Tag Archives: Today With Seán O’Rourke

From top: Joan Burton; Regina Doherty; Public Service card sample; TJ McIntyre

This morning.

TJ McIntyre, chairman of Digital Rights Ireland and former Minister for Social protection  Joan Burton appeared on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Seán O’Rourke to discuss the Public Service Card.

Mr McIntrye believes the PSC is being rolled out as a national ID card by stealth while current social protection minister Regina Doherty described the card as “Mandatory not compulsory”.

Sean O’Rourke: “The Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has given assurances about the security and operation of the Public Services Card. Mrs Doherty said she wanted to encourage all users of public sector services to apply for the card and explained the benefits of having one.”

[plays recording of Regina Doherty]

“We want to make access to the services more efficient so that you don’t have to give all the information again to the HSE or the Department of Education or whoever else it is that you are providing your data to so that once you’ve authenticated who you are, that you are who you are, that you shouldn’t ever have to go through that process ever again.”

O’Rourke: “On the line now, TJ McIntyre from Digital Rights Ireland, and Labour TD for Dublin West Joan Burton herself a former Social Protection Minister and I think, Joan Burton, it was you as Minister for Social Protection who introduced this card in the first place?”

Burton:
“Absolutely, Seán and it has actually been extremely successful, if you were to talk to a lot of pensioners who when they reached the age of 66 they can get a card and they use it for instance for the free travel, if people who are over 66 have a look at their card they can see a little “FT” and if they have a spouse who would also claim the free travel being with them they’ll see a little S beside it, so in fact the card, which is now held I think by 2.8 million people, has been enormously successful.

But, and there is a but, the government has to respect that this is people’s personal data and they have to be able to assure people that their data is being treated absolutely with respect and that it’s not unwittingly passed on to any other agency or any other organisation and really the government have to tell people about it.

When we were rolling it out, when I was rolling it out we wrote to everybody, we invited them to come in, I think if other departments are going to actually get involved they need to do the same and equally to train the civil servants that this is people’s personal private data and they must respect their privacy.”

O’Rourke:
“There seems to be uncertainty, for instance, as to whether farmers applying for grants, particularly EU payments, will have to use this card. Should we be told, well I suppose we’ll be told eventually, is there any reason why they shouldn’t have to?”

Burton:
“Well, you could say, the main reason nowadays if you think about the use, if people at home think about the use of their phones and their iPads and so on, there’s a great deal of exchange of information electronically, but the holding of information by the government or indeed by public bodies or by any other body of people’s personal private data has to be treated in a very respectful, very careful and very safe way.

Now already, in terms of the card for instance, its widely used and I think pretty popular among, for instance, people who have free travel, I think it’s also popular among the companies, you know, like CIE, the trains, the buses and the Luas because it allows them for instance to cut down on inappropriate use, where that might be happening, in a small number of cases.

We really actually also need to have to look at it very strongly from an individual’s, citizen’s rights point of view and, you know, civil servants, you know, can’t as it were just run away with themselves on it and say, look we will bring you better services which definitely is a product of using IT properly, but we need to tell people about it.

You’d be a bit concerned at the moment that the Government has gone for, if you like in principle, some expansion of the service, which is fine, but they have to bring the public and citizens along with this and explain it to them in detail. I know some people going for a driving licence, for instance, for the driver theory test, have been quite surprised as to why they have to give, have to have a card, now again, I think young people who are about to get a driver’s licence, they’ll be happy to get it, I don’t think there’s any difficulty about that, but it needs to be explained to them and what then it might be used for.”

O’Rourke:
“Stay with us Joan Burton, because I want to go now to TJ McIntyre, as I say he’s Chair of Digital Rights Ireland also lecturer at the UCD Sutherland School of Law, good morning to you and thank you for joining us, what are your misgivings about this, I mean is it just a question of it being properly explained?”

McIntyre:
“No, not at all, I mean most fundamentally the legal basis isn’t there for this type of widespread data sharing. You have to remember of course that an ID card isn’t just a card, it’s also about an underlying database. It’s about how information is shared within government, about how many civil servants, how many people in different agencies, all have access to your private information.

So in 2014, the outgoing Information Commissioner Billy Hawkes said about the Department of Social Protection in particular, that, he singled it out for criticism, that he was entirely unsatisfied with the arrangements in place for the oversight of personal data in that Department.

My problem initially is that I don’t think that things have necessarily improved since then. We have a massive unified database, which takes information from other State agencies, bringing it all within the reach of people in the Department of Social Protection, without any safeguards being in place.”

O’Rourke: “What kind of safeguards, and we should tell our listeners for instance, we’re speaking with you on Skype, there may be a slight delay in our exchanges, but what kind of safeguards should be introduced or built into the system in your view?”

McIntyre: “Well European law is very clear on this, if you want to take personal information from people if you want to share private information between government departments, there has to be a legal basis. There needs to be primary legislation passed by the Oireachtas, it needs to say what private information can be acquired, who can acquire this information.

The law as it stands doesn’t do this, the law as it stands deals solely with the social welfare context, it doesn’t say use of personal data, the use of an ID card is a requirement for sitting a driver theory test and the main problem I have with this is that de facto this has become a compulsory item, this is something you have to have to function in society.

Now Regina Doherty has said that this is mandatory but not compulsory which is a type of Jesuitical hairsplitting that is a credit to her understanding of philosophy, but I think for the rest of us it doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation which is that if you can’t recover your pension without it if you can’t get a driving licence without it, if you can’t get a passport without it it is effectively compulsory .

It is booming an national ID card without any legal basis sidestepping any oversight by the Oireachtas and we need to have a public debate about that.”

O’Rourke: “But isn’t there great merit in just having the convenience of being able to establish who you are with such a range of authorities who can dispense a service be it a passport or a pension or whatever what’s wrong with the idea if the necessary legislation is put in place.

TJ McIntyre: “I love the idea Seán but that’s not the reality. So you mentioned passports for instance, wouldn’t it be great if you could just show your public services card to get a passport. in fact the Department of Foreign Affairs even though it insists on you having a Public Services card to get a passport doesn’t trust a Public Services card, you have to go in front of the Garda and verify your identity on the old fashioned way.

What’s happened here is that the Public Services card has become a sort of window dressing layered on top of the existing process you still have to fill lout paper forms you still have to take the old fashioned passport photographs, you still have to go into the Garda Station there’s no streamlining here, it’s just an additional cost.

This is something which has cost 60 million Euros or thereabouts to date and we really haven’t seen a return on that investment in efficiency or in terms of for instance the prevention of fraud.”

O’Rourke:
“And coming back I should say to you Joan Burton, this notion that there’s no legal basis for people taking, say the driver theory test, surely that is a hiatus or at least a legal oversight or something which should have been put through the Dail properly?”

Burton: “I think, Sean, that what TJ is saying makes an awful lot of sense in terms of the protection of citizens’ rights and citizens’ privacy and I certainly know that the Commissioner that he’s referring to, there have been and they have been widely publicised in the papers over the last decade,.

Maybe ten or so more years ago there were a number of cases which involved people using, in some cases the cases are in the public domain, the media, in some cases people like insurance investigators having wrong access to social welfare information and utilising that in addition  to adjudicating on instance claims.

Now any use like that is completely wrong and actually it’s also illegal and if that is what TJ is concerned about he’s right to be concerned about it because as Minister I was also concerned about it and when i was Minister for Social Protection there was a widespread system of training people in the significant importance of privacy of people’s personal data. Now to some extent this is to some degree a cultural change in Ireland, you’re giving your information as a citizen in order to allow the State to provide you services more quickly and more efficiently and an lawful lot of that has actually happened.

It doesn’t mean that there is no problem in people accessing services, far from it, but what I do accept is that if it is being rolled out more widely it would be wise of the current government to look further at having a further development of charters in relation to citizen’s rights, having a look at European law and seeing there if there is potential for Citizen’s Charters in Ireland but the corollary of that, and it’s just as important, is that the public servants who use the info must be trained and must be heavily penalised if they infringe on social data.”

O’Rourke:
“What do you say Joan Burton, as a former Minister for Social Protection, about the case of an elderly woman as reported being denied her pension because she just wouldn’t, she wasn’t prepared to sign up for that card.

Burton: “Well obviously, I think that particular case is a matter for the current minister and, I mean, it is for the Minister to address that but in all honesty…”

O’Rourke:
“No, hold on, you were the Minister in office who brought in this card which this woman objects to…”

Burton:
“Absolutely, and in fact we had nothing but co-operation from senior citizens by the way we also discovered and this is also important and I am sure TJ will agree with this, in the current development of IT, identity test is a very very serious….”

O’Rourke: “Hold on, you are going on a bit of a detour, can you deal with the woman who was refused her pension because she objected in principle to, wouldn’t sign up for, this card?”

Burton:
“That’s for the Minister to address.”

O’Rourke: “Well, how would you have handled it?”

Burton: “First of all, I don’t know the background in particular to this…”

O’Rourke:
“The woman wouldn’t sign up for the card. What would you do if you were the Minister?”

Burton: “I think you would have officials of the Department have a discussion with her, talk to her to see how the issues could be addressed, I don’t want to comment on the case because I don’t have the background detail but all I know from my experience as Minister for Social Protection is literally every case is different so I don’t want to make a general comment which could be in some way unfair to the Minister or unfair to the officials or indeed to the woman herself, they should sit down and talk to her…”

O’Rourke: “Yeah, but if she’s not prepared to do it you’re basically saying, make her do it…you seem to be taking a view that, look, you know, the civil servants will just find a way to make her sign up for it.”

Burton:
“Not particularly, I think whatever issues the woman has need to be examined and addressed.”

O’Rourke: “How would you address them?”

Burton:
“How? By literally finding out what the actual detailed situation was and what the facts in the case were.”

O’Rourke:
“The situation is that she doesn’t want to sign up for one of these cards.”

Burton:
“That’s for the woman herself to explain to the officials. I’m not going to make a judgment on it but what I would say is that a huge number of retired people have the card, they use it in particular in context of the free travel pass and it has been an enormous success.”

O’Rourke:
“Just to explain one thing, does it effectively remove the need for the free travel pass or does it entitle you to get the pass?”

Burton: “The old pass is no longer required. If you have free travel the public service card has an “FT” on it, there’s an “S” beside that which indicates where the spouse has an entitlement as well, it’s used up and down the country all the time when I’m on the train or on buses and so on people refer to it and I’d say for the vast majority of people it’s intensely useful.

The Department of Social Protection, Sean, you know, has a huge number of transactions with people at different stages of their life in every single corner of the country you’ll appreciate if I said John Murphy, Joan Murphy or Siobhan Murphy, we have multiple similar names in Ireland so you have standing numbers being used in the old days for tax and social insurance and these numbers then form the basis of your access to services but you do want, any Minister for Social Protection wants, to make sure that the right money goes to the right person but the other side of this is that having this information you really need to protect people’s privacy.”

O’Rourke:
“TJ McIntyre, is this a situation which may be fixed or to they need to scrap the card?”

TJ McIntyre:
“Well maybe I can go back a bit and talk about that case of the pensioner because it really illustrates a very significant problem. There’s two real concerns here one is that the legislation doesn’t say public service cards are mandatory to get benefits including pensions, the legislation says the Minister may use them to verify identity but it doesn’t say it’s the only way in which you may verify someone’s identity.

