The press conference was “superb Motherajasus” – PR advice for the Department of Education on the Leaving Cert miscalculated grades saga

PR guru Terry Prone told the Department of Education that a press conference on errors in Leaving Cert grades had been “superb Motherajasus” and had helped quash any suggestion of being “jump started by [Labour leader] Alan Kelly”.

Ms Prone and her firm the Communications Clinic had been hired to help deal with the fallout from the debacle of miscalculated grades for the Leaving Cert.

The errors – affecting at least 8,000 grades – had been raised in the Dáil by Alan Kelly in dramatic fashion before they were made public by the department.

Internal correspondence from the Department of Education details how Ms Prone advised Education Minister Norma Foley on how to handle publicity around the miscalculations.

Ms Prone wrote: “The Minister might mildly point out, in response to any suggestions that she sat on it, that the level of support infrastructure for students (helpline etc) could not have been ready to go sooner than yesterday.

“But it WAS all ready yesterday, vitiating [undermining or spoiling] any suggestion of being jump-started by Alan Kelly.”

Ms Prone also cautioned about “formal verbosity” in one draft document which had the title Bloodyhell.doc and was sent with an email subject line of “Ok, here goes my attempt to become a true hate figure”.

Ministerial briefing warned of “serious implications” for Ireland’s economy from EU plans for country-by-country tax reporting

Planned EU rules for country-by-country tax reporting by multinationals would have “serious implications” for Ireland’s competitiveness and ability to attract investment to the country, a department briefing said.

The briefing said it was “strongly recommended” that Minister of State Robert Troy should make an intervention to oppose the tax changes at a public debate.

The EU wants the new law to force multinationals to report their tax payments and activities for each member state to increase transparency.

However, a Departmental briefing warned this would not benefit Ireland and was likely to impact investment from inside and outside the EU.

The brief said: “This proposal has serious implications for our competitiveness and ability to attract FDI [foreign direct investment] from both within and outside the EU, as countries including the US and Japan oppose publication of tax information.”

It also warned Minister Robert Troy of a possible conflict where he would be speaking against the change while it was being supported by Ireland’s EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness.

Access to this brief had originally been refused by the Department, but a redacted version was subsequently released following a request for internal review.

Tax demands sent to ex-wives and pandemic payment check errors: a database of Revenue data breaches from 2020

A final tax demand sent to an ex-wife, a Revenue official sent information on her former husband by accident, and a staff member’s exam results mistakenly sent to a third party were among 149 breaches recorded by the Revenue Commissioners last year.

Revenue said the majority of the breaches were caused by human error and the volume of such incidents had been low given the volume of data they deal with.

A detailed log of the incidents reveals a significant chunk of the incidents related to Covid-19 support payments.

There were 26 cases where a compliance check letter was sent to a company with an incorrect list of employees.

Another 7 cases were recorded where a compliance letter was sent to the wrong tax agent, according to a database provided by Revenue.

Other one-off incidents included one where a taxpayer’s medical receipts were sent to the wrong person and a breach where an email about a taxpayer’s audit was attached to an “unconnected third party’s correspondence”.

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.”

If you like to read records like this, please consider becoming a Patreon.

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.