Tag Archives: Catherine Murphy

Social Democrat co-leader Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty TD on the plinth of Leinster House following yesterday’s Supreme Court victory.

Further to Denis O’Brien’s loss in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Michael Clifford in The Irish Examiner writes:

‘Mr O’Brien was looking to assert what he saw as his rights as a citizen in a democracy. His action was based on asserting a principle.

The 19 individuals [who had their private data removed from email servers in Independent News And Media and taken to the Isle of Man where the data was “interrogated” and costs covered by a company controlled by Mr O’Brien, Blaydon Ltd,] all of whom are undoubtedly people of high principle, will more likely be interested in receiving monetary compensation rather than a legal declaration.

If they can prove their case, they will be entitled to be well-compensated for a breach of their privacy. In such an eventuality, the money will have to be paid out by INM.

It would be something of a bitter irony for Mr O’Brien if, as the main shareholder, he had to stump up for a privacy breach on a court ruling, having experienced, in his own case, a ruling that his privacy was legitimately breached in parliament.’

Bitter irony for O’Brien if INM has to stump up over privacy breach (Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner)

Listen: Kildare TD Says Supreme Court Decision Puts Any Questions On The Strength Of Parliamentary Privilege Beyond Doubt. (KFM)

Yesterday: Dismissing Denis

Previously: We Shall Fight Them On The Breaches

Meanwhile…

Flashbackageddon!

The first in a bowel-loosening series of emails from Denis O’Brien’s solicitors after the posting of Ms Murphy’s speech in the Dáil, May 26, 2015.

Good times.

Previously: [REDACTED]’s 1.25% Interest Rate

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varakar in the Dáil today

Just now.

In the Dáil…

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy repeatedly asked the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if it’s true that Dublin City Council only built 21 social housing units last year.

Mr Varadkar appeared to confirm the figure when he said that a breakdown of social housing figures is available, he has seen the figures, and “I imagine that that is correct”.

But his answer came after some time.

Ms Murphy is a member of the Public Accounts Committee and recalled a recent meeting of the committee involving  the Housing Department’s Secretary General John McCarthy whom, she said, stated “quite categorically” that the figures for council housing are extremely clear in terms of the breakdown/categorisation of these properties.

She said Mr McCarthy said the department publishes “quarterly updates in this regard” and he “refuted allegations of spin when it comes to the presentation of the figures”.

Ms Murphy said:

“In 2018, the social housing output figures, under local authority build, the number is listed as 2,022 but the minister has bundled all of those categories and has consistently refused to give a breakdown of local authority build by individual category.

“However, at the Public Accounts Committee meeting last week, the secretary general [Mr McCarthy] in response to questions I posed, finally gave us a breakdown of the figures for 2018.

“Those figures: 768 for turn-key units, 200 regeneration properties and that leaves a total of a 1,054 actual newly built local authority houses for 2018.

Why then the continued blurring of numbers by Minister Murphy?

Ms Murphy said that a few weeks ago Minister Murphy, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Gavin Jennings “grilled” the minister for a breakdown of the social housing output but his questions went unanswered while the minister said the figures would be available the following week.

But, Ms Murphy said, these figures still haven’t been made public, outside of being made available to the Public Accounts Committee; they’re not on the department’s website; and they’re not in the department’s press releases.

The Social Democrats co-leader then asked if the reason for the “reluctance” to give a clear breakdown of the output is that some councils are performing “very poorly”?

Ms Murphy then said:

“For example, it has been said that Dublin City Council, who are at the epicentre of this crisis, only built 21 houses last year or could it be red tape? We need to know?”

“So, Taoiseach, can we get some straight answers to the following questions please?

“Can you confirm that the new builds by local authorities, given to the Public Accounts Committee, by the Secretary General last week, are accurate?

Is it correct that Dublin City Council only built 21 units in 2018 themselves?

“And what’s the actual breakdown by local authority of the 1,054 new builds in 2018?”

In his response, the Taoiseach said people receiving homes don’t ever raise the categorisation of social housing.

He added:

What matters as a fact is that last year 9,000 – more than any in ten years – 9,000 families moved into social housing with secure tenancies and we shouldn’t obsess ourselves about whether it’s done through an affordable housing body or local authority, or trust or Part 5, Part 8 or Part 26. That’s not what matters.”

Ms Murphy said knowing the breakdown does matter.

She said knowing the breakdown allows people to know what’s cost effective and value for money.

“We need to get those breakdowns so that information can be evaluated. This is public information, it’s public money. Why are you so reluctant to give the figures in a way that breaks it down and you can make those comparisons?

Is it true that Dublin City Council built 21 houses last year? The performance of our local authorities matters because they’re going to be the ones that are going to deliver, if we’re actually going to deliver the kind of numbers that are needed, to actually get a grip on this crisis.

“You cannot keep on answering questions in the way you did. The breakdown matters.”

Mr Varadkar said:

Deputy, I’m advised by the minister of state behind me that those figures are available and I’ve seen breakdown so I imagine that that is correct and they are available.

“But I think you’ve got it wrong here. The truth is, after years of running into problems, years of delays, when we didn’t have the money to do it, after years and years of trouble, we’re now delivering on social housing, increasing the housing stock by 9,000 last year.

“We’ll increase it by even more this year. And what you’re trying to do, is you don’t want people to know that. So you’re trying to make that housing provided by affordable housing body like Peter McVerry Trust or the Iveagh Trust doesn’t exist.”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

This afternoon.

Leinster House, Dublin 2

Catherine Murphy (right), with Roisin Shoirthall her co-leader in the Social Democrats, and Pearse Doherty (above left) with Sinn Féin colleagues from left: Rose Conway-Walsh, Mary Lou McDonald TD and Eoin Ó Broin TD speaking to the media after businessman Denis O’Brien lost his appeal to the Supreme Court over statements made in the Dáil about his banking affairs.

Earlier



From top: Denis O’Brien; Justices of the Supreme Court in NUI Galway today; Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty; Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy

This morning.

The Supreme Court (sitting in Galway).

Denis O’Brien has lost his Supreme Court challenge against a failed legal action in relation to statements made in the Dáil about his banking affairs.

The businessman claimed the two TDs in question were guilty of an “unwarranted interference” with the operation of the courts.

Mr O’Brien’s High Court action arose from remarks made by Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy under privilege on the floor of the Dáil during a debate in 2015 about the sale of SiteServ.

By revealing details about his dealings with the IBRC, he claimed the two deputies effectively decided a separate case that was before the courts.

An injunction was in place at the time in relation to an RTÉ programme.

Supreme Court Judgement Due Today (Newstalk)

Catherine Murphy said:

“The CPP found that I had not abused parliamentary privilege in making a speech which was very squarely within the public interest and that I acted in good faith at all times. I am pleased that both the High Court and now the Supreme Court have upheld that decision.

Whilst I am pleased that the courts have recognised the constitutional protections afforded to those of us who may find ourselves in the position of having to use parliamentary privilege for a matter of public interest, it is hugely incumbent on us, as elected representatives, to recognise that such privilege must only be exercised with great responsibility.

The public interest must always be to the fore and that is what has underpinned everything I have done to date.”

UPDATE:

Following the Supreme Court’s decision and further to a High Court jury dismissing claims by Mr O’Brien last Friday that March 2015 articles about him in the Sunday Business Post were defamatory…

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty told Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One:

I think this is a big week for freedom of parliament and parliamentary debate but also a big week for freedom of the press and, you know, I’ve thought about this over the last couple of days.

If both the judgement against the Sunday Business Post and now against the House of the Oireachtas went the other way – there would be a serious chilling effect in relation to what could be said, both in the press and on the floor of the Dáil in future.

“And I think remember as well, Seán, during this time, there was a period, during this time, when both Catherine Murphy and myself were putting information on the public record, that the press themselves were questioning whether they could report that information.

“So this judgement today makes it very, very clear, if anything good comes from this judgement: it is the fact that parliamentary privilege is sacrosanct, it cannot be tested before the courts.

“The decisions of the CPP in determining whether a deputy or a senator has abused parliamentary privilege cannot be tested before the courts. And that now clarifies it.

“And there’s an onus on us, as elected representatives, to use that privilege very, very selectively, in which we do. As I said, I had other information in relation to Denis O’Brien that I didn’t put on the public record.

“And indeed we have information that is given to us, and I welcome information like that, that is of a highly sensitive and confidential nature, that we decided not to put on the public record because it’s viewed by us not in the public interest and would be, in our view, an abuse of parliamentary privilege.”

Listen back in full here

UPDATE:

UPDATE:

Read the 42-page judgement in full here

Thanks David Kenny

Top Pic: NUI Galway

Previously: [REDACTED]’s 1.25% Interest Rate

‘Deputy Murphy Is Out Of Order’

Always A Privilege

‘It’s Important People Stand Up For Democracy’

Keeping Print Alive

Morrissey And Mar

‘Completely Incompatible With A Functioning Democracy’

Murphy’s Law

From top: light blue areas are where Eir has ‘committed’ to commercial rural deployment plans, amber areas are the target areas for the state Intervention of the National Broadband Plan and blue areas are where commercial operators are delivering or have indicated plans to deliver high speed broadband services; Catherine Murphy in the Dáil last night

Last night.

