter, the defence secretary general Jacqui McCrum said: “It has now been proposed that this arrangement should be discontinued with immediate effect.

“It is my very strong view that it is grossly inequitable to seek to change these arrangements midway through the National Development Plan and I would appreciate your assurances that this arrangement can continue.”

Ms McCrum said discussions between her department and officials at the Department of Public Expenditure in the run-up to Budget 2023 had raised a “number of issues of very significant concern”.

Trump Hotels say works to fragile sand dunes in Co Clare were to stop people “trampling and traversing” all over them

A hotel belonging to Donald Trump said they were trying to protect fragile sand dunes from getting trampled in the latest twist in a saga over the erection of fencing near his luxury Irish resort.

In a letter to Clare County Council, Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg denied they had carried out any unauthorised development on a nearby beach and dunes.

They said they had installed fencing to combat what they called “the regular trampling and traversing” of the dunes at Doughmore Strand.

The hotel said it had been causing “significant erosion” and was undermining the “fragile dune system” in the area.

In their letter, they said Clare County Council had themselves erected signage to try and keep people from walking up and down the dunes.

The Trump Hotel added: “However, the issue has persisted and this had led to further undermining of the dunes.

“In order to prevent further activity on and damage to the dunes, fencing was erected along the sea front. The fencing erected is similar to fencing which is already in place along the top of the dunes which is designed to stop people (golfers) from walking down the dune face.”

Trump’s hotel said works to manage coastal erosion had previously been allowed by the council and that “sand trap fencing” had long been part of those efforts.

Their managing director Joe Russell wrote: “We deny the existence of any unauthorised development on [the] lands … however, we are committed to engaging with the planning authority as part of this process and in respect of any future conservation management activities.”

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.