Government had to create new €15,000 allowance after discovering they could only pay two junior ministers to attend Cabinet

THE government created a special allowance for Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty because rules prohibited them from paying more than two Junior Ministers who sat at the Cabinet table.

After the election, three ‘super’ Juniors were appointed – all of whom should have been entitled to an extra €15,829-a-year for attending Cabinet meetings.

However, the government discovered that legislation allowed for only two of them to be paid to the additional money.

The allowance was allocated to Minister Paul Kehoe and Minister Finian McGrath, which would have left Regina Doherty without the extra payment.

But instead of cutting her out of the loop, the government came up with a brand new allowance for the Chief Whip – which is valued at the exact same amount.

The allowance did not exist during the last government when Paul Kehoe filled the position of Chief Whip, and he was instead paid the bonus for “ministers of state attending Cabinet”.

Documents obtained under FOI reveal that plans to pay the normal allowance to three different ministers were underway but had to be halted suddenly.

An email from the Department of the Taoiseach last summer explained: “[We can] confirm that the number of Ministers of State who attend Cabinet Meetings – under the current Government – has increased to three.”

However, days later the plan ran into difficulties when it was discovered only two could get the extra payment.

Sent from the Department of Public Expenditure, an email said: “The sanction [to pay all three] … is withdrawn with immediate effect as we’ve run into a problem – there are now three Super Juniors in this government.

“But the relevant legislation only provides for payment of the allowance to no more than two. So this will need to be addressed. In the meantime, please do not pay it, or cancel it if you have already started and recoup any amounts already paid please.”

A month later, the allowances were still not being paid to any of the three super-junior ministers as attempts were made to resolve the problem.

By September, it had been confirmed that Minister Finian McGrath at the Department of Health would definitely get the extra allowance.

A briefing note said: “We are awaiting clarification from the Department of the Taoiseach on the second Minister of State to be paid the allowance.”

In November, it was finally confirmed that the second minister to get the allowance would be Paul Kehoe. And to get around the problem of excluding one of them, a brand new position had been added to the list of allowances.

It was ‘Government Whip’, and the allowance payable for the role was €15,829 … exactly what would have been payable to the others.

A submission explained: “Following discussions with the Department of the Taoiseach, it is proposed that the position of ‘Government Whip’ be included under the ‘specified positions’ in Dáil Éireann at the same rate payable to Ministers of State attending Cabinet.

“This reflects the fact that under the legislation, only two Ministers of State may be paid the allowance for attending Cabinet meetings.”

That meant all three were paid the €15,829 annual payment, along with their standard TD salary of €87,258 and a ministerial allowance of €34,381 – it makes their annual packages worth €137,468 each.

A few other small changes were made to allowances with increases for both the whip and assistant whip of Sinn Féin.

The Sinn Féin whip position rose from €5,520 to €9,200 with an increase to €4,600 from €2,760 for the assistant position, to reflect the party’s larger size. Similarly, Labour’s assistant whip position was cut in half to €2,760.

Payment of almost all the allowances ended up being delayed until Christmas with documents suggesting some politicians were querying why it was taking so long.

One email said: “I believe some Members have been wondering when payment can be expected.”

Minister Paschal Donohoe even ended up involved asking if the allowances could “be paid by Christmas”, according to records.

Mr Donohoe signed off on a final submission with only one change ensuring that assistant whips for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would be paid at the same level of €8,740.

He explained in a note: “I want to develop the principle that parties of equivalent size are paid the same amount. That’s my only change – please make this amendment and I will bring to government.”

Thankfully, all payments except one did end up going through in the December payroll. “Thank you all for doing this – much appreciated,” wrote Minister Donohoe.

FOI documents below – there is a lot of material so if you want to have a dig around, you’ll need some spare time.

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Millions of euro in tax avoided by high wealth individuals through two gaping loopholes on personal retirement plans

MILLIONS of euro in tax was being avoided by high wealth individuals as part of a tax loophole on personal retirement plans.

The Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) scheme and a separate scheme known as Retirement Annuity Contracts (RACs) both had to be shut in the last budget amid warnings from the Revenue Commissioners.

Internal documents have revealed how the schemes were being abused by “high net-worth individuals” to pass on their assets tax-free after death.

A Departmental submission to Minister Michael Noonan explained how the PRSA pension plan was being used for “tax-planning purposes” because of a loophole in the legislation.

Effectively, the wealthy individuals involved were never actually cashing in the scheme after they retired from their jobs.

