A breakdown of €674,000 in payments made through the Oireachtas’ special secretarial allowance

Ministers, TDs, and Senators spent more than €674,000 through a special allowance they can use for PR advice, consultancy, or secretarial assistance.

Among the payments since the last election were €6,154 to writer and actress Stefanie Preissner for public relations advice for Minister of State Anne Rabbitte.

A number of politicians hired family members through the allowance including Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley who paid his wife Emer €10,400 for secretarial assistance.

TD Aindrias Moynihan also paid his son, also called Aindrias, a total of €9,861 for secretarial assistance, according to records released by the Oireachtas.

The special secretarial allowance is available to Ministers, TDs, and Senators to cover the costs of consultancy, public relations, and IT support.

It can also be used to hire a secretarial assistant especially where TDs or Senators are looking for somebody to work for them temporarily.

The €674,719 in payments were made in the period between June of last year and this January.

A log of accidents and incidents recorded by the Courts Service including one man who tried to bring his dog to court

Bomb threats, a mystery insect bite, a defendant who headbutted a pane of glass, and a man who tried to bring his dog to court were among the accidents and incidents logged by the Courts Service last year.

Multiple breaches of Covid-19 restrictions involving members of the public and also members of the legal profession were also reported.

There were more than 100 events recorded in the Courts Service official estates management incident database for 2020, including a number of accidents involving judges.

One incident saw an altercation between court security staff at the public screening area at the entrance to the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin.

“The person tried to bring a dog into the building in their satchel,” said a log of the incident. “[The security staff] would not permit this.”

In another case in the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ), a member of the public said a door to a smoking area had slammed shut on their foot.

At Trim Courthouse in Meath, a sinister incident was reported where a witness was on the receiving end of abuse.

The Courts Service log said: “A person who was sitting in the body of the court received abusive comments and threats from another person when they were coming back from the witness box.”

You can read the full database below.

SIPO told former FG minister Michael D’Arcy he should have notified them of new role as chief executive in Irish Association of Investment Managers

An inquiry by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) found a former Fine Gael minister should have notified them he planned to immediately take up a lucrative role with an organisation representing investment funds after resigning as a Senator.

However, the Standards Commission were powerless to act and had such weak powers they could not even compel Michael D’Arcy to correspond with them because of a “lacuna” in lobbying legislation.

Internal records also reveal how SIPO had repeatedly flagged their lack of enforcement powers with the Department of Public Expenditure but that nothing had been done to strengthen the law.

Former Fine Gael Minister Michael D’Arcy had stepped down as a Senator last September to take up a role as chief executive of the Irish Association of Investment Managers.

Two TDs – Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Deputy Paul Murphy – made complaints to the Standards Commission about the move and why a one-year cooling-off period had not applied for the job change.

However, documents describe how SIPO’s hands were tied in what they could do despite believing Mr D’Arcy should have notified them about the post.

In a letter to him last November, they wrote: “On the basis of the information available to it, the Commission is of the view that your obligations under Section 22 of the Act were engaged in taking up such a position, given the nature of the organisation and its registration on the Register of Lobbying, and that the consent of the Commission should have been sought.

“The Commission has formed no view as to whether consent would have been granted, with or without conditions.”

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IDA submission to review of National Development Plan raises “reputational risk” from delays in planning process

This is a copy of a submission made by IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan to the Department of Public Expenditure on the National Development Plan.

The submission raises a variety of issues over the efficiency of Ireland’s planning system warning some aspects of it were becoming a “reputational risk” for the country.

These include:

  • the protracted nature of the judicial review process.
  • the way judicial review has become almost a ‘de facto’ step in the planning process.
  • delays in leasing and licensing regime for foreshore development.

It also touches on climate change, telecommunications, education, and the water and energy networks.

This record was kindly provided to Right to Know by Tom Lyons who wrote about it in TheCurrency here.

Local authority inspections failed to deal with food producers where rodent activity, untraceable meat, and long-standing hygiene problems were discovered

A local authority was accused of failing to protect consumers and of carrying out inspections that did not identify long-standing food hygiene problems.

The Food Safety Authority (FSAI) said the council was carrying out fewer inspections than they were supposed to, had not dealt with serious issues first raised in a 2015 audit, and that it was difficult to have confidence in work that was being carried out.

Cavan County Council had also not spotted unlabelled allergens in one seasoning product that had been in shops for ten years, the authority said.

Internal emails also detail how inspectors from the FSAI went to business premises in the county and found dirty, unhygienic conditions, untraceable meat, as well as rodent activity.

