What type of prisoners are most likely to get temporary release from Irish jails?

DRUG dealers and thieves are the most likely offenders to benefit from temporary release from jail.

More than 270 men and women have been freed from prison early from their sentence, the majority of them permanently.

Of the criminals given early release, 33 of them were serving jail terms of at least five years meaning their crimes were at the more serious end of the spectrum.

The figures, provided by the Irish Prison Service under FOI, give the most detailed picture yet available of who gets let out early from their sentence.

Two sex offenders are on their list, both of them aged over sixty, and prison sources said their release was on long-term compassionate grounds.

The longest serving inmate on temporary release was a man aged in his fifties who was convicted of “homicide offences”.

He was given a jail term of more than ten years, which was due to finish in November of this year but has been let out six months early.

Twenty people serving sentences for serious assaults, threats to murder, harassment, and other related offences were also let out on temporary release.

They include two women, both of whom had remission dates later this summer but who were allowed leave jail early.

Overall, 29 women – serving time for offences like robbery, burglary, assault, drugs, and theft – were out before the end of their sentence.

Capacity issues at the state’s two female prisons, Dóchas in Mountjoy and the female wing in Limerick, mean temporary release is more frequently used than in male prisons.

In general, drug dealers were the most likely to get out early with 61 offenders guilty of “controlled drug offences” among those released.

Their sentences ranged from just a few months up to ten years. Of the group given temporary release, 21 of them were serving at least five years.

Sixty people convicted of “theft and related offences” were also out, most of them in the short sentence category.

Of the sixty, almost half were serving jail terms of less than twelve months.

Another person on the list was a drug dealer serving a sentence of more than five years in Dublin’s Wheatfield Prison. The man – who is aged in his thirties – was not supposed to be out until January 2019 but is already on temporary release.

Another 32 prisoners, who do not have official release dates until 2018, are already out of prison according to the data.

However, most of the offenders listed were supposed to get out of jail at some stage this year and have had months rather than years trimmed from their sentences.

The prison with the most people on temporary release was Mountjoy with 85, followed by Cork on 48, and Limerick with 33.

The figures were provided as a snapshot of a single day in June by the Irish Prison Service.

A similar breakdown of a date last December was also released, painting a similar picture but when over 320 people were on temporary release.

The Prison Service said most of the 272 people on temporary release were on “a structured release plan”.

That means they will not go back to jail unless they fail to fulfil the conditions of release and are now effectively free.

Thirty-three of the people on release however, were offenders sent to jail for non-payment of fines.

Under current arrangements for dealing with this type of offender, they are simply processed at a jail and automatically released without ever actually spending a night in a cell.

The Irish Prison Service said use of temporary release helped with resocialisation, participation in employment schemes, and treatment for drug or alcohol issues.

They said: “It is worth noting that the number of prisoners on temporary release has fallen dramatically in recent years from a high of 998 [in June 2010] … to the current figure of circa 270.

“Each application for temporary release for whatever reason is examined on its own merits and the safety of the public is paramount when decisions are made.”

Conditions are also attached including “being of good behaviour and of sober habits”, steering clear of pubs, nightclubs, and living at a specific address.

The Prison Service said: “Other conditions may also be imposed, such as staying away from the victim or a particular area, observing a curfew, being supervised by the Probation Service, partaking in employment or in supervised unpaid work.”

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Naval Service said LE Aisling was proving a massive drain on manpower and resources before controversial sale for just €110,000

THE Naval Service were eager to sell off one of their old ships because it was taking up space and every time they needed to move it, they had to hire expensive tug boats.

The LE Aisling was sold in public auction for just €110,000 to a Dutch businessman in March.

However, it caused controversy when it emerged that the company involved had re-advertised it for sale at €685,000 less than two months later.

Internal Departmental documents show how the ship was thought to have €35,000 worth of fuel and lubricating oil on board.

However, it was subsequently discovered there was just €16,000 of fuel in the tanks that would have been uneconomical to remove, and which, was instead given away as part of the sale.