A Social Democrat motion calling for a “Government commitment that any National Broadband Plan roll-out will prioritise affordability for homes and businesses in rural Ireland” was debated in the Dáil.

Social Democrat co-leader addressed Minister for Communications Richard Bruton about the “laissez-faire approach to the original tendering and contract process”.

Investors in the only consortium left in the process include Denis O’Brien.

Ms Murphy said:

“Although the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has not been in his current role for very long, I know he appreciates that the national broadband plan process has been ongoing for several years but many people in modern Ireland still have limited or no access to the tools required to participate in a modern society and economy.

It is crucial that we deliver broadband to such people. However, I cannot emphasise enough that we must do so through an unimpeachable process in which the veracity of the winning bidder and its ability to deliver long term are verified as well in a way that focuses on the net result for consumers, particularly in terms of affordability and broadband speed.

There is no point going ahead with the process if an average household will not be able to afford to connect to the infrastructure that is finally put in place or the network ultimately proves inadequate.

This must be about empowering our citizens to connect to a globalised world in their business and personal endeavours.

The process must guarantee the ability of the winning bidder to deliver the project or else the Exchequer will end paying by way of a State subsidy and-or citizens will pay the price of not being able to connect to broadband.

We must remember that if the contract is awarded, it will run for a considerable period of time. If we do not get it right, it could be very problematic to reverse it and doing so may involve the payment of compensation.

The old adage is that one must learn from past mistakes, yet nothing in the broadband process to date gives me confidence that we will not repeat current and past mistakes when it comes to the tendering process and the eventual awarding of the contract.

The results of the clearly flawed process for the development of the National Children’s Hospital are coming home to roost, involving colossal cost overruns, deadlines that have been missed on more occasions than I care to count and serious frustrations on all sides of the project.

Members on this side of the House are being asked to blindly trust the people responsible for projects such as the national children’s hospital to make the final decision on the national broadband plan. The metro north project went through a similarly incoherent and rocky process involving numerous incarnations and setbacks.

The same can be said of Luas and the eventual need for a cross-city Luas line which had been included on the original plans. In fact, there are myriad projects to which one could point as examples of the continued inability of this State to get major projects right first time. I acknowledge that this did not all happen on the Minister’s watch. There is ongoing failure in regard to such projects.

The penny must drop that we need to look at what we have been doing wrong in regard to such failures rather than just blame it on a system failure. If there is a system failure, one must fix the system.

The problems that have emerged with the national children’s hospital, for example, are not in the main resultant from something that happened after the project began. The major cause of the issues is a laissez faire approach to the tender and contract process before the project commenced.

If one does not ensure that the design plan, building blocks and builder are the correct choices, one will have a less than satisfactory outcome. That is why this period in the life cycle of the national broadband plan is of such importance. If we do not get things right now, we will pay the price at a later stage.

We have a one-off chance before any contracts are awarded to ask whether we can stand over the process to date and genuinely believe that the process as it stands will deliver the best possible outcome for users and the Exchequer.

All Members are aware of the significant and serious questions which arose during 2017 regarding the handling of the national broadband plan by the then Minister, Deputy Naughten. At the crescendo of the controversy, I, as well as members of Fianna Fáil and other Deputies, stated that the national broadband plan was fatally flawed.

The Government commissioned a report by Mr. Peter Smyth in a bid to prove otherwise and reassure people that the Minister attending various dinner parties and exchanging regular private calls and texts with the owner of the sole remaining bidder was not a problem.

At the time, I raised concerns about the ability of Peter Smyth to be entirely impartial in his report because he was the process auditor throughout the process which caused the controversy. It was a process failure and he was auditing that process.

When the Smyth report was furnished to the House, most Members were underwhelmed by its watery findings. In the absence of minutes or a written record of many of the interactions between the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and Mr. David McCourt, Mr. Smyth took the key players at their word that nothing inappropriate had occurred.

When Mr. Smyth commented at a follow-up press conference that he did not interrogate the then Minister or Mr. David McCourt because he did not think it appropriate to do so, he significantly undermined the veracity of the report and left serious question marks over the relationship between a Minister and a billionaire businessman – an all-too familiar vista in major communications contracts. In that regard, we must consider the learnings, or lack thereof, from past mistakes.

In the same way, we must look to the forerunner of the national broadband plan and ensure the lessons from its roll out and operation inform the broadband plan.