The records said these problems did not appear to be new suggesting that the council’s previous inspections had been ineffective in identifying serious food safety issues.

The food safety authority also raised questions over whether a veterinary inspector – paid for out of FSAI grants – was working full-time in food safety.

They also highlighted consistent delays by the council in uploading inspection reports to an online system, according to records released under FOI.

In May of 2019, the FSAI sent a letter to the council following two joint inspections, one of which had discovered a “grave and immediate danger to public health” at a business premises.

The letter said: “The FSAI had serious concerns regarding the effectiveness of the Council’s official controls at this former premises and the appropriateness of the Council’s decision to grant approval there.”

One of the inspections had discovered rodent activity, a drain discharging onto a floor, and poor controls for dangerous listeria and botulinum toxins.

A second inspection of a sausage producer found meat smokers in a yard with a pet dog present and the processing area in a “filthy and unhygienic condition”.

There was lack of traceability on meat goods, and the business was deemed “wholly unsuitable for the nature of the operations”.

Internal audits from Cavan County Council, the first of 31 sets of such records Right to Know plans to publish in the months ahead

Over the coming months, Right to Know plans to publish internal audits from local authorities right across the country.

We are starting for alphabetical reasons with Cavan County Council (the Carlow records are infuriatingly currently the subject of a totally unnecessary internal review).

These are the types of projects we would like to do a lot more of over the coming years.

We can’t however do them without resources, so if you are in position to support us, please consider signing up to our Patreon.

If you are a local reporter and wish to use these records – feel free to do so. The only thing we would ask is that you consider mentioning Right to Know in any reports that you do, and let us know.

The request we made was for all internal audits from 2019 and 2020.

In some cases, local authorities said they would have to charge fees to provide all the records so where that arose, we asked for a list of the internal audits instead.

From that list, we selected the ones we (very unscientifically) thought sounded most interesting.

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien’s approval for councillor expenses to be paid for virtual meetings during Covid-19 pandemic

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien signed off on a plan to ensure councillors would not lose expenses for non-attendance at meetings during the pandemic.

The minister was told that councillors were obliged to attend 80% of meetings during a year to receive full payment of their expenses allowance.

However, Covid-19 restrictions where some members were cocooning, because of age or medical conditions, while other councillors were self-isolating had played havoc with actual physical attendance.

In a briefing prepared for Mr O’Brien, the minister was warned there were significant legal concerns last summer about council votes taking place “using online platforms” and the possibility of legal challenge.

Officials said that their legal advice – and the advice given to several local councils – was that council meetings must take place in a “physical location”.

As a result, some councils were running what were called “minimum quorum” meetings where a small number would show up in-person by agreement with other councillors.

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A snapshot of the 280 prisoners on temporary release from Irish jails from the last day of January

Prisoners serving time for drugs offences and theft were most likely to be granted temporary release with some people released within weeks of being sent to jail.

A detailed breakdown from the Irish Prison Services reveals that of the 280 people on temporary release at the end of last month, 73 were in jail for “controlled drug offences” while 52 had been imprisoned for “theft and related offences”.

There were another 28 people given release that were serving sentences for attempts or threats to murder, and 4 who had been convicted of weapons and explosives offences.

The figures also show five people serving homicide offences – including three women from the Dóchas Centre in Dublin – had been given temporary release.

This included one man serving a sentence of more than 10 years from Mountjoy who had been sent to prison in October 2013.

There were also 12 people released who had been serving time for robbery, extortion, or hijacking, and 4 who’d been convicted of offences related to terrorism or organised crime.

In some cases, convicted criminals were released just days or weeks after being committed to prison, according to a database that was released under FOI.

Garda audit flags case where officer was on duty in three different places at the same time

An official audit of garda payroll found evidence that some officers were paid for performing duties at different locations at the same time.

The report also said the health and safety of both officers and the public were placed at “significant risk” because of how many hours some gardaí were working.

It found more than 1,050 cases where a garda had more than 16 hours duty over the course of a continuous 24-hour period.

A case where time and attendance were reported by one person at the Three Arena, on a major garda operation, and for processing files at the same time was also raised in the report.

It said concerns about “the level of work in some cases” had been passed to Garda Internal Affairs and was under investigation.

The audit also listed an astonishing case where an officer had performed 75.25 hours over a period of 80.5 hours.

It said “herculean levels of duty” like that were questionable on health and safety grounds.

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