So if an elderly woman is being bullied into getting a Public Services card where there are other equally good ways of authenticating identity such as passport that is fundamentally unlawful. The Minister can’t adopt a blank policy, can’t fetter her discretion in this way by saying I’m only going to take one form of identification.”

O’Rourke:
“So you’re saying there is no legal basis for denying this lady in her 70s a pension on the basis of her refusal to sign up for the card?”

McIntyre:
“Where a Minister is given a discretion such as a discretion to verify identity in one way that’s a discretion that has to be exercised reasonably and proportionately and lawfully, and where a Minister has a discretion to use a different means of authentication such as a passport they can’t fetter their discretion, they can’t adopt a blanket policy which says we’re only going to take this card. That’s the first problem.

The second problem is why have they adopted this blanket policy? The reason here, and I think we’re only seeing it come to light now, the Government has signed up to a deal with the providers of the cards where there’s a target of three million cards to be issued by the end of the year,

If the Government doesn’t get three million out the door the Government has to pay for 3 million cards regardless and it appears to me that there is a mad push on at the moment to get people to sign up for as many cards as possible to hit that target without regard to the questions of proportionality or indeed the legality of doing so.”

O’Rourke: “Joan Burton, would you accept the argument that there’s no legal basis for insisting that this is the only way in which people scan prove their eligibility for a pension?”

Burton: “No I would say first of all and I just want to come back to an earlier point that TJ made when he said it was an ID card, the Public Services card is not an ID card, it’s a card for the use of obtaining public services in the first instance and what I was involved with for the purposes of social welfare entitlements and also there’s a long integration of tax information with social insurance information as I think everybody is aware of going back into when the social welfare system in Ireland broadly started in the 1950s.

Coming back, though, to the discretion of the Minister, obviously any Minister has to be aware of the different circumstances of different individuals and seek to address those as well as they can within the law but the law does specifically provide for the Department of Social Protection sharing information where it’s governed by law with other government departments.

Now what I am concerned about at the moment is that the Government is clearly intent on embarking an expansion on the use of the card and for utilising people’s card and social insurance numbers. What I am saying is that if this is happening people have to be advised and told about this and if law is required then that legislation has to be put into effect.”

O’Rourke:
“Right… a lot of confusion about this, TJ McIntyre, aside from the need for safeguards obviously to be built in, is there a need for fresh legislation if you say there is no legislative grounds for denying somebody a pension on the ground that he or she is refusing to sign up for one of these cards?”

McIntyre:
“I think you are absolutely right in this regard. There is no legal basis for a blanket policy which says we are going to deny people certain types of benefits for example if they don’t sign up for the card, that’s not what legislation says.

Equally, there’s a a need under European law for specific legislation about sharing this information with other State agencies, with the private sector in some cases, again we don’t have that at the moment but in a wider sense I think it’s important to step back a little bit and ask where is the public debate about this issue generally.

The reason we’re concerned about this is that it’s taken on the status of what is effectively an ID card, it’s taken on the nature of being effectively compulsory for everyone living in Ireland if you want to engage in day to day activities but without any public debate on the basis of a creeping expansion.

bear in mind that when the card was introduced first it was a simple piece of plastic, no chip, no photograph, it’s gradually acquired all these characteristics since and I think most fundamentally we’re saying that, if this has to be done we need a proper public debate about it,.

We need to discuss the experience of ID cards in other countries and the safeguards they have put in place, and this is something that has to be done by our elected representatives in the Oireachtas, not as a series of creeping administrative measures.”

Listen back here

From top: Dr Rory Hearne; From his paper ‘A home or a Wealth Generator’?

A conference, entitled Solid Foundations? Economic Inequality and the Housing Crisis, will take place in the Croke Park Conference Centre in Dublin, organised by TASC, next Friday (June 16).

One of the speakers will be post-doctoral researcher at Maynooth University Dr Rory Hearne, who will present his research A Home of a Wealth Generator? Inequality, Financialisation and the Irish Housing Crisis.

Ahead of this.

Dr Hearne was interviewed on Today with Seán O’Rourke earlier today.

Rory Hearne: “My analysis is that the Government’s policy and strategy, up to this point, has been inadequate in terms of social housing or even new forms, and what I propose is, and support others, like the Nevin Institute, towards the idea of an affordable rental housing company. That the Government is not doing enough to directly supply itself and what it has done is it’s over-focussed on incentivising private sector.

And by doing this incentivisation, whether that’s reduction in apartment sizes or it’s the Help To Buy scheme to try and introduce demand, that it has in actual fact inflated rents and inflated house prices and contributed to the crisis.

Continue reading

Fine Gael TD and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar

This morning.

On Today with Seán O’Rourke.

Further to the Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar’s Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign…

Cllr Gavin Mendel-Gleason, of the Workers’ Party, in Dublin North West, and Paddy Smyth, Dublin City Fine Gael councillor for Rathgar-Rathmines, spoke to Mr O’Rourke about Mr Varadkar’s campaign.

Former inspector with the Department of Social Protection Bernadette Gorman later joined the conversation by phone.

Ms Gorman accused Mr Varadkar of launching the welfare cheat campaign as a means to improve his chances of becoming the next leader of Fine Gael and, by extension, Taoiseach.

She also called it a “hate campaign”.

From the interview:

Sean O’Rourke: “First of all, to you, Paddy Smyth, Fine Gael councillor for Rathgar-Rathmines. Is Leo Varadkar taking, is he taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut here?”

Paddy Smyth: “Not necessarily. The amount of welfare fraud that goes on, estimated by the department, is a sizeable sum. Hundreds of millions of euros, of taxpayers’ money, that is claimed fraudulently. Now, the most interesting thing, I think, about this campaign is the reaction from certain parties. The fact that certain parties can find a politically profitable to condone, if not rightly encourage, social welfare fraud, I think is a very worrying development for our society. As I said, hundreds of millions of euros.”

