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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Loophole meant beneficiaries of tax amnesties could permanently avoid ever being named as tax dodgers

THE Department of Finance had to make a series of last minute changes in Budget 2017 to ensure tax dodgers could not use a series of loopholes to avoid being named and shamed by Revenue.

The Revenue Commissioners explained in internal emails how several members of the public had prevented publication of their name in the quarterly list of tax defaulters which they publish.

One loophole meant that if people made a voluntary disclosure, some of them could not be listed even if they ended up owing much more tax than they had originally admitted to.

A second loophole meant that people who did not make an agreement with Revenue over how much tax they owed could also avoid publication.

A third suggested that people who availed of tax amnesties in 1988 and 1993 could continue to dodge publication even if they went on to avoid tax again and got caught out.

An email sent to the Department of Finance by Revenue said that people were starting to take advantage of “unintended ambiguities” in the legislation.

In a submission, they said there were four areas of the law that were causing difficulties.

Where people made a disclosure of a small amount of tax, Revenue were then facing major difficulties in publishing details of that person if much larger scale evasion was later discovered.

They said: “We must exercise care in publishing the names of taxpayers if any doubt exists as to whether an exemption to publication does or does not apply.”

They also said people who had actually settled up with Revenue were being unfairly lumped in with people who had never made any payments.

“The effect of this is that the paying and the non-paying defaulter are treated the same, i.e. both are published without distinction,” the submission explained.

“This would appear not to be equitable and it reduces the transparency of the material published as it can make it appear that a case is now up to date with Revenue liabilities when that may not be the situation.”

A third problem also cropped up because of the highly controversial tax amnesties that Ireland offered in both 1988 and 1993.

Incredibly, the legislation appears to have left open the possibility that anybody who benefited from either amnesty could then remain exempt from publication permanently.

The submission said: “It would be clearly contrary to fairness and transparency if, having once made a settlement to which [either amnesty] … applied, the person became a person in whose case future settlements for tax defaults continued to fall within the publication exceptions.

“However, there is a clear danger based on the literal words of the [legislation] … that such a person could successfully challenge the publication of future settlements in their case.”

The final “administrative” issue arose because the Department of Finance had failed to change the threshold at which publication of a defaulter’s name occurs.

The threshold should have risen from €33,000 to €35,000 in 2015 – meaning some unfortunate tax defaulter with a €34,000 settlement could have ended up having their name wrongly published.

In an email response to Revenue, the Department of Finance said the four suggested changes may have come too late and that they would be “unlikely” to get approval ahead of the announcement of Budget 2017.

In response, a senior Revenue official Brian McCabe wrote: “Just to let you know that we are likely to ‘push’ on this. We don’t regard it as lower priority.”

A submission was then prepared for Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who agreed with all four proposals and signed off on them last October.

In a statement, the Revenue Commissioners said: “If there is a serious doubt about whether a taxpayer meets the criteria which obliges Revenue to publish a taxpayer’s details in the List of Defaulters, Revenue, generally, will not publish the taxpayer details.

“Following an enquiry by a taxpayer, Revenue had some concerns about certain unintended ambiguities in the law that could call into question our ability to publish taxpayers in particular circumstances.”

The Department of Finance said they had only become aware of the issues after receiving an email from Revenue last June.

They said: “[Revenue’s] submission was considered by the Department, who agreed that it was desirable to make the changes proposed, and it formed the basis of the Department’s submission to the Minister.

“The publication regime for tax defaulters, along with other sanctions and penalties, is considered by the Department and Revenue to be a very important component of the overall deterrence of tax evasion in a self-assessment based system.”

The FOI documents below

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Revenue warns government they may be squeezing smokers too hard if they keep increasing cigarette prices

THE government was warned it may be squeezing smokers too hard ahead of the latest price increase for cigarettes in the latest budget.

Taxing the old reliable might not actually yield as much tax as was hoped, according to the Revenue Commissioners, who voiced concerns people would either buy their cigarettes abroad or purchase illegally.

In a pre-budget submission prepared for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, the 50 cent price rise introduced was predicted to yield an extra €65.2 million in excise duty.

However, a note of caution was sounded that prices may well be reaching the point at which consumers will stop buying cigarettes legally and within Ireland.

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

Over the previous two years, the sale of illicit cigarettes had begun to increase from 11% to 12% according to Revenue surveys.

Another 6% of people bought their cigarettes abroad while on holidays or on short trips designed specifically to stock up their supplies.

Ireland imposed the second highest tax on tobacco in the EU, after only the UK. Total excise on 1,000 cigarettes in Ireland is €316.49, according to the documents, as compared to just €82.32 in Bulgaria where the rate was lowest.

The submission also highlighted a remarkable falloff in the numbers of people smoking from 28.3% of the population in 2003 to 19.2% last year.

However, those that are smoking are more likely to be using roll your own tobacco, which is more “lightly taxed” and cheaper than cigarettes.

Consumption of loose tobacco has almost quadrupled since 2008, according to the Departmental records, which were obtained under FOI.

The submission also suggested that after plain packaging for cigarettes is introduced, manufacturers may try to start introducing cheaper products and that a minimum tax on a packet may then be needed.

“There is no evidence of a significant move in this direction [yet],” it said, “so an increase in the minimum excise duty is not a priority at this time.”

The Department said in a statement: “The minister is aware that increases in excise duty on tobacco have been testing the boundaries of diminishing returns.

“However, to date, the revenues from tobacco have been holding up and the increases provided for in recent years … have been realised and the projections for 2016 point to a similar outcome.

“In relation to the illicit trade in cigarettes the submission outlines that the current estimate is 12% of cigarettes consumed in Ireland in 2015 were illicit. While this is up on the 11% in 2014, it must be viewed in the context of a steady downward trend since 2009 [when rate was 16%].”

One of the other old reliables, alcohol, remained untouched in this year’s budget and there were no increases in excise duty.

Minister Noonan was presented with one option on how an extra €138 million could be raised by increasing taxes by 10 cents on beer, cider, and spirits, and 50 cents on a bottle of wine.

However, he decided to leave the rates as they were despite a call from the drinks industry for a cut of 15% in excise rates on all alcohol.

He faced particular pressure to cut excise duties on wine, which has the highest rate in the EU, and is out of kilter with rates for beer.

Those higher rates have had little impact on demand for wine however, with 80 million litres purchased in 2014, as compared to 44.3 million litres in 2000.

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Senator David Norris looked for bigger office in Leinster House because he was longest serving politician there

A BIGGER space for the “father of the House”, a Senator’s files and personal belongings packed up and moved to reception, and a dispute between Fine Gael and the President’s daughter over vacating a room … just some of the teething problems in Leinster House after the general election.

Details of the moves were released by the Oireachtas as part of an FOI looking for all official requests for accommodation made by TDs, Senators, and their political parties since the start of the year.

Senator David Norris asked for a bigger office because of his longevity of service in Leinster House according to an email.

Sent to the Superintendent in charge of Leinster House, he wrote: “As Father of the House I would really appreciate if it would be possible to move to a larger room than the one I am currently in.

“I have been based in the Engineering Block for quite some time and feel that as I said, being Father of the House (almost thirty years a member) that now would be a good time to move to a larger space.”

Senator Norris did not return phone calls asking if he had been facilitated in his move.

Another Senator ended up without any office – let alone a large one – for several months after the election, the letters reveal.

Frances Black, the well-known singer, had been elected to the Seanad but was never provided a “permanent office” and was at first forced to hold meetings in the coffee dock.

“It’s difficult to have conversations without interruption, some of which are confidential,” she wrote in an email in May.

A couple of weeks later, she was again forced to email for an update having moved to a temporary office only to have her “limited files, laptops, coat, [and] personal items” packed up and moved to reception.

She explained that she was not fussy but just needed somewhere “as long as [it] has the required space and natural light”.

Senator Black said she was finally given a permanent home: “That was all resolved, I got my office in the end and I’m very happy in it.”

There was no such happy ending for the Anti Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit grouping after they complained of “overcrowded” rooms and insufficient parking space.

They did manage to get an extra room, according to a spokesman, and that has eased pressure on space but their parking difficulties were not addressed.

Sinn Féin were also left without a meeting room to call their home for several months after the election after being promised they would get the one that had been used by the Labour party, who had been decimated in the election.

In April, TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh wrote to complain that his attempts to get a suitable room were unresolved and that they were having to hold meetings away from Leinster House.

A couple of weeks later, party president Gerry Adams added his voice in a separate email saying it was “critically important” they were given a suitable room.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh explained: “After the election, Labour retained their parliamentary room and we ended up with a committee room. We had nothing for during the day time though, and sometimes we would have to go off-site for meetings. It was totally unsuitable.

“We were the bigger group and it had been agreed we would get one of the larger party rooms but they were delaying, delaying, and delaying. Eventually, it was sorted out in the summer and we were given Labour’s room.”

A separate battle also took place over the office of Senator Alice Mary Higgins, which Fine Gael wanted for themselves.

In an email sent by a party administrator, Fine Gael said: “The Whip [Regina Doherty] had a telephone conversation with Senator Higgins outlining to the Senator that she would have to vacate office 350 and move to alternative accommodation.

“My understanding is that Senator Alice Higgins has been offered two alternative offices … and has refused to take either.”

In an email outlining her position, Senator Higgins explained that she had previously accommodated a switch of offices.

“I believe therefore I have been very reasonable and I am not willing to move again,” she said. “I therefore again underscore that the delivery of crates and proposal to move has not been agreed to or acceptable. Moreover, no justification has been offered.”

Neither Senator Higgins or Fine Gael would comment on the background to their office disagreement.


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Why did this searing letter from Health Minister Simon Harris to the HSE Director General end up binned?

The great thing about using FOI for journalism is that it is document-based and documents, particularly official ones, are very hard to argue with.

The great weakness of using FOI for journalism is that it is document-based … and that does not always tell us why a document was created, changed, or in this particular instance never used.

In the records released by the Department of Health on discussions over the winter initiative, there were two letters prepared for Minister Simon Harris and intended for Tony O’Brien, the Director General of the HSE.

One of them has much stronger language, demanding personal assurances from Mr O’Brien and highly critical of how the HSE has been managing overcrowding so far. It was never sent.


The other one is much more bland and was sent.


So, what changed?

The Department claims the “drafts were prepared as part of the normal process of internal Departmental communications”. But there seems to be something more at work here so answers (or even suggestions) on a postcard please.


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Health Minister says nobody could see overcrowding crisis coming … except for HSE who warned Department of Health and were asked to downplay risk

WITH a record 600+ people on trolleys in emergency rooms, it seems timely to post this set of documents on the so-called Winter Initiative to tackle overcrowding.

In the Irish Times this morning, Simon Harris was reported as saying nobody could have predicted things would be so bad.

Except the HSE had warned that the winter initiative could be ineffective if there was an outbreak of flu, bad weather and so on in their draft plan.


And what did the Department of Health do? They asked that this warning be moved prior to publication of the plan so they could emphasise the “positive effects” of the initiative.

The HSE had been keen to say that targets set in the initiative might not be met depending on circumstances.

In particular, they had warned of “unusually high demand” particularly among older people, the potential for flu, and the possible impact of weather conditions.

However, the Department of Health asked that the focus be taken off these provisions so that the plan’s publication would come across more positively.

An internal Departmental memo said: “We fully understand the need to include assumptions and dependencies, and you are of course correct in stating that unusually high demand and other factors could hypothetically have an adverse effect on delivery.

“However, we would advise, prior to publication, that this section might be moved to the end of the submission; we would prefer to focus on the very positive effects of the proposed initiative, towards the beginning of the document.”

In a separate email sent to the HSE, the Department suggested that these negative notes would be better placed “probably towards the end of the document”.

The first page could then be focused on the “objectives and benefits which the plan aims to achieve”.

Not everybody in the Department of Health was so confident about the plan however. One senior official noted in an email that the ability to secure and retain staff was going to present a major difficulty, particularly in providing additional acute beds.

“Based on recruitment track record this could be a major challenge in implementing these initiatives before year end,” wrote Fionnuala Duffy of the Acute Hospitals Policy Unit.

The warnings which the HSE tried to make prominent in the plan did eventually become reality and trolley count figures from the last few weeks have been appalling.

A pledge in the winter initiative had said there should be no more than 236 patients on trolleys on any given day while the plan was in place.

The Department of Health said that the initiative had been successful in some respects with the number of “delayed discharges” down from 638 at the start of the plan to 488 last week.

They said 4,100 people had made use of community intervention team services, meaning they had been able to avoid hospital or were discharged earlier.

In addition, new home care packages were provided, with 250 transitional care beds, as well as 28 step-down beds in Mercy Hospital in Cork and Beaumont in Dublin.

In a statement, the Department said they had fully acknowledged the importance of the “assumptions and dependencies” being included in the winter initiative plan.

They said: “They were moved to the back of the document for stylistic reasons and in order to ensure that focus would be maintained by the HSE and the Department on the key deliverables of this very important initiative.”

In terms of recruitment, they said the HSE continued to run campaigns and that efforts continued to recruit suitable staff to open new acute beds.

The full set of documents below. If you don’t have time to read through all of them, the most relevant are records 8, 21, 24 & 25.

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