Sunday, 24 February 2013

Letting the boom rip, unexplained payments, and the secret of drones

FOIreland looks at the latest storied disclosed under Freedom of Information

Another day, another Euro: journalists keep digging away at the background to the present harsh economic climate in Ireland. In the Irish Times, Mary Minihan looked at how in 2000, then Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy warned of the consequences for the economy if growth was not kept in check: 'the Irish economy is heading for trouble if the boom is let rip'. High spending demands from his cabinet colleagues were a major source of pressure for expansion.

Meanwhile the Irish Examiner revealed that European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, believes their decision not to reveal documents on the Irish government's negotiations over promissory notes was in the public interest. Tom Felle of the University of Limerick is quoted as saying, "When it comes to public money the public interest should always fall on the side of disclosure".

Public spending continues to come under scrutiny. The Justice Minister's legal firm - from which he has ceased operating as a partner - has earned nearly €100,000 in fees from the Health and Safety Executive, according to the Irish Independent. The Times has a story on Met √Čireann TV meteorologists paid an average of €21,000 on top of their salaries. Details of the payments were refused as 'personal data', but the newspaper 'has established the figures involved' - it doesn't specify how.

 An astonishing exclusive in irishhealth.com reveals that the Tallaght Hospital has been unable to account for why it paid five staff members a total of nearly €700,000 in earnings top-ups over a five year period. An investigation revealed there was no documentary evidence as to the rationale for the payments, and inconsistent recollections as to why they had been approved.

The Irish Independent has an environmental story - campaigners against a controversial water treatment plant in Ringsend, Dublin, have claimed that the designation of the local area as a site of special interest was under consideration before planning permission for the plant was given, according to an FOI request. And in a story asking whether politicians are keeping their promises to 'put the country first', the paper also reveals that senior cabinet members have been contacting the Education Minister to ask for constituents to be put on a scheme putting unemployed workers on higher education courses - though it points out that 'most of the representations did not garner positive responses'.

Finally, in a story about the market for drones, the Irish Times exposes a typical disparity between Freedom of Information legislation in Ireland and abroad. The Irish Aviation Authority, not subject to FOI, has revealed that eight drone licences have been issued, but declined to reveal to whom. The US Federal Aviation Authority, on the other hand, has disclosed details of all 81 applicants received - mostly law enforcement agencies and universities.

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