O’Rourke: “Hold on now, where is this hundreds of millions coming from now?”

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Professor Chris Fitzpatrick

You may recall how last April, Justine McCarthy, in The Sunday Times, reported that the Religious Sisters of Charity-owned St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG), at that time, was demanding that the new National Maternity Hospital agreed to “become a branch of its corporate structure” before allowing the planned co-location in Elm Park to go ahead.

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From top: yesterday’s Sunday Times; RTÉ broadcaster Seán O’Rourke and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan

This morning.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan gave almost an hour-long interview to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke.

Her interview followed an article by John Mooney, in yesterday’s Sunday Times, about a 42-page audit carried out by the Garda Internal Audit Section (GIAS) on the Garda College in Templemore.

The report examined financial transactions at the college from 2009 to 2015. It did examine some transactions from previous years but was prevented from carrying out a full audit of those years because of a lack of documentation.

The audit’s results were given to Ms O’Sullivan and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald last September.

In the Sunday Times, Mr Mooney reported:

“It discovered that gardai had rented out land owned by the Office of Public Works to farmers, earning €129,903 over four years, and used the cash to finance garda societies. Meanwhile, European grants were placed on deposit and earned interest payments, in contravention of fiscal rules.

Auditors discovered that 37% of all expenditure linked to the college’s laundry service account in 2008 had nothing to do with laundry. Instead €7,231 was spent on meals and entertainment, €2,150 was given to parish clergy, €1,040 to the golf society and €300 spent on jewellery and gifts. A loan facility was also operated from the account with amounts of up to €500 being borrowed and repaid.

The audit discovered 50 bank accounts in total and said the current system of banking had resulted in a “non-transparent system of accounting”.

In many cases, auditors were unable to obtain supporting documentation to explain payments. There was nothing to explain transactions linked to the Garda College GAA account, although auditors found it had received public funds from the laundry account and a restaurant account.

Investigators also discovered that gardai held directorships in Garda College Sportsfield Ltd, without receiving permission from the justice minister or disclosing their interest, as is required under ethics legislation. What was “essentially a land-holding company” provided €100,000 to the Garda boat club in four transactions between 2000 and 2003.

Further to this…

During this morning’s interview, Mr O’Rourke and Ms O’Sullivan spoke about the audit for roughly 90 seconds.

This is what was said…

Sean O’Rourke: “Templemore, and an audit down there, I mean, that seems to be pretty chaotic.”

Noirin O’Sullivan: “Well, again, if you, it’s an internal audit report so obviously, it’s something that we identified ourselves which is, as you know, is the purpose of the internal audit. But it spans back over 20 years. It’s legacy issue. I suppose it’s accounting practices that wouldn’t meet today’s standards of accounting practices. What is very important is that in the internal audit report, there are a number of recommendations to bring the practice up to par with today’s practice and that, those recommendations are being implemented.”

O’Rourke: “But things like misuse of money, renting out land to farmers, throwing money at – well, I won’t say throwing money, but giving money to societies and other things – I mean was there just too much local discretion, to put it at its kindest, exercised?

O’Sullivan: “Well, my information, and what I’m advised is, that there is no misappropriation of money or misuse of public money so I think that’s very important. As I say, it is accounting practices that, by today’s standards, would not be acceptable. But it does span back and they are legacy issues.”

O’Rourke: “Coming back to the changes you want to bring about and you talk a lot about wanting to change the culture in the Garda Síochána…”

Later

O’Rourke: Can I ask you in a general way. Do you believe that you, Commissioner, Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan will be vindicated by the O’Neill inquiry and indeed by the GSOC one?

O’Sullivan: “You know, obviously I, and An Garda Siochana, has always cooperated fully with the inquiry and it will reach its findings. And, you know, again, as I say, I’m satisfied that the process will establish the truth. But I think what’s important to look at is, while that process is going on, what have we done, what have we actually done to make the culture and the environment more supportive. So, we’ve put  a lot of structures in place. As I said earlier, we’re learning all of the time.”

O’Rourke: “Ok, but just before we leave that. Now I’ll move toward general points. You can’t prejudge the inquiry, ok, it has to take its course. But you, can you categorically state that you personally played absolutely no role in attempting to discredit Sergeant [Maurice] McCabe?

O’Sullivan: “Well, I’m on record as saying, from the outset when these issues were raised, that I have absolutely no knowledge, nor was I privy to any campaign to undermine any individual in An Garda Siochana.”

O’Rourke: “You use that word ‘privy to’ quite a lot. And I’m just wondering and, again, forgive me if I sound overly cynical or sceptical, but sometimes people put a formula or words together that sometimes can be designed to conceal as much as it reveals. Now ‘privy to’ – what does that mean?

O’Sullivan: “I think the, it means, okay, let me translate into what I mean by it, certainly I’ve no knowledge of any campaign to undermine any individual and nor would I take part in any campaign to undermine any individual.”

O’Rourke: “Do you think, as a result of change in culture, that things will work out well for whistleblowers? That they will be seen to have done their job, maybe in a way that is difficult but their careers won’t have suffered and they’ll be proven to be, men and women who will be admired and promoted as a result of doing the right thing?”

O’Sullivan: “Well I think it’s important that, as I say, that we do create a culture and an environment. So, for example, one of the things, the first things I did was, I invited in Transparency International because, again, this is very new and I know that other agencies are looking to An Garda Siochana at the moment for what we have done and what we are doing. We were fortunate as well that the Policing Authority, they were established, looked at our protected disclosures policy and obviously there are different people with different perspectives on the authority and they were able to input into what is now a revised policy but also Transparency International, both as an employer, but also to help us. So, to help us as an employer, to create the environment, but also to help us put the structures and the necessary structures in place. Because the numbers that we have are very small but nevertheless, as I say, we have learned very significant lessons…”

Listen back in full here

UPDATE:

The Code of Ethics for the Garda Síochána can be read here

Previously: You’ll Get Nothing From Me

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Pope Francis (second left) and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin

This morning.

