Court documents in MCENR vs Information Commissioner & (eNet / Gavin Sheridan)

Given the publicity surrounding the National Broadband Plan in recent days it’s worth returning to the original National Broadband Plan from the early 00s – the Metropolitan Area Networks. These were fibre rings built at significant cost to the EU and the State around dozens of rural towns in Ireland. When it came to awarding a contract to operate and market these fibre rings, eNet in Limerick secured the first contract in a competitive tender process, which was also renewed in the next tender (one tenderer applied) . It was then renewed again to 2030 in 2017, by the Minister, without a tendering process at all.

I asked for the contract/concession agreement between eNet and the Department, and they refused to release it, going against a long held position of the Information Commissioner that once a contract is awarded and public money is involved, the public has a right to know about the contract/agreement itself.

We publish below the public court documents in relation to the High Court appeal that the Department ultimately lost and has now appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Information Commissioner opposed the Department in the High Court. I also opposed the Department as Notice Party, represented by FP Logue Solicitors and John Kenny BL.

Before starting, read the Information Commissioner decision that started the whole thing. It gives the background on what I asked for. This was the decision that was appealed to the High Court by the Department/Minister for Communications.

Now the court documents:

First is the outline legal submission of the Department: filed in February 2017. It contains 90 paragraphs of argument that the Information Commissioner had erred in law by deciding that the concession agreement for the most part should be released (despite the contract being commercially sensitive – the public interest is in it being released, argued the Commissioner).

Second is the Information Commissioner’s position, opposing the views of the Department.

Third is the Affidavit of eNet, by Finance Director Braonan Gardiner, generally supporting the position of the Department. eNet, unlike us, did not participate in the proceedings (so didn’t hire a solicitor or barrister). And as the judge noted “enet did not participate in this appeal other than by way of submitting an affidavit which was filed by the Minister on his own behalf.”

Fourth is our legal submission, opposing the views of the Department.

Taking into account these documents, and arguments before the court, Judge Noonan ruled against the Department.

The Department has appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeal, which is due for hearing in February 2019.

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.

Department of Public Expenditure submission on RTÉ reviewing services and cutting loss-making public service broadcasting

THE Department of Public Expenditure said RTÉ needs to cut costs more before any commitment should be made to give them extra funding.

RTÉ should be asked to review loss-making public service broadcasting and even look at what services it was providing, an internal Departmental briefing note says. The memo for Minister Paschal Donohoe was prepared as part of discussions over the sale of lands at the broadcaster’s campus in Montrose.

It said that both RTÉ and the Department of Communications were looking for funding for the broadcaster to be restored to 2009 levels when it was €20 million higher. However, the Department of Public Expenditure said that they “did not necessarily accept that further additional Exchequer funding should be provided or that the level of Exchequer funding should be restored to its peak”.

http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3912453-RTÉ-Records-Complete.html

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.

FOI documents for Social Protection ‘cheats us all’ campaign

Below is the full FOI release in relation to Ken’s story in TheJournal.

CONCERNS WERE RAISED in the Department of Social Protection over calling people “cheats” as part of the controversial advertising campaign on social welfare launched by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar while he was Minister for Social Protection.

The ‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’ campaign was launched in April and caused considerable debate over highlighting welfare fraud so prominently and for asking people to anonymously report their neighbours.
Internal departmental emails obtained by TheJournal.ie reveal that with just weeks to go, the department considered changing the campaign title to something a little less forceful.

Read the 465 page document here: