Correspondence between judiciary and government on pensions and pay cuts

JUDGES asked the government for a special deal on pensions as part of the public service pay talks saying their retirement packages were anything but “gold-plated or platinum”.

The judiciary told Minister Paschal Donohoe that no other group of people had been hit with as many different pay cuts and other budgetary measures during the financial crisis.

In a series of letters, the Association of Judges in Ireland (AJI) expressed concern that they were going to be penalised again, this time for their “accelerated” pensions.

Like soldiers and gardai, the pensions of members of the judiciary build up much more quickly than is the case with other public servants.

Under government public pay plans, these fast-track pensions are to be hit with far higher levies to reflect the fact they can become lucrative faster.

However, judges complained they should not be lumped in with other groups in receipt of “accelerated” pensions and that their circumstances were unique.

Corporate enforcer forced to wait years to fill key vacancies for forensic accountants & IT expert: the paper trail

HIRING six forensic accountants for the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement took more than two years amid chaos over getting the jobs approved and advertised.

At one stage, ODCE boss Ian Drennan said the entire process had been “nothing short of a disgrace” and that he was “mortified” about the prospect of a job advertisement filled with errors appearing in the national press.

The corporate enforcer also warned that it was being “compromised” on procurement laws because it did not have the capacity to analyse large amounts of electronic evidence.

The ODCE told the Department of Jobs that it did not have the in-house skillset to deal with huge amounts of data that had been seized as part of its investigations, including the Anglo probe.

The corporate enforcement office had first asked for a computer expert to be hired in 2014 but the appointment did not take place until nearly three years later.

600 pages of emails and internal records that catalogue a depressing saga.

Internal memos on dangers of fraud in €340-a-million a year childcare schemes

CHILDREN’S Minister Katherine Zappone has been warned that childcare schemes across the country are wide open to the potential for fraud.

In a submission, Ms Zappone was told there were “serious concerns” over the Department’s ability to monitor around €340 million in annual spending.

The memo said the current system allowed services to make “over-claims” and that it was impossible to be sure that funding was being used for the reasons it was provided.

More than twenty schemes were identified where the number of children officially registered was much higher than the numbers of kids actually attending.

Five separate schemes benefitting more than 100,000 children each year had been introduced in a “piecemeal fashion … at different times and when governance and compliance requirements were less clear”.

The submission was seen by Minister Katherine Zappone in April of this year who said she wanted a pragmatic approach to dealing with the problems raised.

Alarm bells had been set off in December 2014 when an audit of one childcare facility discovered over-claims of around €500,000. It is currently the subject of a garda investigation.

However, the internal memo warned that the problems identified were “systemic in nature” and could only be dealt with by new law, strong rules, sanctions, and new contractual requirements for service providers.

Irish Water’s parent company Ervia & negotiations for a new chief executive

IRISH Water’s parent company Ervia looked for a €250,000 salary for its incoming chief executive despite being told the pay for the position had to be €30,000 less.

The appointment of former Bórd Na Móna executive Mike Quinn was eventually agreed with a pay package of €225,000, a hike of €5,000 on what had originally been agreed on by government.

Departmental documents obtained under FOI by Right to Know also show how Ervia, which runs Irish Water along with gas networks in Ireland, was having serious difficulties in finding a candidate for the job.

Internal records from the Department of Communications explain that 187 different candidates had been identified for the job originally.

However, many had withdrawn “due to the complex nature of the job” and what was described as a “significant gap in salary expectations”.

Reports on internal audit for Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan

GARDAI have been overpaid by almost €2 million in pay and pensions but the force does not have enough staff assigned to get the money back.

An internal audit report has said that chunks of the money will end up being written off because of difficulties in recovering it.

The report on financial controls, prepared for Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan and obtained under FOI by Right to Know, also said there were not enough staff to recoup the money.

At one stage, not a single person was responsible for collecting the significant amount of money owed.

Read the documents below.

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

Shifting a gear – we need your help

With the 2016 Election over, we believe that people who did or indeed did not exercise their franchise may want to see if we can build something to keep an eye on the decisions of those who were just elected. All too often democracy is seen through the lens of voting, and not on the five years in between.

Back in 2009, TheStory.ie was founded as an experiment, by myself (Gavin Sheridan) and by journalist Mark Coughlan (who now works at RTE’s Primetime).

It was around the time of the MPs expenses scandal in the UK, and we took a specific interest in a few areas which were quite nascent at the time: Systematic FOI requests, FOI advocacy, data journalism, data vizualisation, document conversion, document management and legal appeals processes.

TheStory.ie ran on a simple principle – that with some good will, and some hard work, we could move the needle on improving the state of FOI, transparency and of investigative journalism in Ireland. Since 2009 it has run as an entirely pro bono site, working on the efforts of a few who worked entirely without compensation. At the very beginning, you, our audience asked if you could help our efforts – and to that end you donated funds on and off over the years.

For a site run entirely by volunteers (at various times, Gavin Sheridan, lawyer Fred Logue, Mark Coughlan, Ken Foxe, archivist Rodney Breen) we haven’t done too badly:

1) NAMA were defeated in the Supreme Court in 2015 on an issue directly related to its transparency and accountability, based on a request we sent in February 2010, and on lengthy submissions made by us (with the enormous work of lawyer Fred Logue advising pro bono). NAMA also lost two cases in the High Court, one of which was solely based on our direct submissions to the court.

2) The “Trichet Letters” to Brian Lenihan were ultimately released by the ECB following a three-year long appeals process initiated and pursued by us, via the ECB and the EU Ombudsman. We also were first to publish the letter Ireland sent formally seeking a bailout.

3) We were the first to obtain large datasets under FOI, starting with the expenses database of the Department of Tourism, followed by multiple expenses and expenditure databases. These databases contain line item details in the billion of euros, never before seen in publicly available data. Others have since replicated these techniques.

4) We pursued other appeals via the Information Commissioner – achieving results on the definition of personal information, and on the definition of environmental information.

5) We vigorously argued against FOI fees, in particular the upfront €15 fee. We made submissions to the Oireachtas committee during the drafting of the FOI Bill 2014, and rang the alarm when we noticed the Government trying to increase fees via a Committee Stage amendment. The Government later removed the upfront fee altogether, an important step in the right direction.

6) We scanned and published legacy reports and investigations into malfeasance and corruption, including the Beef Tribunal report, which had up to then never been available online.

We have also tried to assist many, many people on their requests – though we often have limited time ourselves. Some might say we have earned a certain amount of notoriety for many of these activities, and if that’s the case then we are doing something right.

Over that time many people have contributed documents to us, many people have tipped us off on things to check or to FOI, and journalists at most Irish newspapers have sent us copies of FOI releases for publication, once they had their own stories complete. This all contributed to building a community of people interested in their rights to access information, in data journalism, and in the principles of good journalism.

But a website like this, run entirely on good will by volunteers in their spare time can only last so long. We have therefore decided that rather than shut it down and get on with our lives – we will try and move the needle even further.

But to do so we need your help.

Our proposal is this: start an organisation on a not-for-profit basis, which is both a media outlet and a transparency organisation. We are calling it Right To Know.

TheStory.ie will continue, but will become the publishing arm of Right To Know. And for the first time since we started doing this work, we will very deliberately be asking you for support – on a membership basis, initially per year.

Clearly, the more members we have the more ambitious we can be – but our objective is to build a self sustaining organisation, without ads, without paywalls, funded entirely by its supporters. And the mission? To act as a watchdog, an advocate, an investigator, a trainer, and a partner to other NGOs and the media.

We are inspired by the good people at The Ferret in Scotland, Dossier in Austria, Correctiv in Germany, De Correspondent in The Netherlands, Access-Info in Spain, Digital Rights Ireland, The Detail in Northern Ireland, ProPublica in the United States – and indeed we have met many of the people behind those organisations over the years.

We believe we can do the same and more for Ireland – through a combination of member support and occasional fundraising around specific efforts. If philanthropic funds are available, we will pursue that too. So with your membership support, what could we do? Well with almost no overheads besides possible staff in the future, we think we could do quite a lot:

100 people donating €50 a year? €5,000 can help us get established and organise. And this is where we want to start.

So here is the question: are you with us? We have an initial group of people – some of the best journalists we know to help us get started, and we will be adding to this list over the coming months.

If we are completely transparent about how the funds are spent (and we certainly will be), and come to escalate our efforts, could we get to 1,000 people, or higher? By way of comparison 13,064 people gave their first preference to Michael Lowry in the recent election. Can a similar number of people “vote” for watchdogs?

If you want to support us, you can join on a yearly basis. In the future we will likely fundraise around specific issues, but our priority is to build a loyal membership who support our work.

Right To Know is a Company Limited by Guarantee and represented by FP Logue Solicitors.

If you want to subscribe head on over here.

Taoiseach’s diary 2013

Part of an ongoing process. This is the appointments diary of Taoiseach Enda Kenny for 2013.



Previously:

Taoiseach’s Diary 1998
Taoiseach’s Diary 1999
Taoiseach’s Diary 2000
Taoiseach’s Diary 2001
Taoiseach’s Diary 2002
Taoiseach’s Diary 2003
Taoiseach’s Diary 2004
Taoiseach’s Diary 2005
Taoiseach’s Diary 2006
Taoiseach’s Diary 2007
Taoiseach’s Diary 2008
Taoiseach’s Diary 2009
Taoiseach’s Diary 2010
Taoiseach’s Diary 2014

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Diary 2012

Part of an ongoing process. This is a consolidated version of the Ministerial diary published on the DPER website for 2012:



NAMA advisory group minutes March 2012

This is a selection of documents released by the Department of Finance under FOI. They consist of NAMA AG minutes from March 2012, and a NAMA internal document on its strategic plan. One of the lines from the minutes stood out for me:



Is this a plan to constrain housing supply to increase land/asset values in favour of NAMA?