The municipal area networks, MANs, project was established in 2004 and contract extensions to run to 2030 were awarded to Enet in 2016. There remain question marks and ongoing court proceedings regarding the detail behind those contracts and their extension. However, in spite of orders by the information commissioner and the High Court to release the details in the public interest, the Department has continually refused to so do.

It has brought an appeal to the Court of Appeal – which, obviously, will be a costly exercise – to keep information the release of which has been determined to be in the public interest out of the public eye. Such secrecy rings warning bells and flies in the face of the stated ambition of an open government or governance approach to the process.

Leaving aside the significant questions regarding the contract process for Enet and the MANs, there are question marks over the operation, efficiency and usefulness of the plan in terms of the end user take-up of the networks.

In 2014, BT Ireland wrote to the Department expressing serious concerns regarding how Enet was operating the municipal area networks.

Several people and businesses, including public bodies, were unable to connect to the network due to the prohibitive cost.

Many industry experts have questioned the scale, coverage and take-up of the MANs across the country.

Those living in the intervention area should pay serious attention to this because if we do not learn from that process, exactly the same thing may happen with the national broadband plan.

A recent freedom of information dump from the Department to The Irish Times journalist Jack Horgan-Jones included a briefing note prepared for the then Minister in 2016 ahead of a meeting he was due to have with Mr. David McCourt who, at the time, was heading the consortium which had acquired Enet, which was operating the MANs.

The briefing note was prepared two years after BT Ireland, a major telecoms player with significant expertise, outlined to the Department its serious concerns regarding the operation of the MANs by Enet.

The briefing note of 2016 makes absolutely no reference to those concerns and states the MANs programme has proven effective. It has not proven effective if concerns are being raised by businesses and individuals and if there is a proven difficulty with take-up and cost.

It is surely hard to argue that a briefing that fails to acknowledge the serious concerns of a major industry expert like BT is comprehensive. One cannot just ignore that.

Thus far, only part of one of the two Department-commissioned reports into the MANs, namely, the Norcontel report, has been put into the public domain. We are still awaiting the publication of the Analysys Mason report into the operation of the MANs.

It is ridiculous that we do not have the information to allow us to consider this issue adequately and determine what has gone wrong or right in order to inform our consideration of the contract. Very often one is an expert after completing a process but one really needs to be an expert in advance.

The documentation on the experience of the forerunner to the national broadband plan should seriously comprise one of the most important sets of documentation available to the Minister and Opposition. That such secrecy and obfuscation surrounds this process should be a concern in and of itself.

That the Minister and his Department have pushed two court appeals – it may well have been prior to the Minister’s tenure – rather than accepting the High Court judgment and a ruling of the information commissioner to release details of the MANs contracts with Enet should raise eyebrows.

That the Peter Smyth report is, by its author’s own admission, lacking in veracity should raise concerns in its own right.

That the process has found itself with only one remaining bidder should raise eyebrows. Surely a contract of this magnitude should have had competitors beating down the doors to win it, yet we are aware that major telecommunications players such as Eir and SIRO pulled out of the process.

They cited governance and regulatory concerns. Do we really know what those concerns are? Have they been properly interrogated? Have we satisfied ourselves as to what governance and regulatory concerns Eir and SIRO were referring to? I do not believe we have.

At my request, Eir has agreed to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts next month. SIRO has not accepted that invitation. Enet has agreed but with some significant caveats as to what it will and will not discuss.

As I understand it, there is no comprehensive map within the Department or regulator of the networks that might already exist or the take-up of broadband within those networks.

Surely it makes sense to have an audit of current capacity before ploughing ahead with anything new so we can reduce duplication and possibly cost. For example, the ESB rolled out a significant fibre-optic domestic network using EU funds.

Individuals with more technical knowledge than I have told me it would not be a major job to use those networks to tack on the necessary hardware for broadband capabilities…

Similarly, we are aware that Bord Gáis rolled out the Aurora network and that Esat laid lines across parts of the country – for example, between Ballina and Tubbercurry.

Again, this was with EU funding. Eir is currently providing fibre-optic cabling to areas it deems economically viable in terms of its bottom line. What consideration, if any, has been given to the possibility of using any, or all, of these networks, even for a partial rolling out of broadband?

As I understand it, the ESB domestic fibre-optic network was established at a cost of €59 million. To date, has any discussion taken place between the ESB and the Department about the potential use of those networks?

The MANs, despite being operated by Enet, comprise a State-owned asset. Surely we must ensure that any current or future use of the infrastructure must oblige the user benefiting from the public finances to provide the service to all, regardless of the cost to the provider.