The loophole meant that people were benefitting from tax reliefs on their pension contributions while employed and then later avoiding paying inheritance tax.

The submission, obtained following an FOI request, explained: “Minister, this proposal is to amend the Finance Act to counter a tax planning activity by high net worth individuals whereby individuals don’t draw down their PRSA by the time they are 75 so as to facilitate a tax-free transfer to their spouse upon their death.

“This activity would seem to fly in the face of the original intention of PRSAs.”

The new change meant the pension plan would automatically crystallise when the person reached the age of 75, and would have to be drawn down.

The PRSA scheme had been introduced in 2002 as a low-cost private pension savings plan, particularly for the self-employed.

However, in the ensuing years, it had become particularly popular among high wealth individuals.

This was explained by a loophole in the original wording, which had been seized on by tax advisers as a mechanism for avoiding tax.

The submission said: “The wording is open to the interpretation that, whilst a PRSA owner who wishes to take benefits from his or her PRSA must do so by their 75th birthday at the latest, there is no compulsion to take benefits at that age (or indeed any age).

“While this may seem to fly in the face of the whole raison d’etre for pension savings – i.e. to provide an income in retirement – for those with substantial pension assets it can provide significant tax planning opportunities.”

The submission explained how it was then possible to pass the fund tax-free to a surviving spouse or estate without any further consequences.

In one example, they describe how through careful planning, a person with a pension pot worth €2.5 million could avoid €200,000 in tax.

The submission explained that tax relief was allowed on pension contributions because people would eventually end up paying tax on the money in retirement.

“This principle is being frustrated by the tax planning opportunities,” it said.

Speaking points on shutting the loophole were prepared for Minister Michael Noonan for inclusion in his budget speech.

In one memo, it was explained how a draft was rewritten because officials wanted a “’softening’ [of] the avoidance aspect”.

Another shorter version was then prepared, which was described as having a “better chance of going into the speech ‘undisturbed’”.

Ultimately, the changes were not mentioned during the Budget 2017 speech but did feature in the Finance Bill.

Subsequently, a loophole in a second scheme known as Retirement Annuity Contracts (RACs) also had to be shut after it was discovered they were also being used for “tax planning purposes”.

The internal correspondence explained: “RACs are a type of insurance contract approved by Revenue to provide retirement benefits, mainly for the self-employed.

“Where retirement benefits are not taken from an RAC, there is no Benefit Crystallisation Event and, in addition, on death, the proceeds go tax free to the individual’s estate.”

In a statement, the Revenue Commissioners said: “Revenue has a broad range of programs in place that are aimed at identifying and tackling tax avoidance in all its forms, including aggressive tax planning and unintended use of legislation.

“Revenue continues to identify such arrangements and challenge them, and where appropriate, recommends strengthening legislation to the Department of Finance. Tax policy and tax legislation are matters for the Minister for Finance and the government.”

They said the changes introduced in the Finance Act meant that the two pension schemes would now automatically vest at age 75.

They said: “The estimation of a cost of tax foregone from the owners of such RACs or PRSAs would require, for example, application of (unknown) earlier retirement dates, valuations of assets etc, and is not a matter for Revenue.”

Documents are large so are in two parts:

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Furniture like something from a 1970s Dublin student flat, a mysterious locked room, pervasive damp … why Ireland abandoned its €7,200-a-month Vienna residence

FURNITURE like something from a 1970s Dublin student flat, a mysterious locked room that had not been opened in at least 14 years, stained carpets and a pervasive smell of damp … just some of the many colourful reasons given for why an Irish diplomat desperately needed to move house.

The move from a property in Vienna, which had been leased for €7,200-a-month, to a new more expensive residence costing €9,000 has now been explained in a submission written by the former Irish Ambassador Mary Whelan.

A copy of a letter released under FOI and sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters has revealed a litany of problems in the official residence.

The €87,257 annual rent was described as “low by the standards of the local property market”.

However, that appears to have been its only advantage as the submission from Ms Whelan outlined a succession of issues with a building that was rapidly deteriorating.

The property had been rented in 1977 from a local businessman but in recent years, it had been proving impossible to have any improvements carried out.

It had a double basement, parts of which were now unusable due to leaks and damp.

The ground floor had an ornate “marble room” which should have been available for receptions but could no longer be used due to a “strong smell of damp”.

Above that level, there were two bedrooms, one of which was now being used as a changing room for catering staff.

On a previous occasion, while still in use as a bedroom, the landlord’s agent had, when damp spots appeared, suggested the bed could be moved away from the wall.

The main floor of the building was described as the best area of the house.

“The library is a pleasant space, albeit sparsely furnished,” said Ambassador Whelan’s submission. “The very large, ornate and dark reception room could be described as cavernous or having the ‘whoa factor’ depending on your point of view.”

Paintings borrowed from the National Gallery were described as “very dark” and in need of rehanging, and in some cases had chipped cases.

The Ambassador’s submission continued: “This very large room also houses the landlord’s piano which is not in good condition. A wonderfully elaborate clock over the fireplace is broken but was undoubtedly state of the art a hundred plus years ago.”

The letter reserved the harshest words of all for the master bedroom and one of the upper floors.

“The master bedroom is frankly in a bad state and the condition of the furniture recalls student accommodation in 1970s Dublin,” explained the submission.

“While there is some new furniture on this floor, some of it could not be given away because of its decrepit condition.”

Carpets in the corridors were “permanently stained” and “fairly worn” while rugs weren’t big enough to cover anything except the centre of the rooms.

The top floor was described as a dilemma, with carpets that appear to be “as old as our [Ireland’s] tenancy” – that is, almost forty years.

There was also a mysterious room, which had a sign affixed to it with the name of the landlord.

A cleaner, who had been working at the Irish residence for fourteen years, was asked if anyone had ever set foot inside. The answer was no.

Plumbing and wiring were also a problem with radiators breaking down and “too old to repair”.

There were not enough electrical outlets either with extension cords in use throughout the building. “It takes some dexterity to avoid tripping over all of this,” Ambassador Whelan’s submission explained.

There was at least one bright note in the letter saying that with considerable expenditure, the premises could be outstanding and among the best that Ireland had.

It explained that a meeting was to take place with the agent responsible for the property with a view to seeking improvements.

Notes of that meeting said health and safety concerns were raised over the “pervasive smell of damp” and the proximity of leaks to electric cabling.

The note said: “The issues raised were not disputed by the Agent (they were often acknowledged by vigorous nodding) although it remains to be seen how far any follow-up will go to address the underlying issues.”

The problem however, remained intractable and the Irish Ambassador began looking for a more suitable home to live in.

She was given a generous rent ceiling of €150,000-a-year and the chosen property on Theresianumgasse ended up costing €8,964-a-month.

As part of the move, more than €146,000 in costs were run up, including €25,504 to move the “very dark” National Gallery paintings between the properties.

Other costs included €26,900 for a security deposit, more than €20,000 for curtains, and €12,738 for a security system.

Flag poles and a flag cost €615, carpets cost just over €5,000, and just over €7,000 for restoration and reupholstering of old furniture.

In a statement, the Department said: “The Department had rented this property for a number of years, however it was deteriorating with little input from the landlord.

“It had substantial issues in terms of wiring and general health and safety; it also contained asbestos, was in a poor condition of maintenance, had considerable damp, was poorly insulated and would not be in line with current building regulations.

“The replacement property … was in the same rental range as the existing building, [it] is located in a suitable area with adequate representational areas, with considerable savings of over 50% forecast in relation to utilities (gas and electricity bills).”

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Minister Leo Varadkar runs up €907 toll bill in seven months but the toll roads he travelled on are redacted for “security reasons”

A few months back, I requested copies of the statements for all road tolls incurred by Minister Leo Varadkar since his appointment in May.

The Department released the overall cost, saying it had come to just over €900 from May of last year to the end of November.

They said that Mr Varadkar had also repaid an element of it, €150, as a personal contribution of some description.

Why he does that, they did not explain.

Nor did they give the full statements. Instead, they released them month by month with all the details of what tolls were actually incurred blanked out.

And they have explained this by citing an exemption in FOI law that its release could “prejudice the security of a vehicle”.

In a follow-up press query, I asked them for a percentage of how much of the overall toll charges related to the use of the Dublin Port Tunnel.

I did not ask them for days of the week, times of the day or anything like that, just how much of it related to one road.

(Just as a by the way, Minister Varadkar actually signed into law a rule change that allowed him and other ministers to use bus lanes. This was because when they abolished the state car system, they accidentally abolished that right by extension. Also, important to point out that Mr Varadkar actually opposed the change.)

Anyway, this is how the Department responded when asked how much was spent on the Port Tunnel:

“The Minister makes an annual contribution towards the cost of tolls, as he has done in previous Departments. The contribution covers the cost of any tolls incurred for personal use. The Department does not disclose details of individual journeys for security reasons.”

Remember that ministerial diaries are routinely released, TDs must give their home address on their notice of poll.

Another small example of the level of transparency that Irish journalists deal with every day.

The FOI documents below:

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RTÉ’s Ray D’Arcy generates more complaints than anybody else according to analysis of Broadcasting Authority figures

RTÉ star Ray D’Arcy has conceded he needs to be more careful in what he says on air since moving to the state broadcaster … and it’s small wonder with the radio and TV host attracting far more complaints about his programmes since leaving Today FM.

A detailed analysis of more than six years of complaints to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has shown that Ray D’Arcy – in his various broadcasting guises – has received more complaints than any other person or show.

Since re-joining RTÉ, he has been subject to 38 complaints, 33 of which have related to his daily radio slot on Radio 1.

Overall, he has had 51 complaints since the end of 2010, thirteen of which were about his morning show from when he still worked with Today FM.

The next highest number of complaints was made against the Six One News with 39, followed by the Late Late Show on 37.

Prime Time also attracted 37 complaints, while the Saturday Night Show received 35, the vast majority related to a controversial appearance by Rory O’Neill, aka Panti, on the Brendan O’Connor presented show.

As a result of that episode, RTÉ had to pay damages to a number of high-profile media commentators including Breda O’Brien.

Other programmes that attracted a significant number of complaints included Morning Ireland with 34, and TV3’s controversial Psychic Readings Live – which ran for just six months in 2012 – and in that brief time prompted 30 complaints.

Joe Duffy’s Liveline programme was subject to 26 complaints while the Drivetime programme on RTÉ Radio 1 was the target of 24.

Tonight with Vincent Browne was next with 24, followed by the Right Hook on 19, RTÉ’s Nine O’Clock News also on 19, and the David McSavage satirical comedy show the Savage Eye with 18.

Other individual broadcasts that provoked a strong reaction were Prime Time’s Presidential Debate (14 complaints), Frontline’s notorious Presidential Debate (6), and TV3’s The Truth About Blood Sports (14).

Of the 51 complaints made against the Ray D’Arcy Show, whether on TV, Radio 1, or Today FM – only a very small number have actually been upheld.

Seven were upheld, three upheld in part, and another 19 were listed as “resolved”. A significant number – 21 in total – were rejected, with one final one withdrawn.

Ray D’Arcy has admitted that the chances of getting a complaint have risen significantly since he left Today FM.

In an interview with Tommy Tiernan last month, D’Arcy explained: “You just have to more careful about what you say. The same rules [apply to both], but people don’t listen forensically, you know what I mean.

“You could say something on Today FM and it just evaporates up into the ether, whereas in RTÉ there are people out there, that’s their job I think, they just listen to RTÉ and say you can’t say that, you can’t say that, balance, balance, balance.”

D’Arcy then joked that his remarks would probably get cut before the show was broadcast.

In a statement, RTÉ said the complaints process was important to them.

They said: “RTÉ welcomes the fact that its listeners and viewers hold it to the highest standards. RTÉ also notes the very small percentage of complaints against its output which are upheld by the BAI, evidence of the respect of its programme makers for the principles of fairness, objectivity, and impartiality.”

Of the 879 complaints listed by the BAI, RTÉ One was the subject of 309, followed next by RTÉ Radio 1 on 205. TV3 had 110, while Newstalk got 71.

Overall, only 88 complaints were upheld or upheld in part since the end of 2010. Another 367 were rejected, 15 deemed invalid, 20 withdrawn, and 389 were resolved.

Not all unhappy viewers or listeners have to give their names but for those that do, the most frequent complainant has been Dónal O’Sullivan-Latchford of the Family and Media Association.

He said he was actually surprised that he had not submitted more than the 21 listed under his name.

“We are concerned with fairness in the media, in particular in relation to fairness with regard to how the church is represented, and family-related issues,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan-Latchford said “faith-related issues and issues to do with the natural law” were frequently not represented either fairly or accurately.

“If one isn’t willing to defend fair play for everybody, one is putting oneself at risk too,” he said.

He said cases involving Fr Kevin Reynolds, who was defamed by the RTÉ report Mission to Prey, and more recently the case of Garda Maurice McCabe had given people a strong sense that anyone could find themselves the subject of unfair media scrutiny.

He said: “If any group, or ideology, is targeted and people see that as being unfair treatment, then it’s not that big a jump to say if it’s me they are attacking, then it could be somebody else tomorrow.”

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Revenue warns of difficulties in collecting tax on sugary drinks amid warnings that tax take will collapse after it is introduced

REVENUE have warned the government that it could be difficult to collect the planned tax on sweetened drinks that is set to be introduced next year.

A briefing document for Finance Minister Michael Noonan has explained how the tax could generate in excess of €85 million a year, if charged at a rate of 10 cents per can.

However, the submission warns that this revenue will likely collapse as customers switch to untaxed diet drinks or other options.

The Revenue Commissioners have also warned of “significant tax administration difficulties” and said it would not be as easy to collect as duty on cigarettes and alcohol.

They said collection, traceability and ensuring compliance with the tax all presented problems not seen in existing duties and levies.

The tax is due to be introduced next year and will coincide with a similar levy the UK government plans to impose in 2018.

A pre-budget submission obtained under FOI has explained how the sugary drinks tax will work by targeting products with more than 5 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres. Most soft drinks and energy drinks have more than double that.

Excluded from the levy however, will be fruit juices and dairy drinks with high sugar counts, as well as diet drinks.

Revenue have expressed concerns about difficulties in categorising different drinks however, and even the type of sugar that they contain.

They said: “Where the source (natural or added), or quantity, of sugar present in a drink determine its liability to tax, this information should be discernible and objectively verifiable to taxpayers and Revenue.

“For example, if the tax applies to drinks containing added sugars, but not naturally occurring sugars, difficulties in administering the tax will arise where … [this] cannot be immediately and objectively distinguished.”

Revenue said liability for the tax should fall to manufacturers and importers, which would mean only a limited number of people would have to pay up.

This would avoid the tax being passed all the way down the line to individual shops and consumers, and creating headaches in collecting it.

The Revenue Commissioners also said that the UK was undertaking an “in depth consultation period” for their tax and that Ireland should effectively borrow whatever approach they took.

They said: “Given how integrated the UK and Ireland markets for soft drinks are, it is advisable from a Revenue perspective that Ireland adopt a similar tax structure and time period for introduction as the UK.”

The submission to Minister Noonan also reiterated how it was crucial that the tax was introduced at the same time as in the UK, and that the levies matched up closely.

The memo says: “From an Irish perspective, the imposition of a … tax in the UK removes concerns that an Irish tax would encourage cross-border trade, provided that the taxes are set at similar levels and implemented at similar times.”

The submission also says the government will need to be careful when introducing the tax that it does not fall foul of EU law.

It explained: “There may be a challenge to the sugar-sweetened drinks from an EU state-aid rules perspective.”

The memo explained that the tax would have to be designed so as it is not seen to favour soft drinks and juices with no added sugar, and sweetened dairy products.

It said: “Sugar-sweetened drink taxes in other member states have thus far not been challenged on state aid grounds by the [EU] Commission.”

A series of possible price increases were also presented to Minister Noonan ranging from just 1 cent a can up to 20 cents.

A 10 cent increase – which mirrors proposals in the UK and appears the most likely option – would bring in an additional €84.5 million to the Exchequer in a year.

However, this big revenue spike will be unlikely to last as customers switch to different drinks and manufacturers looked at cutting sugar content.

The submission said: “Overall it is important to recognise that that yield projections are based on current consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, and given the health objective of reducing such consumptions, yields could fall very rapidly upon implementation, as occurred with the plastic bag levy.”

In a statement, the Department of Finance said the sugar drink levy had been promised in the programme for a partnership government, would contribute to public health goals, and provide a new source of revenue for public spending.

They said a public consultation had ended earlier this month with thirty submissions received to help ensure that the tax was as effective and as fair as possible.

They said: “Officials … are currently collating and analysing the responses, which will then be taken into account when developing the tax, including at which point in the supply chain these products will become liable for tax.”

Brief for Minister Noonan

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The €23,000 bill for boutique and custom-made furniture for office of Central Bank’s governor

IT has already raised eyebrows with its dramatic gold-plated exterior … now the first details of what sits behind the façade of the Central Bank’s sleek new headquarters have been made public.

More than €23,000 has been spent on custom-made and boutique designer furniture for the office of the governor Philip Lane in the bank’s new building on Dublin’s North Wall Quay.

Records released under FOI reveal how Mr Lane’s personally customised desk will cost a cool €5,080 before VAT.

A sofa for his personal office – bought from the luxury furniture maker Lyndon Clarence – will set the taxpayer back €3,300, according to the records.

Two lounge chairs, each costing €1,582, were also purchased from the same design firm, who are based in Cheltenham in England.

Lyndon Clarence say their furniture “exudes confidence and style” and that “every product is meticulously designed and developed in-house or by a high profile furniture designer”.

Mr Lane brought his office chair with him from the bank’s old headquarters in Temple Bar, the Central Bank said so no cost was incurred.

A coffee table was also bought for the office for €1,203, and came from the ‘Bespoke Studio’ of Irish interior firm MJ Flood. A second meeting table has also been purchased, again custom-made from MJ Flood and costing €1,592.

Four chairs – each costing €1,502 – were bought from the world-renowned Swiss design firm Vitra.

The chairs are made of sleek aluminium with sewn-on leather cushions. Vitra describe them as “softer and more voluptuous” than their other lines. “The chairs adapt to the body of the sitter and provide extraordinary comfort,” they boast.

The final item purchased for the office was a credenza, which cost €3,038 and was again sourced from the bespoke studio of MJ Flood Interiors.

The governor’s office will occupy 55 square metres on the (CORRECTION-second floor) of the new building, a floor area larger than some smaller homes around Dublin. Mr Lane will also have a personal storage area, which will add another 6.5 square metres to his office.

According to the records released, no decorative items or art have been purchased for the office.

The office floor will be fitted out with carpet tiles from Interface Ireland, which are being used throughout the building. Similarly, the same blinds and lights will also be used throughout the new HQ.

The Central Bank said that the vast majority of staff at their new headquarters would be housed at “standardised workstation desks”.

However, twenty “dedicated and broadly standardised offices” were also created to cater for other purposes including senior personnel.

They said the fit-out of the Governor’s office was designed to “expected peer standard” so that it could host meetings with senior national and international guests.

They said: “The Central Bank will deliver, on time and within budget, a building for almost 1,500 staff that is by far and away the most cost effective option in terms of build and ongoing operating costs compared to staying within its existing Dame Street and Iveagh Court premises.

“All aspects of the building, including furniture, have been procured following a public tender process designed to deliver the ‘most economically advantageous’ outcome.”

The Central Bank gave some of the first media tours of their new seven-storey headquarters in the Dublin Docklands on Friday. According to reports, they expect to have around 1,450 of their employees in situ by the end of March.

The site had originally been intended as a gleaming new headquarters for Anglo Irish Bank, until the spectacular collapse of the bank during the crash.

It was a concrete shell for several years, with some even suggesting it be preserved as a permanent unfinished monument to the economic catastrophe.

The Central Bank have already sold their former HQ, the iconic Sam Stephenson-designed building on Dame Street and a number of adjoining buildings, for a price understood to be in the region of €67 million.

They’ve said their new home will be among the most environmentally friendly buildings in Dublin with only 100 parking spaces, and only one in eight staff bringing their car to work.

Full set of documents below:

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Mick Wallace claimed cluster bombs transited through Shannon Airport – yet the documents he relied on said the exact opposite

THE Department of Transport has dismissed claims by Independent TD Mick Wallace that deadly cluster bombs passed through Shannon Airport en route to the Middle East.

Mick Wallace had claimed in the Dáil that liquid fuel explosives and rockets with bursting charges had transited via Shannon in November 2014.

However, it has now emerged that the government actually refused two requests for the cluster bombs to be even allowed enter Irish airspace, let alone to land in Shannon.

Mr Wallace had claimed that the deadly weaponry was being shipped through Ireland for use in “killing innocent people” in Yemen.

He told the Dáil last December: “In November 2014, two planes passed through Shannon Airport coming from Delaware. They were carrying class 1 liquid fuel explosives and rockets and class 1 explosives and rockets with bursting charges.

“Why in god’s name are we allowing cluster bombs go through our airspace to Saudi Arabia? The US is backing the Saudi mission in Yemen, a country in which there is an absolute humanitarian disaster. Cluster bombs going through Ireland are killing innocent people on a daily basis.”

In response, Defence Minister Paul Kehoe told him he was not aware of cluster bombs being on board any of the aircraft allowed pass through Shannon.

Mr Wallace insisted that he was “not making it up” and that the information had come through a Freedom of Information request.

On a separate occasion in the Dáil, Mr Wallace specified two separate dates in November 2014 when cluster bombs had “passed through Shannon”.

The claims appear to be based on a Freedom of Information request made by the campaign group Shannonwatch, where details of hundreds of military overflights and landings were made available.

Shannonwatch later posted a version of the document to their website.

However, both the original request and the uploaded Shannonwatch document are clear that both of the flights to which Mr Wallace was referring were actually refused permission to enter Irish airspace.

On November 15 in 2014, a request was received from Atlas Air to fly a plane over Ireland from Delaware to Ta’if in Saudi Arabia. It was carrying class 1 explosives and rockets.

The following day, a request was received from the same airline for another plane to fly the same journey, this time carrying class 1 explosives and rockets with bursting charges.

However, both applications were refused according to the FOI documents.

This has now been confirmed by the Department of Transport who said: “The document on Shannonwatch’s website was not generated by the Department, but it is similar to the schedule issued in response to an FOI request relating to all munitions exemptions issued in 2014.

“In relation to [the two applications] … we can confirm that both these applications were refused. The column of the document titled ‘Exemption issued?’ which states ‘No’ for applications 539 and 540 is correct.”

Despite repeated requests for comment by phone and email, Mr Wallace has not responded to questions asking him to clarify his remarks.

Mr Wallace is not the only Oireachtas member to refer to flights having carried cluster bombs through or over Ireland.

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan also made the claim saying: “We helped bring cluster bombs – imagine that – through Shannon Airport to Saudi Arabia in November 2014. It is on the record. The government’s information confirmed this under a freedom of information request.”

Senator Gavan has admitted that he was incorrect in his interpretation of the data.

He said: “I was incorrect to cite government information in support of my assertion that cluster bombs have been brought through Shannon.”

Independent TD Clare Daly also made reference, albeit less directly, to the manufacture of cluster bombs and their passage through Ireland when she appeared on the Vincent Browne show last year.

She said: “Some of the information sought and received by Shannonwatch last year, under Freedom of Information, shows the amount of permits sought for munitions to be transported, including materials that could go to form cluster bombs.”

Ms Daly did not respond to requests for comment.

The information obtained by Shannonwatch revealed that there were 606 requests for exemptions under the Air Navigation Order for the carriage of munitions of war, weapons, and dangerous goods in 2014.

Of these, just over twenty were refused – generally where permission was sought to bring explosives either through Shannon or over Irish airspace.

The vast majority however, were granted with most relating to the movement of US troops, who were generally permitted to travel with their weapons but without ammunition.

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At least twelve politicians entitled to triple pensions for service as TDs, MEPs, and government ministers

THE Irish taxpayer has paid out more than €2.4 million in pension payments for former MEPs over the past four years.

Twenty-seven former Euro MPs are currently on the Oireachtas pay roll for their service in Brussels and Strasbourg with small pensions also paid to six spouses of deceased ex-members.

The pension bill is actually higher again with some ex-MEPs paid at least some of their pension directly from Europe dependent on when they served.

In some cases, former politicians have ended up entitled to no less than three separate pensions, if they also served as a TD, Senator, or Minister, before or after going to Europe.

At least twelve are eligible for three different pensions, including former ministers Proinsias De Rossa, Síle de Valera, Gay Mitchell and Richie Ryan.

Also entitled to a triple pension are: Liam Aylward, Gerard Collins, Avril Doyle, Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher (no longer as a sitting TD), Jim Higgins, Liam Hyland, Tom O’Donnell, Eoin Ryan.

To get a sense of how much each of these triple pensions is worth, the spreadsheet posted below has the MEP pension and you will find the value of Oireachtas and ministerial pensions at this database I helped create when working in RTÉ (figures correct up to 2014).

It is of course open to any former politician to gift a portion of their pension back to the State and some are known to do so. Details of this are not however, released in FOI requests as it is deemed “personal information”.

The biggest MEP only pension is paid to former Fine Gael politician Joe McCartin, who was in receipt of €54,583 last year. He is also entitled to an Oireachtas pension of around €35,000 for his long years of service in the Dáil and Seanad.

Fine Gael’s Mary Banotti was the second highest on the MEP pension list, and has received an average of around €49,000 over the past four years.

She is not in receipt of any other political pension however, having worked continuously in Europe for twenty years from 1984 to 2004.

Fianna Fail’s Jim Fitzsimons was next on the table with an MEP pension of just over €45,000. He is also entitled to a Dáil pension of just over €25,000.

The well-known ex-Progressive Democrat politician Pat Cox received €37,492 in his EU pension last year while former Fine Gael MEP John Cushnahan received the same amount.

The pensions rise quite quickly and MEPs who have served just a single five-year stint in Europe are entitled to pensions of around €12,000 per year.

Former Eurovision winner Dana Rosemary Scallon for instance, was paid €12,524 after serving as an MEP from 1999 to 2004. Similarly, one-term MEP Kathy Sinnott was entitled to a pension of €11,584 last year after serving in the European Parliament from 2004 to 2009.

In six cases where the former politician has died, small pensions continue to be paid to their spouses and these totalled €70,498 during last year.

The Oireachtas said former politicians were allowed “the benefit of all pensions” they qualified for.

They said: “If a person in receipt of a public sector pension returns to work in the public sector any such pensions are potentially liable for abatement.

“All pensions are aggregated for the purposes of calculating any FEMPI [Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest] reductions.

“The figures are gross figures and do not include deductions for tax, PRSI etc [so] net payments may be significantly lower.”

The Oireachtas said that all MEP pensioners with service up to the European elections in 2009 were paid directly by them.

However, any service since then is paid by the European Parliament and is not subject to Freedom of Information legislation.

“In practice, this means that a number of pensioners have their entitlement split with payment coming from two different sources.”

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The €25,000 bill for moving paintings and artworks when Irish Ambassador to Vienna moved five miles to new €8,964-a-month home

THE Department of Foreign Affairs spent more than €25,000 moving paintings and other artwork when the Irish Ambassador to Vienna moved to a new diplomatic residence five miles away.

The massive bill was paid as a “donation” to the National Gallery, who in turn hired specialist movers to bring the art to its new home in the Austrian capital.

It was part of more than €70,000 spent on moving artworks to and from ambassadorial residences and embassies in 2015, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The largest bill arrived in November 2015 when the Ambassador of Ireland was leaving behind the country’s old €7,200-a-month residence on Hartackerstrasse, north of Vienna’s city centre.

The official residence was being moved five miles across the city to a €8,964-a-month property on Theresianumgasse, close to Vienna’s famous Belvedere Palace.

Via Google Maps

As part of the move, specialist contractors had to be employed to move all of the artworks in the residence to the new property, according to records released following a Freedom of Information request.

An invoice for €25,504 after VAT was included was issued by the National Gallery for the big move for “transport of works from Ambassador of Ireland’s old to new residence in Vienna”.

On the same invoice, the Department of Foreign Affairs also paid €15,426 (€18,974 with VAT) to bring home another piece of artwork from the diplomatic mission to Berne in Switzerland.

On the invoice, it was described as “transport of damaged work from Berne to Dublin”.

According to the Department, the unidentified artwork had been damaged while in storage but that the repair works were “covered by insurance”.

A third moving bill, this time of €17,716 was run up at the Irish Embassy in the Hague in the Netherlands for a return shipment to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

The outbound leg of the trip involved more than a dozen paintings, each of which had to be individually packed and transported by ferry from the port of Rotterdam to Hull in England.

They were then taken overland to Holyhead before the final leg of their journey on the boat to Dublin Port and onwards to the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham.

The paintings included works by celebrated artists including Louis le Brocquy, Gerard Dillon, Colm Middleton, and Mary Swanzy.

According to the invoice, seventeen new paintings were then brought back to the Netherlands where they were installed and hung at the Irish Ambassador’s residence.

The transport bills are part of more than €130,000 spent by the Department of Foreign Affairs on “items of artistic value” in 2015, more than half of which related to transport.

The Department did also splash out on a number of new artworks, according to the records.

They spent €18,500 on a painting entitled Abbeyville by Hughie O’Donoghue which is now on display at their headquarters at Iveagh House in Dublin.

It is described as a “significant and historical piece of Irish art” and was bought from a private seller in January of 2015.

They also commissioned seven replicas of the famous John Behan sculpture Arrival, the original of which is located at the UN Plaza in New York.

The bronze artwork is of a famine ship and the seven replicas were purchased from Mr Behan at a cost of €25,000.

The new versions are now displayed at Departmental properties, which have been hosting a series of famine events.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said they had in place an agreement with the National Gallery and Irish Museum of Modern Art for the “loan and care of national art work”.

They said: “As part of that agreement, the Department is responsible for the transportation and insurance of these art works using qualified and specialist art transporters to ensure their safety and care.”

The moving firms were selected by the museums using the “appropriate specialists to pack, transport, and hang artworks”.

They said there were a limited number of specialised companies available and that the complex work involved made it more expensive than standard shipping.

In a statement, they explained: “The Department’s missions provide a platform for the promotion of Ireland’s trade and economic interests and cultural heritage, while also serving as showcases for Irish arts, craft and products.

“Irish artists are renowned globally for their artistic excellence. Promotion of Ireland’s culture, arts and creative industries through our mission network is a key element of the Department’s Statement of Strategy.”

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