Gardai did not have a single staff member assigned to chase up €2 million in overpayments in salaries and pensions, audit report reveals

GARDAI have been overpaid by almost €2 million in pay and pensions but the force does not have enough staff available to get the money back.

An internal audit report has revealed that chunks of the money will end up being written off because of difficulties in recovering it.

The report on financial controls, prepared for Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan and obtained under FOI, also said there were not enough staff to recoup the money.

At one stage, not a single person was responsible for collecting the significant amount of money owed.

The internal auditors said the figure had grown substantially in recent years as closer scrutiny of payroll had begun.

That suggests that the true scale of overpayment may well be even higher even while virtually no effort was being made to get it back.

The report from March this year explained that the “Recoupment Unit” had at one stage been beefed up following a critical internal audit.

However, by October 2016 there was not a single person working there, and later only one half-time position allocated after internal audit again raised concerns.

The report said: “It is essential that as a matter of urgency and until the balances have been reduced to a more acceptable level that a staff complement of at least three full time equivalent staff … should be provided to this unit on a permanent basis.

“It is likely that write-offs for some of this debt will be required but every effort should be made to recoup as much of this outstanding balance as possible.”

It said the overpayments occurred for a variety of reasons including people being paid higher salaries than they were entitled to and “late notifications regarding payroll adjustment events such as unpaid leave, allowances, sick leave and rates of pay”.

Also problematic were overpayments of pensions to deceased former members where people continued to be paid long after they died.

Social welfare benefit retention was also an issue where members received “welfare payments … directly” when they should have gone to the gardai.

Overall, €1.9 million was found to have been overpaid, an increase from how much was owed the previous year of more than €375,000.

The report said: “The total increase in this figure from 31 March 2013 to 30 June 2016 is €1,219,742 or an increase of 210%.”

The report is heavily redacted in parts with one entire section of the “significant issues” identified withheld from public view.

Large parts of the conclusion, including findings relating to the garda college, have also been kept secret.

The report also reveals how the internal audit of the gardai is feeling the strain because of a lack of staff. Of the audit plan for 2016, only 79% of it was completed “due to staff vacancies”.

The approved manpower for the section is eleven but only eight were employed while a professional accountant position had been unfilled for six years.

The report also said the internal audit unit had been under pressure because so much time had been spent dealing with legal issues over the financial fiasco at the Garda College at Templemore.

Overall, the report found that there were no less than 37 priority one recommendations – the highest level available – that needed “immediate attention”.

Problems with the availability of gardai for frontline policing were also identified in audits of three separate policing divisions around the country.

Of 435 gardai on duty on the day of the audit, only 195 were available for “patrolling and high visibility policing”.

The report concluded: “It is essential … that more uniformed staff are moved to the normal roster of patrolling, crime prevention and high visibility policing.

“It is unsatisfactory that administrative roles continue to be assigned to garda members that could more appropriately be undertaken by civil servants.”

In a statement, the Garda Press Office said overpayments of salaries and pensions were notified to human resources on a quarterly basis.

They said: “The pursuit of overpayments of garda pensions is a matter for the Department of Justice … Financial Shared Services Centre.

“An Garda Síochána has established an Overpayments Management Unit. When an overpayment of a garda salary is notified, the … Unit liaises with the employee, informing them of the overpayment and arranging for its recoupment.

“It is expected that the staff member concerned will reply within 14 days agreeing a repayment plan. However, a standard deduction of 10% of gross salary may be established where staff fail to engage.

“Individual circumstances are always considered and discretion in utilising this facility is used, particularly in circumstances where the staff member is on sick leave and may be pay affected.”

 

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No fire stopping in ceilings between bedrooms and an emergency exit that led into a storeroom forced closure of Irish asylum seeker centre

A CENTRE for asylum seekers was shut after a fire safety inspection found serious deficiencies including an emergency exit sign that led into a store.

The biggest problem discovered was that no fire stopping had been fitted in ceilings above the accommodation, which would have allowed a blaze spread quickly between bedrooms.

The Westbourne Holiday Hostel in Limerick had been used for housing asylum seekers for more than fifteen years.

In January, the Department of Justice said they were terminating their contract with the centre because of a failure to carry out “essential maintenance”.

The extent of the issues have now been revealed in documents released under FOI including a fire compliance report that detailed fourteen separate failings.

Prepared by a firm of consulting engineers, it contained a long list of “deficiencies” – some relatively minor but some much more serious.

Protected stairways had no firestopping and there were no partitions in the areas above the bedroom ceilings, according to the report from February of 2016.

It said: “Partitions to all bedrooms and corridors are required to be carried up to the underside of the roof/structural floor over or to a fire resisting ceiling.

“It has been established that the partitions at first floor level have not been carried up to the underside of the roof and no cavity barriers have been provided.”

The report said the building needed to be examined more closely and opened up to see if this problem extended to lower levels.

The fire alarm system was not of the required standard, they said, and some detectors were badly placed and far too close to walls.

Doors to bedrooms had no cold smoke seals and self-closing chains were either missing or broken on several doors on the day of the inspection.

The doors that led to the escape stairs were also missing seals and strips that would have helped contain any fire that broke out.

Exit signage in the building was also a problem: “[It] should be maintained throughout i.e. lit at all times and it’s not lit on all escape routes.”

They said signage was actually missing from some of the escape routes and in one instance an emergency exit sign led into a store room.

Other problems included a corridor wall made of timber and nowhere near as fire resistant as it needed to be, and a large gap under a bedroom door that would have allowed smoke to flood underneath.

The report said escape routes were also unsafe. “The escape route from the exits from the link corridors is not acceptable. Adequate steps and guarding should be provided.”

It also said material alterations had been made to the building and it was no longer in compliance with its fire certificate.

A disabled toilet had been converted to a store, even though it had originally on the plans been marked as a bedroom. Changes had also been made in turning a small kitchen into a commercial kitchen.

In October, a second inspection report was undertaken, which said that many of the issues identified had already been addressed and fixed.

However, it conceded that the absence of fire stopping in the roof space was a “critical” issue.

This report said: “It is my opinion that the building as it now stands is quite unsafe, the main problem being the fire stopping in the ceiling space.

“These problems should be remedied without delay as there may be future problems with regard to insurance of premises.”

The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) – which manages housing for asylum seekers – emailed immediately to ask the centre operators when the remedial works would take place.

But by January 5, there had been no update. They wrote in an email: “When do you expect these works to conclude and when do you expect to have the building re-inspected?”

Eleven days later, RIA wrote to say they were terminating their contract with the centre effective by the end of the month.

The 64 male residents of the centre were all moved to different accommodation in the region and the rest of the country.

The Department of Justice in a response said that had made repeated requests to Westbourne to carry out maintenance to “ensure the health and safety” of residents.

They said they had received the compliance report on Westbourne in September of last year which “outlined a number of areas that needed attention”.

The Department said: “RIA sought an inspection of the issues raised in the … report by RIA’s independent inspectorate, QTS Ltd. This was carried out on the same day (14/10/2017).

“It concluded that in general, the fire safety arrangements at Westbourne were good and that there were no safety concerns regarding some of the material alterations.

“It did list a number of works where a plan to address them should be put in place by the contractor. It stated: ‘It is our opinion that there is no heightened or unacceptable risk to continuing use as a residential centre while works are being done and compliance issues confirmed’.”

They admitted that a follow-up report had raised as “critical the issue of a fire stop in the ceiling space”.

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High mileage rate for powerful cars abolished for all public servants except for ministers and judges

MINISTERS and judges are being rewarded for driving gas-guzzling cars with a higher rate of mileage unavailable to other public servants.

The special rate for cars with large engines is only payable to Cabinet members, ministers of state, and members of the judiciary.

It was discontinued for other civil servants as part of a review of travel and subsistence, and because of government commitments to cut carbon emissions.

However, the most valuable rate – which is as high as €1 per kilometre – has been retained for the select group of highly paid politicians and judges.

The Department of Public Expenditure said they had no plans to change the special arrangements and said ministers needed big cars to “work while travelling on official business” and so that there’d be enough room for travelling with officials.

Over the course of a year for a minister who puts in 25,000 kilometres, the higher rate is worth an additional €2,140 in tax-free payments.

For a Cabinet member who clocks up 50,000 kilometres, the difference would be worth a further €1,285 in mileage (or a total of more than €3,400).

Chartered accountant and expenses campaigner Enid O’Dowd said it was “deeply unfair” to have different arrangements in place for different groups.

She said: “As is always the case, they make the rules and they continue to look after themselves. There is nothing new in that. Having different sets of rules like this for different people is deeply unfair. Whatever happened equality?

“The public servant also only gets mileage for traveling from their place of work to other work destinations while the minister gets paid for travelling from their home to their office along with their ministerial business.

“Ministers are supposed to deduct what is appropriate for non-business personal mileage but we know that this system is self-declared and is never checked.”

The revised arrangements for public servants were part of a review of travel and subsistence, which formed part of the Haddington Road Agreement.

A ministerial submission obtained under FOI said: “The objective for the mileage review was to set new rates which better reflected modern car engineering, fuel consumption, and road infrastructure.

“We also wanted to support the government’s agenda to reduce carbon emissions.”

The submission said the new system had dramatically simplified the mileage system and was “more beneficial” for owners of cars with lower engine sizes and lower carbon emissions.

As part of the review, subsistence rates were also changed because of the rising cost of accommodation in Dublin.

The submission said public servants were having “difficulties in finding suitable accommodation … at the agreed rate” of €125 per overnight.

It was increased to €133.73 with a separate new vouched accommodation rate introduced for Dublin, which included an extra €33.61 for meals when receipts were provided in support of the claims.

Foreign subsistence rates were also updated based on the rates paid by the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, which the Department use as a benchmark.

However, much of the submission was given over to the mileage changes and particularly the new environmentally friendly part of it.

The old system of mileage had been based on people changing their cars every three years, the records explained.

However, the Department wanted this altered to instead reflect a new purchase every five years. A compromise “replacement rate” of four was eventually decided upon.

A separate briefing note prepared for Minister Paschal Donohoe explained: “Ministers, ministers of state and members of the judiciary may claim mileage on the same basis as civil servants, so the new banding system will apply to them.

“For historical reasons, the judiciary have a fourth engine size category for claiming mileage [1888cc and above]. Ministers have a fourth engine size category for claiming mileage [2000cc and above].

“The fourth band of rates for this engine size is 20% higher than the 1500 cc band of rates and is not available to civil servants.”

However, it did not specify the reasons why the special arrangement was maintained for them and the changes were signed off on by Mr Donohoe.

The Department in a statement said: “Substantial travel throughout the country is an integral part of the work of ministers and ministers of state. The provision of a mileage rate for cars with engine sizes in excess of 2,001cc reflects the requirement for [them] to work while travelling on business.

“On such trips they will often be accompanied by one or more officials and a car of sufficient size to accommodate such numbers is required.”

They said the new mileage system would remain in place until 2020 and that arrangements for judges mirrored the system for ministers for historical reasons.

The Department also said the new “revised formula” is more beneficial than previous arrangements for those with small engine sizes.

These documents were obtained through the Right to Know project. Please follow and support.

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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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