Commissioner orders An Garda Siochana to release more records

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This time last year we sought certain records from An Garda Siochana. These included several audits that were carried out (we knew of audits because we had earlier sought the audit log). AGS refused to release most of the records we sought. This is what we sought:

1) The following 2014 audit reports:

Audit of NBCI
Expenditure review 2013 Vehicle Maintenance Contract
Expenditure review 2014 GoSafe Camera Contract
Audit Mayo Division
Review Audit Mayo

2) The following 2013 audit reports:

Audit of procurement
Audit of the Serious Crime Review Team following Allegations of Financial Irregularities
Audit of the Offices of the Regional Assistant Commissioners

3) The following 2012 audit reports:

Audit of Compensation Claims
Audit of Controls in the Fixed Charge Penalty Office
Audit of Tranman System
Review of CCTV systems

We appealed to the Information Commissioner, who has now ruled on the issue. You can read the full decision here.

The Commissioner has directed release of large numbers of records, including portions of documents that were previously redacted. We will publish all records upon release.

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Michael Noonan’s diary Jan – Jun 2016

Part of an ongoing process. This is the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s diary for January to June 2016.

Previously:

Minister for Finance diary 2015
Minister for Finance diary 2014
Minister for Finance diary 2013
Minister for Finance diary 2012
Minister for Finance diary 2011
Minister for Finance diary 2010
Minister for Finance diary 2009
Minister for Finance diary 2008
Minister for Finance diary 2007
Minister for Finance diary 2006
Minister for Finance diary 2005
Minister for Finance diary 2004
Minister for Finance diary 2003
Minister for Finance diary 2002
Minister for Finance diary 2001
Minister for Finance diary 2000
Minister for Finance diary 1999
Minister for Finance diary 1998

Representations received by Finance

This is a log of representations received by the Department/Minister for Finance from January to May 2016. Representation, or correspondence logs, are interesting to see how a Minister or Department is interacting with lobby groups, politicians, or members of the public. Most of the redactions are for mobile telephone numbers (ie personal information).

Why does the IDA want lower income taxes?

[Cross posted from Right To Know]

Earlier this year a newspaper report indicated that the IDA was lobbying against higher income taxes claiming that high income tax was making it difficult to attract foreign investment and was hitting job creation.

In August last year we submitted an FOI request looking for the analysis to back up these claims and all records of any lobbying in respect of income tax and social security rates in Ireland.

The IDA said that it continually analyses personal taxation and social security and how it influences FDI in Ireland and pointed to various methods including a 2015 survey by KPMG, a report from the Tax Institute and engagements with stakeholders, clients and staff. Specifically IDA undertook research in 2016 to identify reasons why some companies who considered Ireland chose to go elsewhere. According to the IDA, personal tax was among the reasons why they did not choose Ireland.

However, none of the underlying records were identified or released.

All IDA provided were redacted copies of 2017 pre-budget submissions calling on the government to reduce the top rate of income tax from 52% to below 50% and to set out a road map of income tax reductions up to 2020.

Tax rates are a big public interest issue. Taxes are used to fund public services (including the IDA it must be noted). With lower tax rates there must be an objective analysis of the trade-offs that are being made. While nobody necessarily wants to pay more tax – a public body such as the IDA would be expected to be sensitive to the bigger issues at play when it calls for tax cuts. In particular there must be a clear public benefit based on objective analysis so that the IDA position is substantially more than mere lobbying on behalf of big business.

We believe that the IDA must disclose its tax analysis and identify the interests that are driving it to intervene in the public debate over tax rates. To that end we are not satisfied that so much information has been withheld and have now filed an application with the Information Commissioner to review the IDA’s decision to keep the bulk of its information supporting its position on lower taxes from public scrutiny.

The Information Commissioner has invited us to make a submission in early January and we expect him to make a decision shortly after that.

We will keep you posted.

Here is IDA’s response:

Release: €65 million in Department of Foreign Affairs spending data

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This is a datadump of all spending by the Department of Foreign Affairs across a wide range of categories for 2015.

Included is the €46,000-a-month spent on renting a residence for the Ambassador in Tokyo, as well as the €5,400-a-month for a home for our most senior diplomat in the Vatican. Also in there is the €165,000 for an armoured car for our man in Ramallah, and €60,000 for a non-armoured Mercedes Benz for the Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

It includes €250,000 for furniture removal, and just over €220,000 on business class flights out of a €2million+ bill for airfares. About €180,000 was spent on hotels, with the biggest bill of €5,752 charged to the protocol division by the five-star Glenlo Abbey in Galway for hosting the German President.

Another large cost was “maintenance”, mostly to houses and embassies rented by the department. One contract was just over €210,000. Cars cost more than €750,000, with €69,000 spent in Ethiopia, €64,000 in Mozambique and €37,000 in Uganda — countries in which Irish Aid, the state’s overseas aid agency, is active.

A bill of €475,000 was run up on official entertainment, while a chauffeuring company was paid more than €50,000. Dublin Airport Authority was paid €16,400 for VIP lounges and other services.

Across the network of embassies and consulates, the bill for cable and satellite television came to €72,000 with the highest at Ireland’s UN office and consulates in New York. Cleaning bills for the diplomatic buildings exceeded €1m. The department also paid €186,654 in “settlement costs” to former local staff at the Irish embassy in Lesotho, following its closure in 2014.

Here is the raw data:

Download raw data here.

Continue reading “Release: €65 million in Department of Foreign Affairs spending data”

NAMA CEO’s slides on past, present and future of bad bank

NAMA Chief Executive Brendan McDonagh gave a presentation at NAMA’s away day in March 2016.

The slides give a frank and easy-to-read overview of how NAMA perceives its work to date, how work there is going at the moment, and what the future looks like. If you’re curious to learn more about these three things, we encourage you to read the deck. We obtained the slides through an FOI request. It also contains a detailed overview of NAMA’s plans for Dublin’s Docklands.

If you support our work and want it to continue, please subscribe (€).

NAMA’s away day minutes, March 2016

These are minutes related to NAMA’s away day in March 2016. They contain a summary of where NAMA is at as of that date, and where they plan to go. It includes sections on:

  • Irish Commercial Property Outlook 2016
  • Global Money flows- Is Ireland still an investment
    opportunity?
  • Dublin Docklands Update
  • Residential Development market
  • Legal Risks
  • Downsizing and Cost Management
  • NAMA residual portfolio 2016 and beyond
  • Residential Delivery update

As ever, we appreciate support to keep the information flowing. Join us here.

Right To Know complaint to Aarhus compliance committee

Last month, TheStory.ie’s parent body Right To Know instructed FPLogue solicitors to write a complaint to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC) in Geneva – the UN body empowered to oversee implementation of the Aarhus Convention. The complaint forms part of Right To Know’s objective to push for greater public rights to access information.

The complaint concerns the overwhelming decision-making delays both from the Office of the Commissioner  for Environmental Information (OCEI) and from judicial processes in Ireland in relation to requests for access to environmental information, and any appeals that result from those requests. These lengthy delays are, we believe, a breach of the Aarhus Convention which Ireland ratified in June 2012.

You can read our complaint here. 

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What is the Aarhus Convention?

The Aarhus Convention is pretty radical – which is why we like it. We strongly encourage people to read the Convention in full. The Wikipedia definition is good:

The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, usually known as the Aarhus Convention, was signed on 25 June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus. It entered into force on 30 October 2001. As of March 2014, it has 47 parties—46 states and the European Union.[1] All of the ratifying states are in Europe and Central Asia…

The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice, in governmental decision-making processes on matters concerning the local, national and transboundary environment. It focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities.

What is the ACCC?

Under Article 15 of the Convention, the Meeting of the Parties (ie countries party to the Convention), established a compliance committee which among other things accepts complaints from members of the public or NGOs concerning non-compliance by States with the terms of the convention.

The ACCC is composed of independent lawyers acting on a pro-bono basis. They make recommendations on compliance or non-compliance based on the complaints they receive, or on their own initiative. As the UN guidance states:

The compliance mechanism of the Aarhus Convention is unique in international environmental law, as it allows members of the public to communicate their concerns about a Party’s compliance directly to a board of independent experts, the Compliance Committee, who have the mandate to examine the merits of the case. However, the Committee cannot issue binding decisions, but rather may make recommendations either to the MoP, or, in certain circumstances, directly to individual Parties.

The committee makes recommendations to the MoP, and in turn the MoP can enforce the Convention through mechanisms, such as:

a) Provide advice and facilitate assistance to individual Parties regarding the implementation of the Convention;
b) Make recommendations to the Party concerned;
c) Request the Party concerned to submit a strategy, including a time schedule, to the Compliance Committee regarding the achievement of compliance with the Convention and to report on the implementation of this strategy;
d) In cases of communications from the public, make recommendations to the Party concerned on specific measures to address the matter raised by the member of the public;
e) Issue declarations of non-compliance;
f) Issue cautions;
g) Suspend, in accordance with the applicable rules of international law concerning the suspension of the operation of a treaty, the special rights and privileges accorded to the Party concerned under the Convention;
h) Take other non-confrontational, non-judicial and consultative measures as may be appropriate.

What is the issue you are complaining about?

Delays. As we state in our submission, there are lengthy delays in getting decisions from appeals bodies in Ireland. In the case involving us and NAMA, it took more than 5 years for a final decision to be issued, and even then it was still only a preliminary matter. We believe this to be a breach of Ireland’s obligations under international law – Article 9 mandates that parties to the Convention must:

… provide adequate and effective remedies, including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive. Decisions under this article shall be given or recorded in writing. Decisions of courts, and whenever possible of other bodies, shall be publicly accessible.

We believe Ireland to be in breach of the “timely” component of the Convention – the focus of our complaint. We believe Ireland is obliged to remedy this lack of timeliness in appeals processes related to environmental matters.

Why is this important?

Time is extremely important when it comes to accessing information, and specifically information in relation to the environment. Delays in appeals have knock-on affects on how civic society understands environmental issues, or acts on environmental issues that are time sensitive (think pollution or emissions for example).

What will happen now?

The ACCC has accepted our communication (2016/141) and we will participate in the upcoming process. The communication will now be reviewed for admissibility by the Compliance Committee at its 54th meeting to be held in Geneva between 27 and 30 September and if it is found to be admissible, the Committee will invite comments from the Ireland and others and will investigate the allegations of non-compliance.