On Today with Sean O’Rourke, hosted by Keelin Shanley, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin talked about how the World Meeting of Families will take place in Dublin in 2018.

It’s described as the “world’s largest Catholic gathering of families” and happens every three years. Pope Francis hopes to attend.

From this morning’s interview.

Keelin Shanley: “Archbishop, the World Meeting of Families [Congress]. First off, why was Dublin chosen or how did you manage to bring it to Dublin, I suppose is the real question?”

Diarmuid Martin:I didn’t ask for it. The pope decided that he… I was told the pope was thinking, you know, Dublin and if that was the case, would I, would I accept. And that’s the way it went. The pope himself told me that there were two other…generally speaking, it’s once in Europe and then once somewhere else… that two other European cities had made the request, that he felt that Dublin would be an interesting place for him to come to and to reflect on, on family, family in the church, family in society. That that would be not just a reflection for Ireland but a reflection coming from Ireland for major parts of Europe.”

Shanley: “That’s interesting so two other European cities, they’d asked for it?”

Martin: “Yes.”

Shanley: “Ireland hadn’t asked for it?

Martin:No.”

Shanley: “And yet he came to you and asked…”

Martin: “It was…in a sense…it was embarrassing because I was asked and told under no circumstances to say this, and at the same time, there’s a parallel process going on among Irish bishops wanting to invite the pope and I couldn’t say ‘well, you know, the pope is looking at this’.”

Shanley: “And do you think the pope will come in 2018, at the same time?”

Martin: “He has, he said to me that he hoped he would come or, if not him, his successor, that’s the first thing you have to say, the pope will be 80 next month or in December. So he’ll be 81 and a half by the time this event would take place and, obviously, you know, that poses questions as to what he would be able to undertake at that particular time. One thing is certain that, you know, if he does decide to come, he will come to something, to a different Ireland but also with a very different understanding of what the pope coming to Ireland is about. I hear people saying ‘the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit’ as if these were two separate things. The pope would come to Ireland for the Meeting of the Families – and that would be the primary purpose of him coming and most of his time would be dedicated to that. And when he goes to a country…when he goes to an event, for example, and…in Krakow, he went to Auschwitz and he went the marian shrine in Czestochowa, but if he went there and back in both cases in the morning, there weren’t those huge events that we are associated with the papal visit in 1979 and I think if he were in Ireland going outside the actual meeting, he would go in a framework which would stress that he’s here in Ireland for the Meeting of the Families.”

Shanley: “Right, so it would be a much lower key event than we would have seen before?”

Martin: “A different kind of event. But it’s primary purpose in coming was to the World Meeting of the Families. As I say, to bring a message for Ireland, to bring a message from Ireland for families, particularly in Europe.”

Shanley: “It’s interesting, I mean since he became pope, this pope has been very interested in the family, it’s very much put at centre stage. And yet, when the church begins to talk about families, there is always the ‘well, why are these usually older men, unmarried, with no children themselves, why are they talking about family?’ How difficult is that? That bridge?”

Martin: “I think, you know, we can have lots of discussions around the family and the difficulties of the family as an institution but I think all of us realise that when family, when families work, they bring stability to society, in a way that no other institution does. If you look at the trans-generational dimension of families, the idea of the nuclear family that we had – mother, father, two children, a boy and a girl – that really is a distortion of the real notion of family. Family is the place where values are passed on from one generation to the next, where families bring – through the love and the support they give – within their own homes and in society and, if that breaks down, then everybody should be concerned about it.”

Shanley: “And would that be part of this next World Meeting of Families? The embracing of new types of families, including same-sex couples, divorced couples, separated couples?

Martin: If you start going around, looking at a whole series of categories, you miss the important, most of us know, we’re able to identify what is family – whether that’s in Africa, whether it’s in South America or in Ireland. And there’s a huge variety in families. The same thing is, we often say the church is opposed to the idea of family. I’ve gone to meetings recently and one of the questions they ask is: hands up anybody who says their family here is the ideal family? And, of course, we all know that isn’t the case. We all know that there’s imperfection in us, in all our institutions. But does that mean that we have to renounce the idea of having an ideal to which people can aspire? Of having with young people, saying to them, look, this is a vital part of your search for happiness in your life. Get ready for it…”

Shanley: “And what is that ideal? As you would see it, that the church would aspire to in terms of family?

Later

Shanley: “When you talk about permanence, fidelity, love, you could find permanence, fidelity, love in any type of relationship and I suppose that is around the key issues of family and the Catholic Church. It’s had so many families around Ireland feel that they are not respected equally by the Catholic Church, if they are a same-sex couple or if they are, you know, a non couple or whatever the individual kind of family is made up as. Do you think you will extend out to these families and bring them in?”

Martin: “I think there’ll be ways in which you can do that, but not sort of generalised decrees saying there’s an amnesty for this group or an amnesty for that group..many of these things can be looked at on an individual basis.”

Shanley: “What does that mean?”

Martin: “Well, you’ll have to find the particular circumstances in which people find themselves in and begin to reflect on that and see are there elements which really belong to the church’s understanding of marriage present in people who don’t fully realise those..”

Shanley: “I, I don’t… sorry, not to be..but I don’t fully understand there. Are you saying, for example, two women living together with two children which, if they’re permanent, faithful…”

Martin: “In that particular case, my first concern would be about the two children. And to see that they receive from the church and from society all the support that is there, despite, and, you know, without going, despite the fact that it’s, it’s a different type of relationship to the church’s teaching on marriage. One of the big challenges, if you take, for example, what is it in today’s world, why is it that so many people are not getting married? Why are people afraid of a commitment for life and what is that saying? These are big societal questions that we have to look at..”