Requests by Galway City Council to have the LE Aisling turned into a floating museum in the city’s harbour were also advised against amid fears the Department of Defence would end up picking up some of the tab.

The boat – even though it was no longer in active use – was still proving a considerable burden to Naval Service resources, FOI records show.

In an email to the Department of Defence, Commander Paddy Harkin wrote: “The ship continues to be a drain on manpower, is taking up a berth in the Naval Basin and is deteriorating in condition. Ideally, the ship should be disposed of soonest through public auction or otherwise.”

A detailed memo prepared for Minister Paul Kehoe explained that the ship was also “totally unsuited” for use as a visitor attraction.

The minister was told that it would require ongoing maintenance because of its age and that the Department or Defence Forces could end up saddled with insurance liabilities and risks.

The biggest issue however, was the fact that it was taking up much needed space at the Naval Base in Haulbowline, Co Cork.

Each month, the Naval Service were forced to move the ship at least six or eight times, which meant a tug had to be hired to help move it.

Naval Service Commander Pearse O’Donnell wrote: “Depending on weather conditions, a small or a large tug is required for the move. This comes at considerable cost per move, approx. €150 for the small tug and €1,500 for the large tug.”

Thirteen staff were still posted to the LE Aisling as a “skeleton crew”, which was required to prevent unauthorised access or theft.

Commander O’Donnell wrote: “Because these people are posted to Aisling still, they cannot be deployed to other operational units where they are needed.”

There were also health and safety risks involved with what were described as continued “dead ship moves”, he said.

His message explained: “Personnel manning the ship are not fully familiar with the deck arrangements as they are coming from other ships. There are always risks associated with dead ship moves (less control without engines running) and weather, tug availability etc all feed into this.”

He said the LE Aisling was also causing operational problems as every time a ship wanted to move or set sail, the empty vessel had to be factored in.

He concluded: “Whilst maintenance is being carried out on machinery and equipment, the lack of a permanent deck crew has limited the amount of upkeep that can be carried out on the upper decks.

“This will affect the visual appearance of the ship and despite being structurally sound and seaworthy the visual could have an impact on value the longer it is left to sell.”

Another email explained how the ship had a significant amount of fuel and “lub oil” on board but that it would be better to sell it with the boat.

“The fuel and [lub oil] on Aisling have now been sitting without rotation for approximately twelve months, meaning its quality cannot be guaranteed for the operational use that the Naval Service ships require,” wrote Commander O’Donnell.

Within ten days of his email, plans to sell the boat were confirmed and the Department of Defence were delighted when the ship was offloaded. One internal email said: “Great news that the LE Aisling sold yesterday!”

A Departmental note on the auction said: “No reserve was set and bidding opened at €100,000. A bid for this amount was made and [our auctioneer] consulted with [our officials] on the side and it was confirmed that this bid was acceptable.

“Bidding resumed, and the second and final bid of €110,000 was accepted from Mr Dick Van Der Kamp, a Dutch shipbroker.”

In a statement, the Department of Defence said Galway City Council had never provided them with a “fully costed feasibility study” regarding plans to turn the boat into a museum.

“Given the continued absence of the requested proposal … arrangements were put in place to sell the vessel by way of public auction,” they said.

“It was imperative the vessel was sold at an early date. If a reserve price was set and was not met, the Department ran the risk of having to expend further funds to dispose of the vessel by way of scrap in an environmentally sound manner.

“The Department is satisfied that the accepted bid reflected the market value of a thirty-seven-year-old vessel of this nature.

“[We are] aware of the proposed resale of the former LE Aisling … however, it is important to bear in mind that this is speculative as the vessel has not yet been sold and there is no assurance that it will be sold for this price or indeed if it will sell at all.”

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Local authorities spend more than €200,000 sending sixty councillors and officials away for St Patrick’s Day

THE annual pilgrimage of government ministers to cities across the globe for St Patrick’s Day has become a national institution.

