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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was the loophole deliberate?

Was there awareness that this could be open to abuse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why are people from some Irish counties six times more likely to end up imprisoned than in others?

THE odds of people from some Irish counties being sent to prison is almost six times higher than the chances for other counties.

People with a Limerick address have by far the highest chance of ending up in jail, an analysis of Irish Prison Service data has revealed.

Only two counties exceeded an average of 500 prison committals per 100,000 of population in the two years examined: Limerick (561) and Co Longford (528).

By contrast, the chances of someone with a Donegal address winding up in jail were a fraction of that of Limerick.

In Donegal, the prison committal rate per 100,000 of population was just 97, making it – by this measure at least – the most law-abiding county in Ireland.

Other counties with very low rates of imprisonment for residents included Meath, Mayo, and Leitrim.

Dublin with by far the largest population was almost identical to the national average with a rate of 285 incarcerations per 100,000 people.

All told, more than 12,700 people were sent to jail in 2014 with that figure rising to almost 13,500 during 2015.

The numbers are remarkably low in some counties with just 83 people from Leitrim imprisoned over the two years. By contrast, Longford, with only a slightly bigger population, had 412 of its residents sent to jail.

The national average was 285 committals per 100,000 of population, with several counties including Laois, Wexford, Kilkenny, Galway, and Dublin all in and around that figure.

Cork, the other big population centre in Ireland, had a far higher rate of imprisonment. For every 100,000 people there, 391 are sent to prison each year, with almost the same figure applying to Co Waterford.

There are also stark provincial differences with Munster having the highest rate of incarceration, mainly because of the levels in Limerick and Cork.

Leinster was next coming in just below the national average, with Connacht third of the four.

The three counties of Ulster had by far the lowest rates of imprisonment with just 135 committals per 100,000 of population there.

For those that do end up in prison, the chances of them serving a lengthy sentence appears to have dropped considerably in the last five years.

In 2010, there were 344 prisoners given a jail term of five years or more. However, by the end of 2015, that had dropped to 240.

The number of people sentenced to life – all convicted murderers – has remained fairly constant however, over the years.

In 2015, there were nineteen prisoners given life, compared to 25 the year before. Numbers have generally been in the low twenties for the past decade.

Most of the people sent to jail however, get much shorter sentences of less than three months.

In 2015, the last year for which full figures are available, nearly three in four people imprisoned got a term of less than ninety days.

There has also been a massive rise in the number of women going to prison, according to official figures.

In 2001, fewer than 1,000 women were sent to jail but fifteen years later, that figure had risen to almost 3,000.

Two of those women were imprisoned for homicide offences, either murder or manslaughter, compared to 42 men.

There were 153 sex offenders sent to jail in 2015, none of whom were women. However, the previous year – two women had been jailed for sexual offences.

More than 550 people were imprisoned for murder attempts, threats to kill, and serious assaults – 41 of them female.

Just over 350 people got jailed for fraud, deception and other similar offences, with 59 of them women and 298 men.

Overall, the vast majority of those sent to jail were from either Ireland, the UK, or the European Union, making up 95% of the total.

Also imprisoned were 268 African people, 194 Asians, 49 from South or Central America, 14 from North America, and three from Australia or Oceania.

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Ireland’s Lord of the parking fines runs up an unpaid bill of more than €40,000

A SINGLE driver has run up unpaid parking fines of more than €40,000 in the leafy suburbs of Dublin.

Details released by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council reveal how nine separate drivers have amassed bills of at least €7,000 each, sometimes for hundreds of individual offences.

An anonymised list of the worst offenders show that the top nine have ran up a combined unpaid bill of €147,400 in unpaid fines.

The person with the worst record has refused to pay no less than 668 fines, which together come to €40,080.

Fines are charged at the rate of €60 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown with a higher punishment of €120 applying to those who park in a disabled bay.

The serial offender – with the €40,000 bill – has at least only run up ordinary fines, and has not yet been caught using a disabled space.

The local authority said their parking nemesis had 22 convictions relating to unpaid parking fines and eight separate bench warrants.

They said: “A court has the power to either issue a warrant for arrest or to disqualify the accused from driving. The Council has no authority to enforce such court orders.”

Another individual owes €28,800 for 473 offences, which works out at an average of just over €60.

That means he, or she, has at least once been discovered to have parked in a space designated for people with disabilities.

The next worst serial offender has ran up unpaid fines of €21,540 (359 offences) more than double that of the person in fourth, who owes €10,440 (174).

Another owes €14,320 after being caught 127 times, and in the overwhelming majority of cases it was for use of a disabled parking bay.

The council said they actively pursued pursue non-payers through the courts and during the past three years have secured more than 2,700 convictions.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown’s compliance levels have been rising in recent years and in 2016, they reached their highest rate with 78% of those fined paying up.

That was up from a low of 68% in 2013 when a total of 22,065 parking fines were issued.

The council said: “It should be noted that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has a policy of pursuing non-payment of fixed charge offence notices through legal proceedings [or] legal action in the District Court.

“In action taken against the above offenders, two vehicles were removed and disposed of in accordance with the appropriate legislation. Two registered owners of vehicles were disqualified from driving through District Court proceedings and multiple convictions have been secured against offenders.”

They also said their compliance rate was in reality higher when unregistered vehicles – usually from abroad – were excluded.

Over the course of the past five years, the local authority has issued just over 120,000 parking fees, which would at a conservative estimate have yielded €7.2 million in revenue had every one of them been paid.

In South Dublin County Council, the problem of repeat offenders does not seem to have been quite so pronounced.

However, enforcement rates are lower there and have hovered between 60 and 70 per cent over the past six years, according to records.

In the South Dublin local authority area, fines are also cheaper at €40, which increases to €60 if not paid after 28 days. Parking in a disabled space incurs an €80 fine. It also jumps after the four week limit to €120.

According to the county council, their worst offender owes €4,640 in fines, with the next highest person at €3,280.

In total, their ten worst cases owe a combined €24,600, significantly lower than the top individual offender in neighbouring Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Enforcement rates in the South Dublin area were just 61% in 2011 and reached their peak the following year when they hit 70%.

Last year, 68% of people in the area who were given a fine paid up either immediately or for the higher amount that kicks in after four weeks.

Dublin City Council do not issue parking fines and instead rely on the infinitely more persuasive use of clamping to keep drivers in line.

Despite its success, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown have said they will not be using clamps and will continue their efforts to pursue non-payers through the courts.

Details of parking fines issued in the fourth Dublin local authority, Fingal County Council, have not yet been made available.

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Ireland’s most senior diplomat in New York told to find new residence because of sky high €29,995-a-month rent

IRELAND’S most senior diplomat in New York was told to find a new residence in the city because the $29,995-a-month rent the taxpayer was paying was far too high.

The Consul General had been living in a duplex apartment in the Big Apple with 4,000 square feet of space and a wraparound balcony with 360 degree unobstructed views of New York’s skyline.

The eight-room property was “much-admired” but because of its size, unique balcony, prized views, and the “exclusive nature of the building” … it also came with a hefty price tag.

In 2013, the Department of Foreign Affairs asked that the residence be moved to a “more cost-effective alternative”.

However, that move ended up taking more than two years – as they struggled to find a suitable property to accommodate the Consul General.

The Department had to agree to two separate roll-overs of the $29,995-a-month lease on exceptional grounds.

The saga began in December 2013 when the lease on the residence came up for renewal and the property owners signalled that they would be upping the rent and were seeking $35,000 a month.

An internal email from one of the diplomatic staff in New York said: “I explained that it would be very difficult to get the agreement of my authorities to such a large increase, particularly given the challenging economic circumstances in Ireland at this time.”

In response, the landlord said that the rental market in New York was booming with the stock market scaling new heights.

The Department of Foreign Affairs made some tentative efforts to find a new property. However, they were told many landlords would not actually accept diplomats as tenants.

An email explained: “This, apparently, has resulted from many cases where New York based diplomats have damaged properties or left them in a very poor condition and have invoked diplomatic immunity to avoid civil law suits for damages.”

The diplomatic staff did look at three properties: one was only half the size of the current residence with small elevators, another had no decent space for entertaining, while another appeared to be two smaller apartments converted into a larger one.

Instead, they went back to their landlord who after some negotiations agreed they could keep the existing apartment for $29,995 per month, with monthly service charges of nearly $2,000.

Back in Dublin, Department bosses agreed to an extension of a single year on condition the Consulate continued to look for a new cheaper property.

By the end of 2014, little progress appears to have been made and the Department again had to “exceptionally” extend the lease for another year.

Efforts to find a new property were proving difficult because the market in New York was “on fire”, according to the newly arrived Irish Consul General Barbara Jones.

An internal email from Fergal Mythen, the Director General of Corporate Services, to Ms Jones said: “We cannot overemphasise the fact that the high cost of the rent remains a matter of concern to the Department.”

The email explained how the annual rent bill needed to be cut from $360,000 per year to a cost of less than $250,000.

A report on the residence explained how the actual rent bill was actually even higher at $388,800 annually when service charges and parking were taken into account.

It extolled the virtues of the current property saying the balcony space in particular was an “oft-cited point of admiration by … guests”. It was also used for a wide variety of events.

The report explained that getting a property for $250,000-a-year would be tricky with “limited” suitable stock in the city even after more than 130 properties were looked at.

One apartment in a new building called UN Plaza was eventually found, which fit the bill with a monthly rental cost of $23,000, which with parking and service charges worked out at $279,600 per year.

However, that was not the end of it and when diplomatic staff went to meet the landlord, they were told there would be a 120 day “termination clause”.

“Our collective assessment is not positive towards the landlord based on these surprise developments,” said an email from Vice Consul Shane Cahill.

Fortunately, a separate apartment in the same building was also available with just a $500-a-month increase on the rent.

“The mission believes the apartment would make a suitable residence,” said an email. A lease on the property was signed off and the Consul General moved into the new apartment early last year.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The Department asked the Consulate in New York to go back to the market to see if a better value for money option was available.

“After an exhaustive search in what is one of the most challenging and expensive real estate environments in the world where identifying suitable space is not easy and can take some time, an alternative premises was identified which did offer better value for money to the Department.

“A three-year lease was signed for the premises … I would take this opportunity to highlight once more the $309,000 savings which will be made over the course of the three year lease.”

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