Internal report reveals chaos in trying to ensure medical consultants work all the hours they’re meant to in public hospitals

AN INTERNAL report has shown the major difficulties behind trying to manage the contracts of medical consultants and ensuring they stick to the hours they are supposed to in public hospitals.

The document effectively admits that for many consultants, the HSE has no way of monitoring their earnings or private practice to ensure they fulfil their obligations.

The report was prepared by the HSE for the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure amid concerns that some consultants were not doing all they were supposed to do in public hospitals.

The issue was highlighted in an RTÉ Investigates documentary last November which showed how some consultants were doing far below what their contract required, particularly in regional hospitals.

In one case, a consultant observed for an eight-week period was discovered to be doing just thirteen hours a week on average in the public system.

Documents obtained under FOI reveal the consultant contract issue was already a major concern of the HSE and Department of Health prior to the programme broadcast.

A report had been prepared highlighting the “key challenges” facing the HSE in guaranteeing that consultants met their obligations.

It said that it was impossible to keep tabs on 360 consultants with a specific type of contract.

“[Their contracts] posed unique challenges for this cohort as it left no effective basis for monitoring compliance,” the report explained.

Many contracts had no provision for monitoring offsite private practice generally, the report said.

“The HSE has audited hospitals in relation to this issue; however, it does not lend itself to a routine monitoring, and random checks through websites have limited benefit. There is a need to determine the most appropriate mechanism for establishing whether there is inappropriate off-site practice.”

The HSE also had no way to check how much consultants were earning from the private work they did while other problems around determining whether patients were public or private were also identified.

Another issue was also raised where some consultants were working more than required and “strict enforcement” for all could well bring those doing excess hours “into sharp focus”.

A separate briefing for Minister Simon Harris said measures were now needed to “actively monitor compliance” by consultants with their obligations.

Among the options being considered were audits of individual hospitals and the “pursuit of corrective action” if consultants were breaching their work conditions.

Also suggested was the possibility of creating a new “robust compliance framework” that could be used to make sure contracts were being fulfilled.

It said: “It is essential that a governance framework and related reporting and monitoring arrangements are put in place in respect of each consultant to ensure that they deliver their work commitment to the public system.

“[It should also ensure] that their private practice activity is in accordance with the levels permitted by their contracts and, where this is not the case, that the framework provides for the taking of corrective action.”

The Department of Health had flagged the issue over consultant contracts months before the RTÉ documentary was broadcast.

Secretary General Jim Breslin wrote a letter to the HSE last July raising the fact that consultants doing too much private work was an ongoing problem.

He said: “I understand that returns made … raise concerns that consultants may be exceeding their permitted level of private practice within the public hospital where they are employed, exceeding their off-site private practice rights or engaging in off-site private practice though holding a contract that does not permit any off-site private practice.”

Mr Breslin said he hoped all consultants would be reminded of their contractual obligations and that “processes were put in place” to make sure they met them.

Minister Simon Harris was also made aware of the letter at the time, the documents show.

In response, Director General of the HSE Tony O’Brien said that consultant contracts were a “high priority” for them.

They said they had intervened in specific instances where they were not satisfied that consultants were meeting the conditions of their employment.

In a statement, the Department of Health said they planned to hold a meeting with the HSE in the coming days to get an update on what has been done in the months since the RTÉ documentary.

They said: “The minister is very clear that consultants must deliver their work commitment to the public system.

“For some time now, the Department of Health has been working closely with the HSE to find a solution to ensure more effective monitoring of compliance by consultants to their contracts and that compliance is achieved in respect of all consultants.”

They said Minister Harris would be looking for “absolute assurances” that contracts were being enforced and that new more “robust measures” would be introduced this year.

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More than €800,000 in tax relief on second homes claimed by government ministers through “dual abode allowance” since Enda Kenny promised to abolish it

THE country’s most senior politicians have claimed more than €800,000 over the past seven years through a controversial tax write-off to maintain a second home in Dublin.

The government ministers have been allowed to write off more than €100,000-a-year from what is known as the ‘dual abode allowance’.

The tax perk applies to ministers, ministers of state, or the Attorney General if they live outside Dublin and rent or own a second home in the capital.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny had promised to end the scheme while in opposition but the allowance was retained and remains in place.

The perk is still being used seven years after Fine Gael took power and, according to the latest full year figures, is now being claimed by sixteen different politicians.

In 2016, the total value of claims came to just over €120,000 which had a cost to the Exchequer of more than €48,000, according to Revenue figures.

Only partial figures are available for last year and around €48,000 was claimed with a tax loss of more than €19,000.

Overall, the tax lost on the €809,000 that has been claimed for by the politicians was €328,000 based on the higher tax band of 41, and more recently 40, percent.

It’s understood the allowance is mainly used currently by politicians to claim a tax write-off against the cost of renting a second property in Dublin.

However, it’s also open to them to claim against the cost of purchasing a property or costs involved in staying in a hotel or guesthouse while in the city for work.

When claims for that type of overnight accommodation are made, the money can be used to offset costs including laundry.

If the politician chooses to buy a property, the relief can be claimed against the mortgage and interest repayments, along with legal and auctioneering fees.

The government did examine the possibility of abolishing the dual abode allowance back in 2012.

However, one proposed system that would have directly reimbursed ministers for the cost of overnights in Dublin would have ended up costing the taxpayer more and the idea was quietly dropped.

The Revenue Commissioners said they would not detail how many claims had been made in 2017 to protect “confidential taxpayer information” and would only confirm there had been fewer than ten.

They said: “There is a possibility of further claims for 2017 being received; therefore, this should be considered a provisional figure.”

In a statement, the Revenue Commissioners said their responsibility was for the “fair and efficient administration of tax legislation”.

Asked whether it was fair that a perk like this was available only to a select group of people, they said: “Matters of tax policy are not within Revenue’s remit. Revenue’s responsibility is for the fair and efficient administration of the tax legislation that is in place. Questions on tax policy matters are proper to the Minister for Finance, the Department of Finance and the Government.”

In a statement, the Department of Public Expenditure said they did not collect data on the dual abode allowance and it was a matter for individual politicians on whether they claimed it or not.

They said: “[The] individual may, by way of written claim to Revenue, claim a tax deduction in respect of the expenses incurred in maintaining a second residence where s/he is obliged to so because of her/his duties.

“The abolition of the dual abode allowance was not part of the Programme for a Partnership Government nor was it part of the Programme for Government … [from] 2011 to 2016. No policy changes are envisaged for the existing arrangements.”

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Department of Education fails to enforce its own rules on school funding leaving taxpayer to pick up €11.5 million bill

 * A guest post by Jill Nesbitt on how one primary school charges thousands in “voluntary parent contributions” while drawing down state funding.

A former private primary school in Dublin 4 sought recognition as a national school and undertook to comply with all Department of Education requirements for schools in the free education system, one of which was to abolish school fees.

However, despite being granted provisional recognition and State funding in September 1999 the John Scottus National School on Northumberland Road continued to seek large voluntary contributions from parents.

The school is still receiving state funding and still has only provisional recognition, some 19 years later.  Since October 2003, the school has received over €11.5 million in taxpayer funding, not including the salaries of special needs assistants.  This year, it’s asking parents for €3,600 p.m. in an “annual contribution” (www.johnscottus.ie)  though it does offer an Option B of paying nothing.

One of the conditions of recognition is that “no fee of any kind in respect of the provision of primary education may be levied by a national school.” Internal memos released under Freedom of Information show that the Department was assured that the school had agreed to conform to all requirements when it was granted provisional recognition in September 1999.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science queried the Department over this in 2005.  The then Secretary General Brigid McManus said that the Department had written to the school seeking clarification as to the “voluntary” nature of the contributions and said that the matter was still under consideration in the context of the school’s application for permanent recognition.

That same year the Department pointed out that the amount of contribution sought of parents was equivalent to what they used to seek in fees.  In a letter to the school Mr Tony Dalton said that the then level of contribution being sought “far exceeds” what could be construed as reasonable costs for school books, lunches etc.

“Secondly, prior to receiving recognition as a national school, it appears that the school was charging fees of IRP 460 per term.  Allowing for annual inflation since then, and the conversion to the euro, this figure actually now equates to the ‘voluntary contribution’ currently being requested.  It would appear, therefore, that the funding arrangements at the school have not changed despite the school having received national school status and benefiting from the substantial funding that goes along with this,” he said.

Mr Dalton said that the Department required “written assurances” that the practice of asking for this level of voluntary contribution would “cease immediately”.  “Future consideration of the school’s application for permanent recognition and indeed the continuing provisional recognition of the school as a national school is dependent on this recognition being received.”

The school responded by threatening legal action.  Mr David Horan, the then chairperson of the John Scottus Educational Trust which runs both the national school and the private John Scottus secondary school says that “no legal advice was sought as we received no response or acknowledgment of our letter.”

With provisional recognition, the John Scottus National School receives teaching salaries, capitation, 75% of rent and various other grants in common with all national schools.  With permanent recognition it would also be eligible for capital grants, school transport and a rent refund of 95%.

The school says that the parental contribution pays for “more teachers and thus smaller class sizes” as well as a longer school day, hot vegetarian lunch and snacks, book supply and swimming.  For 2016-17 the school had 217 pupils with an average of 15.5 pupils per class compared with averages of 25 to 30 in similar sized national schools.

Mr Horan is now the head of the School of Philosophy and Economic Science which founded the John Scottus schools in 1986.  The Irish organisation is part of a worldwide movement, the London based School of Economic Science developed by Leonardo da Vinci MacLaren, the grandson of Irish Catholics.   It offers courses around Ireland in “practical philosophy” which is based on Advaita Vedanta. Children in the John Scottus school have regular philosophy and Sanskrit classes.  The Dublin schools are among fifteen worldwide.

The John Scottus opened another private primary school at Old Conna, Shankill, Co Dublin (former 14 acre Aravon School) in September 2017 where the fees are €4,800 p.a. These documents are either released under FoI or come from parents of children at the school.

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Department warned of legal challenges if they tried to withdraw tax incentive for developers and landlords who “hoarded” properties and land

THE Department of Finance warned that the state would face legal challenges if it tried to withdraw a tax exemption that has been blamed for fuelling land hoarding.

The exemption, which allows land owners avoid capital gains tax if they hold onto a property for seven years, was introduced to kickstart the flagging Irish real estate market in 2011.

However, it has since had the unintended consequence of encouraging property owners to sit on land in the midst of a chronic housing shortage.

In a pre-budget submission for Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, civil servants warned that any attempt to change the scheme would open the doors to compensation claims.

The submission said: “Based on legal advice, it will be necessary to retain the option for those who purchased property between 7 December 2011 and end December 2014 to retain the option to keep the property for the full seven years, and still enjoy the full … [tax] relief.

“This is because property/land owners have legitimate expectation that the relief would stay in place for the time set out … and may have made investment decisions that could be impeded by a possible change in timing of the relief.”

In Budget 2018, the exemption was changed so that property owners could instead sell the land after just four years and still get the full tax relief available.

The submission explained that there was no cost to the Exchequer from making the change as the tax loss had already been locked in.

It said: “The costs of this relief have effectively already been incurred and the revenue from such gains foregone.”

Minister Donohoe was presented with three options on how to reform the exemption.

The first possibility was to do nothing and just let the scheme run its course over the next three years.

“Land (and buildings) would continue to be held pending access to the relief,” the submission warned however.

“There will be no marked increase in land being placed on the market until [2020-2021] … so potentially limiting the availability of development land.”

The second option would have allowed property owners avail of the full tax relief either four or six years into the scheme.

The submission said: “This option will … require the maintenance of the option to retain the property for seven years due to possible legal challenge.”

It said that “anecdotally” a large amount of property had been bought at the end of 2013 and could therefore start becoming available for sale and development immediately.

The disadvantages of this approach included the potential for creating “a glut” of land and buildings if owners began to sell en masse.

The submission also warned that property owners could just disregard the changes and hold onto land in “the expectation of [further] price increases”.

A third option was also proposed involving tiered relief depending on when the property or land was sold.

If sold after four years for instance, the owner would get 4/7ths of the relief or after six years, they would get 6/7ths.

In the end, Minister Donohoe opted for the second approach, which was to simply grant the relief at any time between four and seven years for property owners.

A spokesman said: “This change could help encourage and promote the sale of assets such as development land and existing residential properties.

“It is widely believed that this relief has been a factor in slowing the release of development land onto the market, as owners … may be waiting for the requisite seven-year ownership period to elapse before selling.”

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Human Rights Commission spent €320,000 on “fixtures and fittings” including €14,000 for five top-of-the-range TVs and €16,278 for a meeting table

A PUBLIC body spent more than €14,000 on five display televisions as part of a €1.6 million makeover of its city centre offices.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) paid out over €320,000 for “fixtures and fittings” as part of the renovation of three floors of office space in Dublin.

Among the items purchased were a €16,728 meeting table along with €15,153 for twenty-two chairs to go around it.

The chairs each cost almost €690 and were described in invoices as “stick executive high back chairs”. They were bought from the Italian design firm ICF Office.

A “bevel meeting table” was also bought from the same Milanese company. It cost €2,779 and seats six people. With a white top and an oak frame, it is described on the ICF website as “as strong as roots, as sleek as stems”.

Two more ten-seater meeting tables were bought from the German design firm Konig + Neurath, each of them costing €4,108.

The Plenum K tables – at least according to the manufacturer – combine “technical functionality by integrating state-of-the-art media technology, high quality and a superior aesthetic standard for individually-tailored requirements”.

Five two door storage units from Konig + Neurath were bought as well, each coming with a price tag of €1,273. Another forty-four similar units were bought from the same firm, every one of them costing in excess of €1,000.

Also on the tab were two designer Sinetica captain chairs, each of which cost just under €900. The elegant lounge chairs have an oakwood base and are described as a “light and sinuous armchair with an ample and relaxing outline”.

Sinetica were also the design firm of choice for a “diamond exec desk” for the offices, which came with a bill for just under €1,300.

The five televisions purchased were all top of the range high-definition Sony Bravias. Two 75 inch screens were bought for just over €3,950 each, two 65-inch sets for €2,367 each, while a single 55-inch TV costs €1,609.

The Human Rights and Equality Commission also purchased six Quattro tables from the design firm Andreu World. Each of those cost €848.70 with a combined bill of €5,092.

Five sofas, each costing more than €1,300, were bought as well as part of the refurbishment project.

Three of them were bought from the UK-based design firm sixteen3. They came from the Erno line with its “strong rectilinear aesthetic” and are ideal “for breakout, reception and lounge areas”. Individually, they cost between €1,346 and €1,414.

Two more basket sofas – each costing just over €1,500 – were bought from the Danish furniture designers Softline, according to invoices released under FOI.

Other items purchased included four receptionist chairs, each more than €600, a conference room lectern costing €1,992, and five “executive storage credenzas” for a combined €6,672.

Eight “floor cushions”, each costing over €100, ended up costing €836.40 after VAT was included.

Another almost €25,000 was spent on the purchase of 58 “liberty ergonomic office chairs”, according to a table of costs.

The entire refurbishment project cost €1.9 million with just under €150,000 paid out for architectural services and the main bulk of the cost, almost €1.5 million, spent on construction services.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission – an independent public body that is accountable to the Oireachtas – said they had first leased the property on Green Street in 2015.

They said: “[It has] since been refurbished to provide a modern accessible working environment for the Commission’s planned 64 staff.

“The refurbishment project also included the development of a new ground floor facility, which is dedicated to meetings, seminars and events related to human rights and equality, hosted by the Commission and by a diverse range of civil society organisations.”

In their response to the FOI request, they said they would not be releasing details of the supplier of the furniture as disclosure could cause them a financial loss or “prejudice [their] competitive position”.

 

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Despite one of the lowest betting taxes in the world, government opted not to increase tax because of job loss warning from bookies

FINANCE Minister Paschal Donohoe kicked to touch on doubling tax on betting amid warnings of jobs losses from the Irish bookmaking industry.

The Department of Finance had presented three options that could have raised up to €50 million extra from bookies or punters as part of a review of betting tax.

However, Mr Donohoe decided he would leave the 1% rate of tax well alone and reconsider the increase in next year’s budget.

The Department had received multiple submissions from the betting industry who had warned an extension of the tax could be “potentially damaging”.

They said it could lead to closure of businesses and job losses, with a “particularly stark” risk for individual or smaller operators.

A submission for Minister Donohoe said: “A total of 13 submissions were received. Of these, 8 were from the betting/gaming industry, 2 were from the horse racing industry, one from the addiction advocacy service and two from individuals.

“Follow on meetings were held with six of these at their request.”

The Departmental submission explained that there was “ongoing pressure” to increase the tax on betting, which is among the lowest in the world.

Minister Donohoe was told there were three options open to him, the first simply to increase the rate from 1% to 2%. It would have raised an additional €50 million but was being resisted by the bookmaking industry.

The second option was to tax the punter, which the Department said would come with its own set of risks.

“[There is] the possibility of punters seeking out alternative untaxed forms of betting or a move towards unlicensed operators,” the submission explained.

It would also be complicated by having to tax betting exchanges such as Betfair where tax is currently based on the commission charged.

The minister was also told that other countries had suffered a “negative experience” when they tried to tax the punter.

The last option suggested a special tax on the gross profits of bookmaking firms. Paddy Power Betfair for instance had operating profits of UK£91 million in the first quarter of 2017.

The submission explained: “There is no doubt that a move to gross profits would be of advantage to business as the level of tax payable will change in response to margins.

“From a revenue point of view there is less stability around the yield of the tax and it is more susceptible to changes in the trade environment.”

However, Minister Donohoe was told that such a gross profits tax would require “significant additional work” before it could be introduced.

The minister was also told that even if extra revenue was earned from betting taxes, there was an expectation by some that it would go directly to the horse and greyhound industry.

“In the context of the historical link between betting revenues and the funding of the … industry, any increase in betting receipts will be seen by some in the industry as being earmarked for the Horse and Greyhound Fund,” the submission said.

In his response to the document, Minister Donohoe said he had “decided not to change this rate in Budget ‘18” and he would consider it next year.

A statement from his Department said: “The Minister received a number of submissions for possible inclusion in Budget 2018. He took the decision that any potential actions on foot of the Betting Tax Review should be considered as part of Budget 2019.”

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Revenue Commissioners warned that latest price hike for cigarettes could actually lead to a lower tax take for the government

THE government was warned by the Revenue Commissioners that increasing the duty on cigarettes in the latest budget might not yield any extra revenue.

The warning came in a pre-budget submission to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe which suggested the price of a packet of cigarettes was getting so high that smokers would look outside of Ireland when buying.

According to the Revenue Commissioners, a 25-cent price hike could even have caused a decrease in the amount of tax taken in.

The Revenue’s “ready reckoner” suggested that a possible 25-cent increase could at best bring in an extra €31 million but equally could see revenue decline by €18 million.

The submission said: “The Revenue Commissioners have expressed concerns that increases in excise may not lead to increased yields, as consumers are further incentivised to exit the tobacco products market in Ireland.”

Mr Donohoe was told by officials that any predictions on tax taken from smokers were therefore “highly tentative”.

The minister went ahead with a 50-cent hike for the third year in a row cementing Ireland’s position as having the highest rate of duty on cigarettes in the European Union.

Duty on 1,000 cigarettes was €336.15 according to the departmental submission as compared to just over €85 in both Lithuania and Bulgaria.

The memo said that around €170 million was being lost to the Exchequer through a combination of illicit cigarettes and those bought legally elsewhere.

It explained: “Results … indicate that 10% of cigarette consumption in Ireland in 2016 was illicit, while an additional 8% of cigarette consumption was legal product purchased abroad.”

The Department of Finance were lobbied by two tobacco companies, according to the documents.

Imperial Tobacco asked that minimum excise duty on cigarettes not be increased while Japan Tobacco Ireland – who sell brands like Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges – asked the government to commit to “a multi-year plan of modest, predictable excise increases”.

Both the Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society urged a 50-cent increase along with a levy on the profits of tobacco manufacturers.

The anti-tobacco NGO ASH Ireland meanwhile suggested a €1 increase per packet and an additional 50-cent “litter levy” for every pack sold.

A spokesman said the Department of Finance was aware the latest price hike could cause a “disproportionate change in consumer behaviour”.

Tax receipts from smokers had finished €56 million down on forecast in 2016 but this year seemed more likely to come in on target, according to the Department.

The spokesman said: “While overall yields have continued to rise over the past three years, issues such as front-loading and projected decreases in smoking prevalence have made accurate forecasting more problematic.

“We are happy that the forecast is solid and if there is a more dramatic shift in the level of consumption … then that will be very welcome from a health perspective, which is the overriding policy objective.”

According to the submission, smoking rates in Ireland are plummeting.

In 2003, 28.3% of the population smoked which by 2016 had fallen to 18.7%. Tobacco Free Ireland – an action plan from the Department of Health – is targeting a reduction to less than 5% by 2025.

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Taoiseach’s Strategic Communications Unit warned of dangers of the “parliamentary bubble” in briefing by UK experts

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar’s €5 million spin unit was warned of the dangers of getting caught in a “parliamentary bubble” in a special briefing from the UK government’s premiere public relations guru.

Two senior members of the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) visited London in September for a high-level briefing with senior personnel in Britain’s Government Communication Service.

A report on the visit, obtained under FOI, reveals key parts of the advice that will shape Mr Varadkar’s controversial PR operation.

Among the findings brought back from the meeting were that there was “audacity in simplicity” and that “citizen needs are more important than government needs”.

The trip was undertaken by John Concannon, the director of the SCU, and Andrea Pappin, another of the leading officials from the unit.

The report on the meeting was filled with suggestions on how the UK had made a success of their ‘GREAT Britain’ communications plan.

However, it made no mention of Brexit and the string of missteps in how the British government has managed that message.

A review of the meeting said there were five key takeaways for Leo Varadkar’s spin unit.

They were that everything is based on hard evidence and data, the importance of citizen needs, simplicity, collaboration and technology, and “authority versus central control”.

The review document said that every meeting, initiative, and campaign in the UK was “grounded in data”.

“Insight is constantly gleaned from own-commissioned market research, website and social media traffic, and constant engagement with key sector[s],” it said.

“It was noticeable how much time is spent listening to key audiences and reviewing the insight before campaigns were devised.”

They said that evaluation of government work was automatic to figure out how many people had been reached, how much had been saved, or what else had been achieved.

The Strategic Communications Unit were also given a clear warning of the dangers of getting caught in a political “bubble”.

“There was a strong awareness of the government bubble and the difference between that and the ‘actual’ needs of citizens,” the document said.

“Every time, the needs of the citizen … was put ahead of Whitehall or the Parliamentary Bubble.”

The head of the Government Communication Service Alex Aiken had apparently told them: “We are all about the public good.”

The SCU were also told that simplicity was audacious, where all communications plans were clean, clear, and understood by all.

“One page was delivered instead of 45 – and where possible it was visual,” said the review document.

They explained how the ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign had been uncompromising in its standards, looking to create jobs.

The brief said: “In fact all of this work had at its heart a simple aim – to be the best. According to UN rankings, they are.”

There was a small army of PR people working on behalf of the UK government, around 3,000 in total, along with twenty department heads of communications, and a twelve-strong management board for strategic communications.

The UK team also suggested a series of simple rules that were designed to “keep standards high and bureaucracy low”.

The report explained: “It was stressed that this was not about ‘central control’, rather the work was deemed professional assurance for the government communications industry.”

Standards, templates, brand guidelines, and user guides were applied to all campaigns with a close watch kept on them.

All campaigns costing over €10,000 had to be run past the government strategic communications and work off a clear template before being allowed to progress.

Incentives were also offered as part of the larger GREAT Britain campaign, they said.

“There is a pool of monies for which [overseas] Ambassadors can apply for local events. Only the Ambassador can apply for the monies, and only after working with their fellow agency teams on the ground.”

A government spokesperson said: “The Irish government wants to learn from best practice in how best to inform citizens about State services, and how best to simplify and streamline its communications.”

They said the UK, Denmark, Estonia, Canada and New Zealand had all “streamlined” their communications strategies at government level.

“Staff from this Department therefore visited London to meet key members of the UK’s civil service communications team,” said the government spokesperson. “These meetings looked at best practice on a range of topics, including digital communications, from the country ranked #1 for eGovernment by the UN.”

The Strategic Communications Unit has been dogged by controversy since it was established by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar early this summer.

Mr Varadkar had originally said the unit would require “no additional spending” and that its costs would be met from “existing allocations”.

The cost of the unit was subsequently revealed to be €5 million per annum and it was described by one Fianna Fáil politician Dara Calleary as a “cheerleading machine”.

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Former politicians had €1,741 in bar and restaurant bills written off with one owing over €300 in a drinks bill

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar was quick to say that politicians who refused to pay their Dáil bar and restaurant bills should have it deducted from their salary.

However, it has now emerged that the biggest ‘debtor’ to benefit from the controversial €5,500 write-off of bar and restaurant debts may have been his own department.

A breakdown of the €5,500 written off by the Oireachtas earlier this year has revealed that the Department of the Taoiseach were recorded as owing €965 across a series of invoices.

However, the Department has disputed the figures, saying their records show that most of the money was repaid long ago.

The departmental bill has in any event been written off by the Oireachtas, along with €4,500 more owed by six politicians, several different government departments, two committees, the government press office, and Fine Gael.

A detailed breakdown of who owes what has been released under FOI showing that one former politician owed a total of €943 to the restaurant, which will not be pursued.

Another ex-TD or Senator owes €301 directly to the Dáil bar and that debt has also been cancelled.

Four other politicians, all either retired or who have lost their seats, owed totals of between €66 and €267 to the bar and restaurant, none of which will be chased up.

The Houses of the Oireachtas has said it will not identify the six politicians who benefitted from the write-off but that none of them were currently serving TDs or Senators.

They said there was evidence that “strongly suggested” their own records may not be accurate.

“Full release could cause unfair negative exposure to the former members in question,” they said.

“[We] could not find a convincing reason to release the names of these individuals and impinge on their right to privacy, when in fact their identities may have been incorrectly associated with non-payment of balances in the first instance.”

They said that in a couple of instances, ex-politicians had even been able to provide evidence that some of the debts had been paid, which cast “doubt over all these historical imbalances”.

The Oireachtas has however, decided to release details of the government departments and committees for whom debt has been written off.

The Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs, and Department of Social Protection had debts – of €417, €404, and €284 respectively – written off.

The Department of Justice had a larger outstanding tab of €692 but again the Oireachtas has said it cannot be certain if their records are accurate.

They said: “Many of the invoices in question were incorrectly directed to certain departments. Some departments had records showing that invoices had been paid … some departments had no records of any of the invoices in question and were not in a position to pay given the delay. The age of the balances casts doubts over their accuracy.”

The Department of the Taoiseach believes the €965.47 that they are listed as owing is wrong, saying they can prove they paid €785 of it.

They said: “The amounts listed … refer to years 2004 to 2010, which relates to catering services provided by the Houses of the Oireachtas for official meetings and events held in the Department and does not relate to bar facilities.”

The department said they had been in ongoing correspondence with the Oireachtas to try and reconcile the amounts owed.

They said: “The Department did not receive any invoices from the Houses of the Oireachtas in respect of the outstanding balance.”

Four other bills are also listed as having been written off: €28 for the foreign affairs committee, €518 for the enterprise and small business committee, €273 to the government press office, and €153 to “Fine Gael/HQ”.

The practice of providing credit to politicians and other public bodies continues despite controversy surrounding it, although it is currently the subject of a review.

The latest figures show that €37,256 was owed at the end of August with €5,375 of that relating to the Dáil bar and the majority of €31,881 owed to the restaurant facilities.

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EU Commission refuses access to correspondence with Irish government over Apple state aid case

Last month, I looked for copies of correspondence between the EU Commission and the Irish government over the Apple state aid case and delays in collecting the €13 billion in tax.

It was, perhaps not surprisingly, refused.

Am open to seeking a review of it if anyone had any thoughts.

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