It’s not just our Cabinet however who get to represent Ireland abroad each year, with over €200,000 spent sending more than 60 councillors and local authority staff away this year for March 17.

Of the 31 local authorities in Ireland, at least 20 sent a delegation away for St Patrick’s Day with New York by far the most popular destination.

All told, more than €50,000 was spent on transatlantic flights with another €81,000 paid out for hotel rooms, some costing upwards of €300 per night, FOI requests to each of the local authorities have revealed.

Meath County Council sent by far the biggest delegation abroad with ten people dispatched, six to New York and four to London at a combined cost of just over €20,000.

Records released list Cathaoirleach Maria Murphy, Cllr David Gilroy, Cllr Claire O’Driscoll, Cllr Sharon Tolan, county chief executive Jackie Maguire, and an unnamed official as having travelled to New York.

The six-strong delegation stayed four nights in one of New York’s Fitzpatrick Hotels with the bills ranging from between €1,296 to €1,665 per person.

The local authority said: “Councillors work throughout the year representing the people of Meath and St Patrick’s Day is an ideal opportunity for them to support Meath people living abroad and to recognise the work of the Meath Associations [abroad].”

The largest bill was run up by Limerick’s council however, where costs of just over €28,000 were incurred sending six people to the United States.

The delegation was made up of four councillors and two officials, while hotel costs of €12,000 were paid out according to FOI records.

The group was led by Fianna Fáil councillor and Mayor Kieran O’Hanlon who visited New York, Boston, and Washington during his eight-day trip.

He stayed his first night in the US$463-a-night boutique Fifty NYC hotel before moving to the Benjamin Hotel where the bill for five nights was US$1,590.

The local authority also paid out €3,700 for a series of receptions and meetings while in New York.

That included a €956 bill from New York’s Empire Steakhouse, €443 at Bloom’s Tavern, and two cheques worth €1,415 and €505 from Rosie O’Grady’s Pub.

Cork County Council were the next highest spenders with just over €22,000 shelled out with a party of four having travelled to the US.

The delegation was made up of two senior officials who travelled with Mayor Séamus McGrath and Councillor John Paul O’Shea.

Flights for the four-strong travelling party cost €6,484 while almost €8,400 was spent on hotels during their trip to Chicago, Detroit, New York, with an unscheduled weather enforced overnight in Milwaukee.

Most of the accommodation was booked at the Crowne Plaza at Times Square where the cost per night per room was just over €350.

The council also paid out €2,912 for sterling silver gifts to be given in America including torcs, cufflinks, and bookmarks, while €3,611 was spent on several official receptions and dinners.

The council said: “The itinerary was very intensive with a series of rolling engagements from arrival in the US to departure. Its focus was on developing relationships across a wide range of common interest areas, including economic development, tourism, trade and cultural endeavours.

“The Council is satisfied that the costs involved reflect value for money, are of direct benefit to Cork County … and that economic prudence and a value for money ethos was applied in relation to the costs.”

Bills of more than €10,000 were also run up by local authorities in Sligo, Donegal, and Louth.

In Sligo, the Cathaoirleach Hubert Keaney travelled with two senior council officials with the three return flights together costing €3,157 and hotel accommodation coming to a total of €7,031.

Three people also travelled from Donegal County Council with Councillors Terence Slowey and Barry O’Neill visiting Philadelphia, New York, and Boston over the course of ten days.

Their flights cost just €579 each while a five-night stay for each in the Manhattan at Times Square cost €1,632, according to the records released.

They also stayed two nights in each of Boston’s Hotel Buckminster and Philadelphia’s Holiday Inn Express Midtown.

Other counties that sent delegations included two from Kerry at a cost of €9,857, four from Mayo for €9,105, and a-four strong group from Carlow with a final bill of €9,099.

Not all local authorities sent people abroad for St Paddy’s Day with nobody travelling from any of the four Dublin councils.

A number of local authorities have still failed to provide details of whether anybody travelled, almost two months after the requests were first submitted.

Here’s a table of overall expenditure by each local authority.

Two have so far failed to respond more than two months later … am still chasing them.

Costs in a couple of instances may be higher and I am trying to clarify certain issues that cropped up in the FOI responses.

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Irish Water, public pay, and capital spending: briefing notes prepared for Department of Public Expenditure secretary general

Copies of briefing notes prepared for Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt ahead of his appearance at Committee on Budgetary Oversight in early April 2017.

Some interesting material in there on Irish Water, public pay, and calls for more spending on infrastructure.

They have been posted over at thestory.ie and you can see them there

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TDs and Senators who get their expenses audited find it “onerous” and “stressful” and struggle to gather all their receipts

UNFORTUNATE politicians who were randomly picked to have their generous expenses audited found the process “onerous” as well as “stressful”, according to Oireachtas records.

In feedback given to Leinster House on the audits, one Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin also explained how he had been audited three times in the space of just six years.

Under current arrangements, politicians are paid a public representation allowance of between €12,000 and €20,000 annually separate to the travel expenses they get.

They are obliged to retain receipts and invoices, with 10 per cent of TDs and Senators subject to audit each year and repayment of money if problems are discovered.

Feedback gathered on last year’s audit reveals how some politicians are still struggling with the system six years after it was introduced.

Five members responded, with three of them saying their biggest problem was “the production of documentary evidence for the audit, notably in relation to advertising”.

Another said there were gaps in their understanding of what type of spending was allowed, when compared to the opinion of the auditor.

One TD (or Senator) said they had particular problems in getting receipts and invoices from a service provider, who was not responding to queries.

Of the five who responded, two of them described the process as “onerous” and “stressful/difficult” because of the workload involved in gathering invoices and receipts.

The other three said they found the process straightforward, including Brendan Griffin who by that stage had plenty of experience following his third audit.

The guidelines for TDs and Senators have yet again had to be revised to bring further clarity over what can and cannot be claimed.

The changes were made following the latest audit and include an increase in the amount politicians can claim from their home phone bills.

“Members have requested that the proportion of home telephone bills allowable … is increased from its current level of 10%. It is proposed that the amount be increased to 20%,” a briefing document said.

Also added was clarification that ministers and ministers of state are allowed claim “€100 unvouched expenditure” each month.

This money available for petty cash to all politicians remains available despite repeated claims from the Oireachtas and several ministers that the expenses system is fully vouched.

Other changes allowed an extension on time for payments and that politicians had to provide rental agreements for constituency offices.

The documents also detailed exactly how the system has worked with 10% of members randomly chosen using a “software tool”.

They are then invited to a briefing with Mazars, the accountancy firm responsible for the audit, and given a talk on what to expect.

Staff in the Oireachtas are also made available to “assist in clarifications” with separate seminars and “one to one” meetings also provided for confused TDs and Senators.

It was also confirmed that Mazars would carry out the audit for another year.

A briefing document explained: “The Mazars independent auditor has been involved in the audit process since its inception in 2011. He brings a huge level of knowledge and nuanced understanding of the issues that members encounter.

“He has used this knowledge to ensure that the audit process is as straightforward as possible, but at all times maintaining the requirements of that process. The process is thorough but necessarily so.”

The audit system was introduced in the aftermath of the expenses controversy that led to the resignation of then Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue in 2009.

However, it has proven even less transparent than the previous system and attempts to get access to the invoices and receipts provided for audit have been frustrated on the basis they are the “private papers” of politicians.

Under the new rules of expenses, 101 separate audits have taken place over the past six years – with 22 in each of the last three years. For the first three years, just over ten were chosen annually for checking.

Twelve TDs or Senators have been audited on two occasions, while only Brendan Griffin has been unlucky enough to be selected three times.

In a statement, the Oireachtas said that only two of the five members who provided feedback had described the process as difficult.

This was “in the context of the workload associated with the preparation of documentation by a small number of staff,” they said.

“The issue of updated guidelines is not a new concept and they are normally issued post audit … the rationale in updating guidelines as the need arises is to provide clarification for members on what is allowable and thereby minimise potential queries.”

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Central Bank’s deputy governor to be paid more than €120,000 in “garden leave” before he moves to private sector

A SENIOR banker at the Central Bank will be paid more than €120,000 for effectively doing nothing whilst on ‘garden leave’ from the bank.

Cyril Roux, who announced he was quitting his job as deputy governor in February to work in the private sector, was told his services would not be required for more than four months.

However, his €310,000 salary will continue to be paid throughout the period and even as Mr Roux asked that he be allowed continue to fulfil his duties.

Mr Roux’s salary per month works out at €25,833, which he will get in its entirety during the months of May, June, July, August, and for three weeks of April. Altogether, that means salary payments of just over €122,000 for no work.

Mr Roux was not entirely happy with the arrangement, according to copies of correspondence obtained under FOI.

He wrote to governor Philip Lane saying: “The notice period approach you have chosen is more stringent than the one which applied to my immediate predecessor.

“This approach may also give rise to questions about not requiring work of a highly paid and skilled employee willing and able to do so.”

However, the Central Bank believed the long “cooling off period” was required to avoid any perceived conflict of interest.

The records show how Mr Roux was allowed continue in a limited role from March 1 until April 7 after announcing his departure in late February.

He was allowed work on three files: industry levies, an annual performance statement, and advice on financial regulation.

He was also let keep his office and attend general management meetings, but was told he had to step down from the supervisory board of the European Central Bank and some internal committees.

In a letter to governor Philip Lane agreeing to the conditions, Mr Roux wrote: “You have decided to put me on full garden leave from April 8 to August 31, as my contract allows. During that full garden leave period, you will relieve me of all remaining duties and responsibilities, including that of reporting to the office.

“However, I will stay on as an employee of the Central Bank up to August 31 and will be paid my salary in full every month.”

Mr Roux said this length of garden leave was “unprecedented” but agreed that it was being done to avoid “any risk of controversy”.

He wrote: “Your view is that such an approach is best suited to address public concern in Europe about subsequent private employment of high-ranking public officials.

“I acknowledge these reasons and recognise that the Bank can put me on such a full garden leave unilaterally if it wishes, even if I would rather work than not during my notice period.”

Mr Roux was also at pains to make clear that this long ‘garden leave’ period was no reflection on him.

He wrote: “We have agreed to ensure that nothing we do or say could be interpreted as a concern, of which there is none, about the specific circumstances, about the specific firm I would join nor about my integrity or performance, or a desire from me to benefit from paid leave.”

In a short response, Philip Lane wrote to confirm that he was indeed invoking the “garden leave provisions” of the contract.

He said: “I confirm that the application of garden leave is at the discretion of the Bank and is considered on a case by case basis at the time of making each relevant decision. The six months’ notice arises from the relevant contractual provision, which applies in this particular case.”

The Central Bank said “garden leave” was standard practice for the European Central Bank and for central banks elsewhere.

They said: “Such periods, which are also called ‘cooling off periods’ are necessary in ensuring that actual or perceived conflicts of interest, including post-employment conflicts of interest, are avoided or minimised.”

Their Code of Ethics allows the Central Bank to assign staff to alternative duties if their new employment is likely to cause conflict.

They said: “In the case of Mr Roux, his contract, due to the role he holds, specifically provides for garden leave. It is at the Central Bank’s discretion to decide on the appropriate period of garden leave, taking the role and circumstances into account.

“Mr Roux’s contract provides that he is paid his base salary for the duration of this period. He will take all of his annual leave entitlements (which equate to one third of the time) during this period, meaning no untaken annual leave-related pay will arise at the end of his garden leave.

“No other entitlements arise and he may not work for another employer during the relevant period.”

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Only two formal complaints were actually received about the Babestation saga that made headlines right across the world

THE telecoms regulator ran into difficulty when trying to solve the problem of householders receiving misplaced calls to a sex chat-line when emails about the controversy were blocked from sending.

Some messages sent from ComReg, which was tasked with solving controversy over ‘Babestation’ calls, ended up falling foul of the regulator’s internal email system.

They were quarantined due to the inclusion of “possible profanity” and requests had to be made for the IT Department to allow them to be sent.

Records from ComReg and the Department of Communications released under FOI reveal how several government ministers were being briefed on the controversy, including Minister Denis Naughten.

The investigations came after complaints from Minister Michael Ring that one of his constituents was being “inundated with telephone calls from people trying to contact these sex chat lines both day and night”.

The saga ended up being reported around the world with Babestation sending three models to personally apologise to residents of Westport in Co Mayo.

However, ComReg has said that only two complaints were ever actually received from residents suggesting the scale of the problem may well have been somewhat exaggerated.

The records show that the simplest solution might have been for the worst-affected resident to have his phone number changed.

However, that option was immediately ruled out. An internal email explained: “The customer is aware that he can have a number change, but is declining.”

As ComReg tried to figure out how best to manage it, the story continued to spread internationally.

One internal email explained: “Ringer [Minister Ring] complaining about Westport residents getting calls from adult chatline callers made the Kuala Lumpur Times.”

Internal records show there were concerns over what exactly ComReg could do given that the adult phone lines were UK services.

One email said: “It would seem at first blush to be an inadvertent error (as there doesn’t seem to be any benefit, financial or otherwise, in seeking to divert their own customers to a small Irish town?) and we can contact Babestation etc accordingly.”

In the end, Worldwide Digital – the company who run the lines – agreed they would change all the numbers after being alerted to the problem.

A note of caution emerged in ComReg however. One email explained: “Hopefully they’ll check that the range they change to isn’t going to affect another 09 area like Athlone or Galway instead.”

The numbers were changed, and Worldwide Digital also switched their advertising material to ensure there would be no more unwanted calls.

“Hopefully this will solve the problem of the nuisance calls and [Mr X] can once again answer his phone,” an email said.

Another joked the solution might cause a different set of problems: “Next, we’ll have to deal with complaints from callers than can’t get through!”

A separate letter from the UK’s Phone-paid Services Authority warned that further similar controversies were a distinct possibility.

They said: “Ultimately any provider of adult services in the UK could have been the focus of this problem, because the current prohibition in Ireland on adult services will likely continue to cause calls to UK numbers.

“Ireland’s cable/satellite system is pretty much identical to ours, so in effect your viewers have the same Sky/satellite boxes and access to all the same babe channels, often on the exact same channel numbers.”

They said the long-term solution was for the phone numbers to be advertised in a way that Irish callers knew they must use a UK prefix.

In a subsequent email, ComReg said there was no general prohibition on adult services in Ireland and that a better solution would be for the phone lines simply to say they weren’t available to Irish callers.

“That might at least reduce the misdial levels,” it said.

In a statement, ComReg said: “[We use] standard email filtering systems which may hold certain material. Any such emails would be reviewed and released by the IT unit, where appropriate.”

Asked about the volume of complaints they received, they said: “ComReg received two consumer complaints about this matter. ComReg worked with its UK counterparts, Ofcom and the Phone-Paid Services Authority, and Irish phone networks to resolve this issue and ensure that such unwanted calls are avoided.”

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Controversial blood donation ban was not removed entirely because of risk of future “emerging sexually transmitted diseases”

A CONTROVERSIAL ban on gay men donating blood was reduced as there was no evidence it would increase HIV risk.

However, a controversial one year ‘celibacy’ rule was maintained whereby gay men could not have sex for a year before giving blood because of fears of future “emerging sexually transmitted diseases”.

A report from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) explained how it was not an “irrational fear” to believe a new infection or a mutant HIV strain could develop in coming years.

Written by Dr William Murphy, the IBTS Medical and Scientific Director, it said: “A sexually transmitted infection spreads much faster in the MSM [men who have sex with men] community, with complex dynamics.”

