The mystery of the €95 Oireachtas phone call

(This is a story featured in the Mail On Sunday, by Ken Foxe)

A politician ran up a €95 bill on one single phone call but Oireachtas authorities have no way of tracking down who made it.

The same person is understood to have run up more than €344 in costs on five separate phone calls to Colombia, records from the Oireachtas show and details of which were published in the Irish Mail on Sunday.

The single most expensive call, made in May of this year, to an unidentified number in South America ended up lasting one hour and three minutes. It was made during peak time and charged at a rate of €1.50 per minute with the final bill coming in at precisely €94.79.

The hundred most expensive calls from the Oireachtas have cost the taxpayer in excess of €3,400 since the beginning of 2011.

However, there is no way of checking on the vast majority of these calls and whether they relate to legitimate business or were simply keeping in touch with family members or friends abroad.Phone calls made by TDs and Senators, under law, are not logged for ‘reasons of privacy and confidentiality’ meaning their legitimacy can never be checked.

The costly calls form part of more than €280,000 that will have been spent providing free telephony to politicians and staff during the past two years.

Two of the ten most expensive calls listed on Oireachtas records were made to Colombia with the second costing €86.06. Seven of the most expensive calls were made to Kenya, mostly at peak time, and cost between €61.44 and €79.51, while a further call to Mozambique cost €76.01.

Enormous bills were also run up on calls that seem inexplicably long with a 17 hour phone call listed on January 20. That call, made to an Irish phone number at peak time, ended up costing the taxpayer €36.72 and was attributed to ‘faults in [a] broadcasting line’. Two other marathon phone calls are also listed in the Top 100 with a 14 half hour call costing €31.28 and a 13 hour one costing just under €30.

Here is the data in full: (Download here)

Information Commissioner orders release of IDA data

Here at we appeal lots of decisions of public authorities to the Information Commissioner. Of course the one that has taken the longest is our appeal against NAMA and Anglo Irish Bank in relation to environmental information (via AIE not FOI). We are awaiting judgment from the High Court in relation to that appeal.

However many of these appeals often result in what are known as ‘settlements’. These are situations where the OIC acts as a neutral arbiter, and the requester and public authority come to an agreement on the release of information.

But in situations where no agreement can be reached, the OIC must make a formal decision, about who is right and who is wrong with regards to exemptions being applied to information releases. On this occasion no agreement could be reached, as the IDA insisted that they were not in a position to release the information I had requested.

Following a series of submissions, and again with the help of Fred Logue, the Information Commissioner has ordered the IDA to release data I had requested. This process in total cost €240 (a figure we should be ashamed of, as one of the only countries in the world that charges for this type of process). It also took a large amount of time – I sent this request for information in January 2011.

The issue of the release centred mainly on Section 28 – Personal Information. This is one of the most oft used exemptions in Irish FOI and is often misapplied by public authorities (indeed I have just submitted another appeal to the OIC which again centres on Section 28). The long and short of it was this: I wanted to know who leased property to the IDA. I was given some names and the names of some companies, but not all names. The IDA decided that releasing the names of individuals who lease property to the IDA would be a breach of their privacy rights and that the public interest would not be served by their release.

We disagreed and argued strongly that this was wrong on a number of levels. In their preliminary view several months ago, the OIC agreed with the IDA that the information was potentially personal. After 2 years and lengthy submissions, the OIC has agreed with our position, insisting that:

“…whilst I empathise with the affected third parties in relation to any concems they might have over their personal safety in particular, I consider that the public interest in optimising openness and transparency in relation to the use of public funds outweighs, on balance, the public interest in protecting the right to privacy of the individuals in question.”

Here is the decision in full and the submission we made in relation to it. For those of you who have Section 28 applied to your requests, it is worth reading in full. We will publish the data released as soon as we have it.

This was our submission to the OIC:

Continue reading “Information Commissioner orders release of IDA data”

Ivan Yates bankruptcy documents

There are the bankruptcy documents of former Minister and broadcaster Ivan Yates. He is one of many who have gone to the UK to avail of a more lenient bankruptcy regime there.

The documents were released in full to the Sunday Times, who made them available to I have removed some information that I would deem to be not relevant, including bank account numbers, national insurance numbers, mobile numbers, email and a car registration number.