Having said that, I am acutely aware of the warning given at a conference by one of the consortia. It said a genuine discussion needed to take place on rolling out broadband to the last 15% of the country in terms of economic viability.

It said we needed to have an honest discussion about that. I would like to hear the possible impediments in this regard. I am sure they would have been articulated in outlining the problems with the roll-out.

Rural areas are affected but not-so-rural areas are also affected. Pockets of my constituency, which is really seen as the commuter belt area, are affected. The constituency is not exactly the most rural part of the country but it has pockets with very unreliable broadband.

Therefore, it is not an exclusively rural issue. Even in this city, there are spots where broadband is not particularly good. The required service can be guaranteed only if we get this process right while we have a chance.

Otherwise, we might find that a consortium of self-interested businesspeople will be given free reign to choose when and where it suits it to prioritise and how affordable it decides to make the end product.

There are those who are not taking up the MANs because of affordability. I cannot emphasise this enough.

It is very obvious that there is a really serious problem of institutional deficiency in the oversight of capital projects. There are some areas in which we do reasonably well because there is much expertise, such as roads, but with regard to some of the other projects it is as if we are spending Monopoly money, not the people’s real money.

We have got to be prudent about the process; otherwise it is going to be costly and will potentially not deliver on what has been promised.”

Minister Bruton’s response here

Last night: Broadband On The Run

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy

This afternoon in the Dáil.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy again asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the delay some women are experiencing in accessing their CervicalCheck slides.

Ms Murphy has previously raised the issue numerous times.

Last November, she told the Dáil that it was her understanding that the National Screening Service ordered Quest Diagnostics – which was sued by the late Emma Mhic Mhathuna – to stop releasing slides back in August.

And she said she understands that some women are going to the High Court to force the release of their slides.

This afternoon, she told the Taoiseach:

“Taoiseach, I raised with you some months ago the issue of the CervicalCheck slides not being provided to women and you gave an assurance that day, that you’d go back and talk to your officials and I’ve pursued this matter with Minster [for Health Simon] Harris.

“I indicated that it was going to end up in the courts. It was in the High Court on the 20th of December. There were commitments made by the HSE in that court to provide the slides. They have not been provided.

“The women are back in the court this Friday.

“Taoiseach this is a disgrace. There’s absolutely no reason why these slides should not be provided. There’s an unnecessary frustration being experienced by these women.

“Can I ask you to give us an assurance that this nonsense will be stopped and the HSE will be instructed to do what they agreed to do in the court?”

The Taoiseach replied:

“I recall when you raised that last time, I did make inquiries with the HSE and Department of Health about that and put across our very strong instruction from Government that slides should be provided without undue delay.

“I understand that there can be delays at different points. That, before a slide can be sent to a laboratory, the solicitor has to indicate which laboratory they want to send to. There is a protocol in place.

The vast majority of solicitors, I understand, have signed up to that protocol but not all have. So delays can happen at different points. It isn’t always at the point of the HSE or the lab.

“They can happen at the level of law firm as well.”

Previously: “I Don’t Believe I’m Being Told The Truth”

Request from Judge Brian Cregan for an extension for his inquiry into the sale of Siteserv; Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy; businessman Denis O’Brien

Yesterday, The Sunday Business Post, reported that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is refusing to give Judge Brian Cregan a 15-month extension for his inquiry into the sale of Siteserv and that he wants to know what the commission has found to date before doing so.

Judge Cregan’s request for an extension last week follows three other similar requests since the commission of investigation was set up in 2015.

The 2012 sale of Siteserv, to a company controlled by Denis O’Brien, Millington, is just one of 38 debt write-offs involving IBRC, formally Anglo Irish Bank, that Judge Cregan is tasked with examining. Siteserv is now called Actavo.

Hugh O’Connell reported:

The possibility of the commission of investigation, which is examining Siteserv and other IBRC loans sales, being scrapped entirely was raised at a meeting between the Taoiseach and opposition party leaders earlier this month. There are mounting concerns over the several missed deadlines and rising costs previously estimated at up to €25 million.

A Dáil vote would be needed to scrap the inquiry completely.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy said:

“If we simply accept that the task of investigating Siteserv is too big and complicated, then essentially we are being asked to accept that there is an entire cohort of people who are too big to touch. I cannot and will not accept that.”

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Murphy said:

What concerns me about the commission is that the format it is following is akin to a tribunal of inquiry rather than a private investigation. There seems to be a highly legalistic approach.

That is not what was expected. I myself said I did not want it to go on forever when it was set up. It will be five years. To say I am disappointed is probably an understatement.”

Varadkar is refusing to extend the Siteserv inquiry deadline (Hugh O’Connell, Sunday Business Post)

TD who raised issue of Siteserv sale to Dáil criticises inquiry’s progress (Harry McGee, The Irish Times)

Previously: Inactavo

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan

Further to the incident in Longford last night.

Last month, Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan:

‘What  the level of firearm training provided to armed Garda personnel in each of the years 2016, 2017 and to date in 2018; the number of gardaí by grade or rank with firearms training; the type of weapon they are trained to carry and or use; the company engaged to provide training; the cost of training on an annual basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter.’

In a written reply, Mr Flanagan said:

The Deputy will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling generally the administration and business of An Garda Síochána, including by arranging for the training of its members and civilian staff and I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter.

Training is provided by Firearms Instructors attached to the Garda College and the Emergency Response Unit under the control of the Director of Training, Garda College.

Following a recent audit conducted at the Garda College figures show there are approximately 2700 personnel that are currently authorised to carry firearms.

This can increase to approx. 3500 depending on operational requirements. This caters for all ranks of Gardaí who carry firearms.

Members attached to regular units and Detective units are trained in handguns only, namely Smith & Wesson revolver, Sig Sauer & Walther semi-automatic pistol.

Specialist Units such as Emergency Response Unit and the Armed Support Unit are trained in Sig Pistol, H&K MP7 Sub-machine gun, Taser and 40mm direct impact munitions (Less Lethal options).

For the Deputy’s information listed below are figures for attendance at firearms training in each of the years 2016, 2017 and to 31st August 2018.

2016 – 7851
2017 – 10555
2018 – 6891 as of 31st August 2018

The increase in 2017 is as a result of the increase in ASU (Armed Support Unit). Each member attends more than one training course each year.

Earlier: Meanwhile, In Longford

Rollingnews

This afternoon.

Legislation to remove excessive charges and restrictions on gift vouchers will not be passed in time for Christmas.

Last year, the Social Democrats launched the Consumer Rights (Gift Vouchers) Bill – to end the rip-off associated (unreasonable charges and expiry rules) with gift vouchers and cards.

The cabinet approved six months ago toa minimum five-year expiry date on gift vouchers.

Social Democrat co-leader Catherime Murphy said:

“The government has been promising since 2015 to increase protections for consumers. But there’s still no sign of the legislation to stop companies from charging maintenance fees on gift cards or selling vouchers with expiry limits of less than five years.

It’s inexcusable that another Christmas season will come and go before consumers get the protections they deserve. The Social Democrats are keen to see action in this area.

“[our] Bill would have ensured gift vouchers are valid for at least five years, would ban charges for issuing gift vouchers and would ban the practice of applying charges to unused or inactive balances. It would also ban any charging for the repayment of credit balances on gift vouchers.”

Minister’s plans for gift-voucher expiry charge falters (Irish Times)

Previously: Don’t Look A Gift Voucher In The Mouth

Pic: Shutterstock

From top: Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: Irish Prison Service logo

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan yesterday announced that he had asked the Inspector of Prisons, Patricia Gilheaney, to conduct a preliminary investigation into claims reported in the Irish Examiner by Michael Clifford.

Mr Clifford reported that a serving prison officer has made certain claims in a sworn affidavit to the Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan about methods used to stem the suspected flow of drugs and mobile phones into prisons – by prisoners and prison officers.

The man reportedly made the affidavit as he has “no confidence in the operation of the Protected Disclosure Act in either the prison service or the Department of Justice”.

News of the affidavit comes after it was reported in September that Michael Donnellan, head of the Irish Prison Service since December 2011, is to step down at the end of this month – despite being reappointed to the job in January for a second five-year term.

In yesterday’s report, Mr Clifford explained that the prison officer’s affidavit includes the claim that a private detective agency was hired to carry out a bugging and surveillance operation without the “necessary legal permits and permissions”.

He reported that tracking devices were placed on a number of prison service vehicles and in some prison officers’ private cars, unbeknownst to them; listening devices were placed in visitor area of one prison to gather information; and intelligence was passed onto An Garda Siochana.

Mr Clifford also reported that the man claims:

“A van containing drugs and telephones, associated with a major criminal gang, was allowed into prison campus without the knowledge of the governor and staff in that prison. The personnel in the van were subsequently arrested but the covert operation was contrary to all security procedure at the prison.”

This morning, Mr Clifford reported further on the affidavit.

He reported that the prison officer has also raised concerns about the manner in which some deaths have been handled in prisons – claiming that protocols or procedures for the preservation of scenes were not followed.

And Mr Clifford reported that the prison officer spoke several times about the matter with the late Judge Michael Reilly – who was the Inspector of Prisons from 2008 until his death in November 2016.

Mr Clifford reported:

“In his affidavit, the whistleblower said as a result of his concerns about prison deaths he undertook a course in DNA and the preservation of crime scene at the garda training college, but found his enthusiasm to professionalise the response to deaths in custody was not shared by management.”

Last August, Mr Clifford’s Irish Examiner colleague Joe Leogue reported extensively on concerns raised by prison inspectors about proper records being kept in relation to inmate deaths, including the concerns of the the late Judge Reilly.

Mr Leogue reported:

“During his time as prison inspector, the same significant problem arose time and time again, and no matter how many times he called for the issue to be addressed, it would present itself once more, as if his words were falling on deaf ears.

Vulnerable prisoners were dying — and the official prison records of the circumstances around their deaths were not true accounts of what happened in the prison that day.

Every time a prisoner died in custody, the prison inspector would investigate the circumstances around the death.

Judge Reilly’s job was not to determine the cause of death — that was for the coroner — but he was tasked with examining whether the prison staff followed all correct protocols at the time.

A trend, however, was emerging regarding vulnerable prisoners who required special observation — ‘special obs’ as they are known.

In many cases, such prisoners are recognised as having mental health problems, suicidal ideation, or a history of self-harm.

Protocols dictate that ‘special obs’ must be checked on every 15 minutes, and staff must record each check in a log book.

Judge Reilly, however, found repeated incidences where a check of CCTV footage from the day a ‘special obs’ prisoner died contradicted the entries in the log.

He highlighted the problem in his 2013/2014 annual report, published in August 2014.

…Judge Reilly said he had been told that, in a number of prisons, the approach to record-keeping is to put “as little on paper as is necessary”.

“In one investigation that I had sight of, an officer, in referring to report writing, is quoted as stating: ‘We are only trained on report writing in initial training and they tell you to ‘keep it short and cover your arse’,” he wrote.”

Meanwhile.

Last November, Mr Clifford reported on a separate matter – that of a protected disclosure made in the Irish Prison Service on September 20, 2017, concerning an allegation of sexual harassment, a payout in compensation and “the deployment of the individual involved in another state agency where he has contact with minors”.

A month later, in December, Mr Clifford reported that, at that point, no investigation into the disclosure had been launched.

Mr Clifford reported:

“According to the disclosure, a manager in the IPS performed sexual acts in front of a female employee without her consent in 2011 and 2012. The woman reported the incident but when she revealed she had previously been in a relationship with the man, no investigation was conducted, according to the disclosure.

The woman later took legal action over the sex acts and the failure to investigate and the case was settled. The Irish Examiner understands the settlement was just short of €100,000.

The Irish Examiner has established that the man and woman in the case have both left the IPS, as per alleged in the disclosure.

Three sources within the IPS confirmed that the woman was involved in litigation with the service, but the exact details are not clear. It is also established that the man at the centre of the allegations has been working for an agency which deals with minors.

Despite the department having these facts since late September, no investigation has been launched.”

In relation to this protected disclosure, this morning, Mr Clifford reported that the matter was  handed to solicitors McCann Fitzgerald to investigate after his reports on it last year.

He added:

“Now, nearly a year later, the investigation is reportedly completed but no final report on the matter has yet been written.

With a record like that for handling protected disclosures, is it any wonder that this prison officer used the legal mechanism of a sworn affidavit to make his claims?”

Further to this…

On November 8 last.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy received replies to several questions put to the Justice Minister.

In one question, Ms Murphy asked if disciplinary proceedings have been initiated within the Irish Prison Service within the past three years “specifically with respect to incidences of sexual harassment and or assault”.

She asked, if there were, how many incidences were there, the rank or ranks and/or grade of staff involved and if the matters were resolved.

Mr Flanagan responded with the following to Ms Murphy:

“I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that the Service is committed to protecting dignity and respect across the organisation and addresses complaints of bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment under the Dignity at Work policy for the Irish Civil Service.

I am informed that in the period referred to by the Deputy, one such complaint against a member of staff was upheld after investigation under the Dignity at Work Policy and disciplinary proceedings were initiated on foot of that.

A further three complaints by staff members are currently being addressed under the Dignity at Work Policy.

The complaints concerned have involved staff at Chief Officer, Prison Officer and Prison Administration and Support Officer Grades.”

Meanwhile…

In April 2017, Ms Murphy asked the then Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald about the number of private investigation firms hired by the Department of Justice since 2012.

Ms Fitzgerald replied:

“I can confirm that there were no private investigation firms hired by bodies under the aegis of my Department during the period referred to by the Deputy.”