He wrote: “While the risk from heterosexual encounters is not insignificant, MSM comprise a substantial proportion of the potential risk of spread of a new sexually transmitted infection in Ireland.”

Evidence had clearly shown that changing the ban from a long one to a shorter one caused no increased risk of HIV transmission.

Four countries – Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK – had changed their rules on gay men giving blood to reduce the length of time in which they were prohibited from donating.

None of the countries had experienced an increase in the number of blood donations found to be HIV positive and in the UK, the rate had in actual fact dropped.

Dr Murphy said: “Whether this decrease can be attributed to the change in deferral policy cannot be determined, but it is encouraging that the observed change was in the direction of decreased incidence of disease.”

The report describes in detail the near-impossible task of trying to balance public health benefits with non-discrimination while predicting the future.

Dr Murphy wrote: “It will always be very difficult or impossible to show that removing the lifelong ban or replacing it will make patient safety better, so that the reason for removing it, even if there are no sound reasons for keeping it, lies outside the strict realm of patient safety.”

The report explained also that if a lifetime ban was in place for gay men, then by rights it should be needed for countless other groups to whom it did not currently apply.

Dr Murphy wrote: “If a lifelong ban were necessary … then a similar lifelong ban would be necessary for men who have sex with sex workers, women who have sex with men who have sex with sex workers, women who have sex with MSM [men who have sex with men] and so forth.”

The recommendations made by the IBTS to reduce the ban to a year was accepted by the Department of Health.

The changes, which were announced in January, said that gay men would be “deferred” from donating blood for a year after their last sexual encounter with a man, and that anyone with a sexually transmitted infection would be banned for five years after.

The Department of Health asked that a surveillance system be put in place to monitor the impact of the policy change and that clear plans were made to communicate the rationale behind the decision to blood donors and the Irish public.

The Department of Health also received letters from members of the public, several suggesting the lifetime ban should have stayed.

One person against removal of the ban wrote: “This proposal originates in the simplistic view that ‘equality’ between gay and heterosexual people should be imposed regardless of the irrationality of the idea … just because other countries have done this is no reason why Ireland should follow suit.”

Another addressed their letter directly to Health Minister Simon Harris and said: “Your job is to run the health service … there are far more pressing issues that you should be focusing on and less of chasing easy media wins.”

Gay men who were married and monogamous also wrote to say they felt the one-year ‘no sex’ ban was discriminatory.

One wrote: “It is extremely insulting to think that conditions being considered, such as ‘not having had sex with another man in the previous year’ would apply to myself and my partner of [30+] years who have been in a monogamous relationship for all that time and who are now married.”

Others also wrote to ask that a ban on Irish people who lived in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s be lifted. It was introduced because of fears over the spread of BSE [mad cow disease].

Another person who had given blood for years was given a ‘false positive’ for HIV and complained that he (or she) had since been barred from donating.

The IBTS said in a statement: “[We have] a number of criteria which a person must fulfil before they are eligible to donate. One of these excludes people from donating based on their behaviour.

“We do not ask any donor about their marital status, the deferral is based on the behaviour which creates the risk, which is the sexual activity of men who have sex with men.”

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Untangling the inheritance tax loophole: shedding light on why Fianna Fáil government introduced the changes

In 2000, the then Fianna Fáil government introduced dramatic changes to inheritance tax law.

Those changes had an unintended consequence and in recent years were being used by very wealthy people to give property tax-free to their children.

This loophole could only be used by those in a position to purchase new properties outright, and was costing at a very conservative estimate €3.5 million a year.

Some families used it to gift several properties to their children.

In the single worst case, a parent transferred €4.2 million worth of properties to their four children: with each of the four houses worth €1.7 million, €1 million, €800,000, and €700,000 respectively.

The reasons behind the original changes remain unclear and the Department of Finance has looked for €200 in search and retrieval fees to release records relating to its introduction under Freedom of Information law.

From documents already released, it is clear the Revenue had concerns about it even then.

However, their request for a cap on the value of the property allowed was disregarded by the Department of Finance.

If you can donate even a small amount, it will be possible to pursue this request and hopefully find out who pushed for this change, and more importantly why.

The Department of Finance is seeking €200 for the records: you can support me on GoFundMe here: https://www.gofundme.com/untyingtheinheritancetaxloophole

Was the loophole deliberate?

Was there awareness that this could be open to abuse?

Many of the tax loopholes we have heard so much about in recent years were introduced during a relatively short period of time around the turn of the millennium by Fianna Fáil governments.

Why was it so many of them seemed to benefit only those with enormous wealth? Was it just a coincidence?

I can’t promise release of these FOI documents will solve the mystery but it will at least cast some welcome light on what was going on at the time.

For more on this story, you can read some of the the background here.

The documents, once released, will be published here on the blog and will not be for commercial use.

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The chain of letters between Simon Coveney and the EU Commission over introduction of water charges

HOUSING Minister Simon Coveney was under significant pressure from the EU Commission to persist with the introduction of water charges, a previously unreleased letter has revealed.

Mr Coveney was told that the EU Commission had serious concerns over how Ireland’s approach to water fitted in with legislation.

In a letter – details of which were not known until now – Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella told the minister that he understood why Ireland had temporarily suspended charges for domestic users.

This followed a meeting between Mr Vella and Mr Coveney on July 8 in which the EU were briefed on the bitter debate in Ireland over charges.

However, Commissioner Vella wrote: “Let me reiterate here, as I have already done during our meeting, that the Commission has concerns over how the current situation in Ireland fits with the requirements of the Water Framework Directive.

“On the other hand, we take note of the fact that the Irish authorities have decided they need a certain amount of time in order to assess how best to provide a service that meets with the legal and regulatory obligations.”

The sequence of letters began weeks after Minister Coveney was appointed last year.

In the opening piece of correspondence from last June, Commissioner Vella said they had been closely following the debate in Ireland and the proposed suspension of water charges.

However, they quickly pointed out that member states were obliged to take account of the principle of recovery of costs from water services.

They also said that countries were obliged to “ensure an adequate contribution of the different water users including households to the recovery of the costs of water services”.

In response, Minister Coveney wrote to say he appreciated the EU’s efforts in following the debate in Ireland which had been “contentious”.

He explained that to facilitate the formation of a minority government, water charges were to be suspended for a minimum of nine months.

Mr Coveney wrote: “This suspension will provide the space for a more rational debate on the long-term funding of domestic water charges in Ireland.”

He asked for a meeting with the EU Commission to brief them on how it would work.

Three weeks after the meeting, Commissioner Vella again wrote to Minister Coveney in which he expressed his concerns about the Irish approach.

He wrote: “The ‘polluter pays’ principle, enshrined both in EU law, as well as in the legal systems of the EU member states themselves requires that member states put in place specific mechanisms that link the amount and destination of water and water services used by households to the costs they bear in order to be able to do so.”

The letter explained that the directives required different water users be broken up into industry, households, and agriculture for recovery of costs.

Mr Vella said: “It is worth also nothing that domestic water charges are a well-established practice across all member states. Users generally pay for the water they consume and it is difficult to think of an equally effective mechanism for incentivising efficient water use.”

He said that approach had been a precondition for attaining good water quality across the European Union and could still take allow social factors to be taken into account.

Commissioner Vella then expressed his “concerns” over how Ireland was going to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive.

“I would like to suggest that we remain in contact over this important matter in the following months and would appreciate being kept informed of developments in this matter,” he said.

In a statement, the Department said that the Commissioner’s letters had emphasised the “central importance of cost recovery and encouraging sustainable consumption through metering”.

They said Ireland required significant investment in its water infrastructure and that we could not “walk away” from our EU obligations, including those in the Water Framework Directive.

Minister Coveney has previously said: “The European Commission will not tolerate continued non-compliance by Ireland and has indicated a willingness to go the distance to force Ireland into compliance through the European Court of Justice.”

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