Listen back in full here

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European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One earlier today about the fallout of Brexit.

Unlike some of her colleagues, she was expecting the Leave side to win.

During the interview, she explained:

A lot of people here in Brussels were completely shocked and surprised by the result. I wasn’t that surprised. I was in the UK a few weeks ago and the atmosphere, to me, was much more Brexit-y if I could put it that way, rather than Remain. And I thought the narrative seemed to be going in a particular direction.

Those people that I spoke to, who might have been sort of on the sidelines or on the fence if you like, weren’t finding the arguments of the Remain people very convincing and I think they felt that, after years of the EU being blamed for virtually every ill that the UK was suffering that the people who are now urging them to Remain, they lacked credibility.

But also, mind you, closer to the actual day of the referendum and certainly in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox, I thought that that might change things and perhaps it changed the margin for the result but, obviously, ultimately it didn’t change things.

On the day of the referendum itself, putting my old political correspondent’s hat on, I noticed the turnout was very high and that generally means that people who are more excited or more involved, or more engaged on one particular side of the debate are more likely to vote and I judged that that would be people who wanted to leave the EU.

And also the weather was bad and, again people who aren’t that bothered to vote are likely to be swayed by that so, on that basis, I wasn’t really too surprised.

I think if you’re in Brussels for too long, I think a sense of dislocation happens and most people here, who work in the EU institutions obviously have skin in the game. And they’re not always looking completely rationally at the reasons why people vote in a particular way.

I know I’ve often said to my colleagues and I based it on our experience when the financial crash happened, and things changed so much and particularly I suppose for people who mightn’t have been expecting the outcome in terms of their incomes and so on and that would be the public servants and civil servants in Ireland and the degree to which their living standards plummeted and so on.

I said to my colleagues on a number of occasions, ‘don’t take anything for granted’, you know, ‘explore what’s happening in the UK, there is a possibility that the vote could go a particular way.

But I think because, when you come to Brussels, people get so wrapped up in the project, and some of them fall so much in love with the project that they find it incomprehensible that people, outside, the bubble might not be as in love with it either.

I think also there is a lack of awareness of the degree to which inequality still remains as a big issue, increasingly in many countries, including in the UK.

Of course the mistake is to blame the EU or what the EU does because very often it’s member state’s policies themselves, or globalisation generally that has created that.

But I think there is a lack of understanding and very often a lack of empathy for people who are on their uppers and who feel, certainly in some places in the UK, that they are competing for reduced public services with migrants – be they migrants from other EU countries or immigrants, people who are seeking asylum or refugee status in the UK.”

When I came here, people would talk about the second narrative. The first narrative sort of started in Auschwitz and ended with the creation of the EU if you like.

But that was a narrative for an older generation and I often make the point that young Irish women, like myself as I was in the 1970s, for my generation of young people but particularly young women, that the EU was a liberation for us because they brought in certain laws that made us more equal in the workplace and got rid of the ban on women, married women working in the workplace and so on and so forth.

So my experience and the experience of our generation, shall I say, was generally very positive. But that experience, if it isn’t being replicated among the young generations in eastern Europe, central Europe, even in the UK, then they’re going to become disillusioned with it.

But I thought it was interesting that one of the first meetings, in the flurry of meetings that have taken place all over Europe since last Thursday was one of the foreign ministers of the six founding countries of the EU and I think that was sort of sending out a signal perhaps, hinting at what you’re suggesting there that maybe the whole project has become a little bit strained that something has to happen, something has to give, a more modest union, a smaller union, whatever.

But that Brexit has been the key, perhaps, looking at it in the positive way, to reform that and is going to be positive and, you see, I’ve thought it so difficult now, when anybody mentions a Treaty change, a possible Treaty change, even over something trivial, everybody shivers because the idea that you would get 28 member states to agree on anything seems impossible. So you wonder how you can continue give that sort of strain on a process.

There’s always been a tussle here between the ever closer union people, the federalists and those who say, ‘look, let’s have a much narrower and less ambitious sort of, trading and humans rights and all of that, but let’s not try and strain this too far’ and that will continue.

But I think what we’re going to have over the next few months: a lot of politics has to happen on all sorts of levels before we can see what’s actually going to emerge at the end and no one can tell you definitively what that is.

You have the politics in the United Kingdom, the politics in Northern Ireland, in Scotland, we have our own skin in the game, very obviously and at the moment, Ireland is sort of like in a ‘torn between two lovers’ situation between the UK situation and membership of the European Union.

You also have the French presidential election next year, as you say, what’s happening in Germany, and all of that and then you have the general, ideological struggles or squabbles or whatever, political debate that goes on in relation to how Europe should develop.

But I had felt, personally, over the last while, since coming here, when you have the migration crisis and the financial crisis, you had Greece, you had this, you thought at some point, something had to give in order to rebuild, recast perhaps in a different way.

I made the point recently that, when people don’t understand, they feel stupid and when people feel stupid, the feel hostile towards those people who, inadvertently or otherwise, have made them feel stupid and so they resile and so they become much more isolated and I think the EU has an awful lot of work to do in relation to its transparency, its accountability, how it communicates with the 500 million citizens

Listen back to the interview in full here

Previously: Everything Must Change

Rollingnews

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Health Minister Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar spoke to Keelin Shanley on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke this morning following the announcement that An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission for the new children’s hospital on a campus shared with St James’s Hospital in Dublin.

During their discussion, they talked about Irish Water and Mr Varadkar was asked if he’d like Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s job.