Officer raises concern over jail deaths (Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner)

Protected disclosures are everything but for prison officers (Michael Clifford, Irish Examiner)

Concern over prison death records (Joe Leogue, Irish Examiner)

Inmate deaths lead to call for culture change (Joe Leogue, Irish Examiner)

Yesterday: The Turn Of The Screws

Social Democrats co-founder Catherine Murphy

This afternoon.

In the Dáil.

During Leaders’ Questions, which were taken by Tánaiste Simon Coveney…

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy raised the CervicalCheck controversy and the inordinate delay some women are experiencing in accessing their slides – having also raised it last week.

She said it’s her understanding that the National Screening Service ordered Quest Diagnostics – which was sued by the late Emma Mhic Mhathuna – to stop releasing slides back in August.

And she said she understands that some women are going to go to the High Court to force the release of their slides.

Ms Murphy said:

“They’re not people that should have to battle for anything else right now. Really, their whole focus should be battling in relation to staying as well as possible.

“But unfortunately, that’s not the case. And I want to draw attention to the absolute contradictions that exist between the information that’s being put forward by the Taoiseach, the minister, the HSE officials and CervicalCheck and the actual lived realities for the women and their families involved.

“Yesterday, I spoke to Cian O’Carroll, the solicitor representing many of the women impacted and he informed me, he is still chasing down slides from as far back as April or May.

“And the HSE put a protocol in place in August, following which Mr O’Carroll engaged with them to try and improve it. Yet, since the 10th of September, when he provided suggested improvements, they have had no engagement. He has no engagement from or by the HSE. That’s more than two months ago.

“The Taoiseach agreed with me in the chamber last week that there should be no further or undue delays. Previous to that, the Taoiseach told the house that no woman should have to go to court.

“But I’m being told that there’s an appeal, that there will be an appeal to the High Court to force the release of the slides for these women and their families.

“And they’ll be put through that torture, it’s totally unnecessary Tánaiste.

Seven women have come forward to me, to tell me, they’re part of the 221-plus group, to tell me that they’re waiting an inordinate amount of time for access to their slides.

“Yet that jars completely with what the HSE told the Public Accounts Committee last week. They said the average waiting time, for women who had requested the slides, was 22 days and that the HSE had put a specific unit in place, just to deal with this.

“Yet, here we have these women saying that that’s not the reality that they’re experiencing.

“And I understand that the National Screening Service ordered Quest Diagnostics, back in August, to stop releasing slides.

“I also understand that where previously it was the norm to include the accompanying laboratory reports with the slides, they’re not now being released.

“So it’s clear that the experiences and the information given to me, that the HSE have become far more legally focused and less patient focused on this issue and the goalposts are moving for these women and their families and they can’t continue to be treated like this, Tánaiste.

“I have just one question: Can you please outline the process and timeline whereby these women will be given access to the slides and associated reports.”

During his response, Mr Coveney said:

“I can assure that the Department of Health, the HSE, and the Government wants to ensure that we treat families as quickly as possible, protecting the integrity of the process, of course, to make sure that families and loved ones and women can get access to their own slides, their own medical records effectively, as quickly as possible, without any undue delay.”

“...We don’t want any woman or any family to have to go court here to be able to access slides that they should be entitled to access quickly without any undue delay and it’s the procedures we’re putting in place to make sure that happens is what we want to focus on.”

Ms Murphy, somewhat incredulous, responded:

Seven people who have contacted me, who are caught up in this, who are directly impacted on it, why would they be contacting me? What would they be doing that for if this was working?

“Just ask yourself that question. I’ve been told that the HSE has been put on notice that there will be a case in the High Court to demand these slides, why would that be happening if this was working satisfactorily.

“This is not working satisfactorily and it’s absolutely, it’s absolutely unacceptable that they should be forced to go to court, just to get their medical information.

“Can I ask you to go back and review this today.”

“…I don’t believe that I’m being told the truth.”

Last week, Ms Murphy told the Dáil she had been in contact with women who have been waiting six months for their slides.

She said:

“I was contacted by the husband of one of the 221 women who have been caught up in the scandal. He told me that the majority of women who requested their slides have not got them six months after they requested them. Some time ago I looked at the MedLab Pathology and Quest Diagnostics contracts and raised the matter at the Committee of Public Accounts.

“The contracts provide that the HSE can retrieve these slides within three days, so there is no question as to ownership of the slides.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he’d look into the matter and couldn’t understand that women were waiting months when it should take a “couple of weeks”.

Watch Dáil proceedings live here