Grab a tay…

Leo Varadkar: “The fact that they [Fianna Fáil] went to the wire and threatened an election and not to facilitate a Government on water, I just think is ridiculous..”

Keelin Shanley: “So you think Fianna Fáil’s negotiating point of view is ridiculous – is that what you’re saying?”

Varadkar: “I just, I just think that of all the issues to pick, you know, of all the issues to drive us to the brink of a general election, to threaten not to support a minority government, of all the issues they could have picked like I really  thought maybe they would say, you know, that we insist that Ireland must develop a national health service over the next five years, you must find the 3 or 4 million to do it, you know, you need to drop your promises on the USC – not at all. You know it was all down to water charges that cost €3 a week and the worst thing is, you know, and you know water charges are being suspended – they’re not being abolished – but it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s not in the public interest to do this. And yet this is the issue…”

Shanley: “So why are you doing it? Were you not able to stand up to them on it?”

Varadkar: “Well we haven’t, what we did stand up to, we said we wouldn’t give up on the principle of a national utility, we don’t think Irish Water should be broke back and everything sent back to 30-something local authorities, I don’t think even deep down Fianna Faáil believes that that’s a good idea even though that was their policy. And on water charges what we’ve agreed is a suspension for nine months and during that period we will continue to make the case in favour of water charges. And I’m in favour of water charges. I was in favour of them in 2011 and I was in favour of them in this general election and I always told me that this is the right thing they should do and they should pay those and I keep saying that. There’s two reasons: one because it’s the only way people will conserve water, it should be metered and it should be charged for it. And secondly, we actually need a dedicated stream of income to upgrade our water and sewerage services, to get rid of boil notices, to get rid of the situation where we’re still putting sewage into our rivers and our seas. And it’s a real disappointment to me that that Fianna Fáil wants us to go back on water and like it was actually Fianna Fáil in 2010 that started this, before the Troika arrived, they can’t even blame the Troika.”

Later

Varadkar: “Maybe we will have to fight an election sooner rather than later, I’d actually rather we fight an election on those things [economy, housing] then on the issue of water. I just think that would have been a nonsense. I actually think that the people would have been very annoyed about it and would have been, ‘a plague on all your houses’.”

Shanley: “So you think everyone would have done badly out of an election on water. What was your thinking for Fine Gael going to the electorate on the basis of water. You know your option there was either an election or give way on water.”

Varadkar: “Yeah I just, I just think it would have been insane to have an election on Irish Water.”

Shanley: “Would you have lost further seats do you believe?”

Varadkar: “Possibly I don’t know, possibly not, it’s impossible to judge that but like I say, we have an opportunity now to form a minority government it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to be different but, you know, Government’s really tough but it can also give you the opportunity to do wonderful things and things like the Children’s Hospital are exactly why you do all the bad days because there are great days too and you can only do that when you’re in Government.”

Later

Shanley: “Will he [Enda Kenny] lead the party into the next election?”

Varadkar: “Well, he’s already said that he won’t.”

Shanley: “Are you interested in the job?”

Varadkar: “Ask me when the vacancy arises. I’m down on so many other things but, like I say, that’s not for today.”

Shanley: “Ok, Minister Leo Varadkar thank you very much indeed for coming out to us this morning.”

Listen back here

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From top: Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness and Brendan Ogle

Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness and Brendan Ogle, of trade union Unite and campaign group Right2Water, spoke to RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke this morning about Irish Water.

The discussion followed reports that legal advice – commissioned by Irish Water’s parent company Ervia – apparently shows water charges can’t be abolished.

At the beginning of the interview on Today with Seaán O’Rourke, Mr Ogle accused Irish Water of selectively leaking the legal advice to a national newspaper (Irish Times), before calling on Irish Water to publish the reported legal advice on its website today.

From the interview…

Mairead McGuinness: “The privatisation issue which Brendan raises is for ideological and political reasons and I said earlier, we have politicised this issue far too much. There are over 60% of people paying their charges, it is controversial, I understand that but remember that those who obeyed the law will continue to obey the law and should be respected for it.
And, certainly from a Fine Gael perspective, our position on the water, Irish Water, and charging for water, is clear: I acknowledge that the handling of it may not have been the best of practices but we now have a structure in place which knows what’s happening above ground and below ground. And believe me, it is not pretty. We know where the investment needs to be made and we know where we need to protect our water sources and I think, if that were to be interrupted and interfered with we are going back decades and I think that would be reprehensible.”

Brendan Ogle: “Well the water notices were dealt with in Roscommon through paying progressive general taxation. There is no doubt that water notices are a disgrace, we need more investment, we need to fix the system and the way to fix the system is not to be spending €2.6billion over the next number of years on meters, it’s to put that money into fixing the leaks, protect the water in the constitution and me and Mairéad will agree on all of that. Stop wasting money on meters, stop wasting money on legal advisors, stop wasting money on public relations, put the money into fixing the leaks and protect water in public ownership.

Listen back in full here

Previously: The Privatisation Of irish Water Is Ultimately Envisioned

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Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin

Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One this morning in light of the Regulation of Lobbying Act, which comes into force today.

Mr Howlin said the purpose of the legislation is to allow the public see who is lobbying politicians and officials in relation to public policy.

He said there’s no need for the Act to cover politicians lobbying politicians, saying Freedom of Information requests and Dáil questioning are suffice. See Catherine Murphy for details.

Seán O’Rourke: “New rules governing lobbying come in to force today. These require the disclosure of contacts between lobbyists and the politicians and officials whom they seek to influence. The rules were developed by Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin who is with me in studio. Minister, thank you for coming in. This new legislation was promised and eventually delivered in the form of a bill now, it kicks off today. I think there’s a year of a ‘bedding in’ as it’s being put. What exactly do you hope it will achieve?”

Brendan Howlin: “Well Sean, I suppose it’s part of the suite of measures that we set out at the start of this government to make the whole business of public administration more transparent. The restoration of Freedom of Information, the ensuring that people who are lobbying Government and lobbying administration do it in a very open and transparent way – giving supports to whistleblowers. All these things have been put in place. Funnily enough, if you’d asked me four years ago when I set out, all the different important measures, I would have thought that regulation of lobbyists would have been probably the easiest one and in many ways it’s become the most difficult because it’s a balancing act. Because lobbying is a good thing. In an open democracy, citizens have the right to contact local representatives or national representatives to have their view indicated but I think there was certainly a backdrop of real unease about the peddling of influence. You know whether it was the euphemism of the Galway Tent where some people had extraordinary access and we need to have a regime…”

O’Rourke: “But sure the Galway Tent happened in broad daylight you could say. It’s surely what was going on where people couldn’t be seen fraternising or…”

Howlin:Yes, I know. There was the Galway Tent and golf outings and all the rest but under this regime, that now will kick in from today, those conversations will have to be registered. You might know that Mr Y is talking to Minister X or special advisor Y or senior public administrator Q in a particular location but you don’t know what he’s saying, now you will. If they make a lobbying procedure under the act, if they’re talking about public policy and trying to influence public policy, they will be obliged to put that out in a public register, who they contacted about what and when.”

O’Rourke: “How far down the food chain does the responsibility lie in terms of say ministers and officials with whom contact has to be registered?”

Howlin: “Well, in the initial iteration of it, obviously, you know, this is going to be a work in progress. It’s not a fixed entity from the start because we’re going to have to broaden this over time. But right now it involves all politicians, either any TD, any Senator, any member of the European Parliament, any Minister of State, any Minister, any advisor to a Minister. It also encompasses secretaries genera of departments, assistant secretaries, generals and directors of departments. I put up my own contact list last night on my own website. And at local government level, chief executive officers and directors of service. It is my intention, as I informed the Dáil, to broaden that net so it will involve, for example, within the next 12 months, principal officers and so on. And then, you know, this is an interesting part of the debate we had. There are people who actually have influence that might not be actually senior. For example, should we include the private secretary to a minister who might actually have a lot of influence without having a particular...”

O’Rourke: “Well certainly where the appointments are concerned, he or she would.”

Howlin: “Well there you are. So. You know, we need to have a bedding in process. The Standards in Public Office are going to commission, are going to administer this whole system, we’ve looked at international best practice. There are only 7 countries as I understand now, within the European Union, that have legislated in this area and we are seeking to be best in class if you like.”

O’Rourke: “So if somebody approaches you, looking for a particular action to be taken that has to be registered. What about for instance, you yourself? As a local deputy for the county or constituency of Wexford, let’s just say you wanted a new operating theatre in Wexford General Hospital or some new facility, would that have to be registered by you or by the person you’re making your representations to. And it would be perfectly legitimate that you would do that.”

Howlin: “No, no I mean public representatives have to operate as public representatives and they’re entitled to the public administration and the public representative work, that’s what we’re elected to do, no more than local authority members would be entitled to do that. It is people who are…”

O’Rourke: “But surely that is central to the whole, you know, fear or at least suspicion that there’s a lot of pork barrel stuff going on with ministers using their own influence with colleagues. Surely that should have to be registered.”

Howlin: No, I mean, it is understood that every local representative would obviously represent. I mean that’s the definition of local representative. What we’re talking about here is people who are trying to shape public policy externally, who are not elected people. But who are doing it for their own commercial gain. Obviously..”

O’Rourke: “But I mean charities are covered by this. There’s no commercial gain there, I’m just wondering why it shouldn’t apply to public representatives seeking to use their influence. Just tell us about it.”

Howlin: “But, but public representatives…”

O’Rourke: “I mean, for instance, there was a big controversy and your own former colleague who is the junior minister Roisin Shortall in the Department of Health. She took serious issue with the location of primary health centres, as set out by her former colleague James Reily. Now again, should a light not be shone in there about who was lobbying him for the location of these, in terms of constituencies.”

Howlin: “But there would be. That’s the very point.”

O’Rourke: “Not if, for instance, you or Phil Hogan were doing the lobbying.”

Howlin: “No, no, well I mean obviously, the notion that a public representative would receive a lobbying from somebody who wanted to have a health centre on his property, that would be registered. But the notion that the Minister for Health, or the Minister for the Environment would make a discernment, within his elected responsibility about where a housing scheme goes or where, that’s, he’s elected to do. And he’s accountable to the Dail and accountable to his own electorate for doing that. Sure that’s what public administration is about.

O’Rourke: “Yes, but I’m just wondering, should we not know more about how these decisions are taken.”

Howlin:But you have FOI, you have Dáil questioning, you have all these matters. I mean it almost goes to absurdity then when our public representatives debarred from….”

O’Rourke: “Nobody is suggesting, and I wouldn’t for a minute suggest that a public representative would be debarred from making representations. But I’m just wondering why they should be excluded from the terms of this legislation when they are the ones doing the lobbying as opposed to the ones being lobbied.”

Howlin: “But patently, you’re talking about ministers. Ministers are the lobbied, they’re not the lobbyists. The dialogue of cabinet is I suppose a lobbying, because I get lobbied every time I walk down the corridor by ministers looking for money. You don’t have to look beyond today’s papers to see that. Is that lobbying? Of course it is, of a kind. But that’s what they’re there to do. To be advocates for health or advocates for education or advocates for their own area of responsibility. That’s how public administration works.”

Listen back in full here

Lobbyists must record details of contacts with public officials (Irish Times)

Lobbying.ie

Previously: Redactulous

‘A Form Of Localism’

Do You Want Your Old Lobby Washed Down?

Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie