On 23rd Oct last I received an email from the Ombudsman informing me that she had received a copy of a letter sent to me by Dublin City Council finally answering a simple question I had asked of them the previous April. The Ombudsman ends her letter as follows.
“As the Council has replied to your correspondence, there appears to be no further role for this Office in this matter and we will now close your
This brings to an end a tough campaign to extract an answer to a simple question from Dublin City Council. The following is a chronological account of events with my comments.
April 16th 2007: Irish Times reports that Fianna Fail TD for Donegal South West and Minister of State, Pat the Cope Gallagher had illegally erected a number of posters around Croke Park in Dublin. His actions were in contravention of the 1997 Litter Pollution Act.
April 18th: I phoned Dublin City Council and asked the simple question: “Was Minister of State, Pat the Cope Gallagher, fined for illegally erecting posters in Dublin city”?
Bernie Lillis, of Dublin City Council Litter Office told me that it was her personal office policy not to reveal such information about fines. The incident and its consequences were confidential, a personal matter between her office and the minister.
Ms. Lillis further informed me that she had spoken with the Minister and had accepted his plea that he wasn’t aware his actions were against the law. Ms. Lillis and the minister are, apparently, unaware of the public policy; “Ignorantia legis neminem excusat” (Ignorance of the law excuses no one).
Ms. Lillis is also obviously gullible enough to believe that a Government minister and politician of long standing would be unaware of a major piece of legislation like the 1997 Litter Pollution Act.
April 20th: I spoke with Pat Cronin head of waste management at Dublin City Council. Initially, Mr. Cronin refused point blank to answer my question. He seemed genuinely astonished that a man in his position was actually being challenged by a mere citizen.
When I persisted he eventually said that if I wanted an answer I would have to put it in writing. When I asked by what law/regulation he was basing his demand that I put my question in writing on, he just kept repeating; put it in writing, put it in writing…
This is, in my experience, a standard bureaucratic strategy based on the (correct) assumption that most people will drop their queries rather than go to the bother of putting them in writing.
April 23rd: Posted registered letter personally addressed to Mr. Cronin (Copy One below).
April 25th – 22nd May: Made numerous attempts to confirm that Mr. Cronin had received my registered letter. I met with a brick wall on every attempt.
April 23rd: Irish Independent reports that Minister Gallagher had again illegally erected a number of posters in his Donegal South West constituency.
Despite his conversation with Bernie Lillis the week before, Gallagher admitted that he hadn’t checked whether he was breaching any regulations in Donegal. Again, Gallagher is claiming ignorance of the law and, more unbelievably, ignorance of the 1997 Litter Pollution Act.
April 23 – May 23rd: Made numerous attempts to find out from Donegal County Council what action they proposed to take against Gallagher. I met with a brick wall at every attempt.
I was eventually advised that I should put my complaint in writing (All bureaucrats are, apparently, aware of the ‘make them put it in writing’ strategy).
May 23rd: Posted official complaint about Gallagher’s illegal activities to Donegal County Council (Copy Two below).
May 24th: Submitted formal complaint by email to the Standards in Public Office Commission regarding Gallagher’s illegal activities (Copy Three below)
May 30th: Posted official complaint on Gallagher to Dublin City Council.
June 27th: Posted official complaint to the Ombudsman on the refusal of Dublin City Council staff to answer my question.
July 3rd: Received email from the Standards in Public Office Commission rejecting my complaint on the basis that Gallagher’s illegal activities were not of sufficient gravity to warrant an investigation.
A Government minister openly breaks the law on two occasions and a Government agency charged with upholding standards in public office concludes that such illegal activities are not of sufficient gravity.
In a perverse way, they have a point. Irish politicians regularly commit much more serious crimes without ever being brought to account.
July 19th: Received reply to my official complaint from Donegal County Council stating that because they had received no complaint about Gallagher they had no cause to investigate the matter.
This deserves repeating – Donegal County Council rejected my complaint about Gallagher on the grounds that they had received no complaint.
July 31st: Received letter from Dublin City Council finally answering the simple question I asked on April 18th – Gallagher was not fined for his illegal activities. (Copy Four below)
I believe the only reason Dublin City Council bothered to finally answer my question was because of my complaint to the Ombudsman.
October 23rd: Received email from the Ombudsman informing me that they had received a copy of the letter sent to me by Dublin City Council in which my question was answered and were therefore closing my file.
The question can reasonably be asked: Why bother? Why go to all that trouble to force a civil/public servant to answer a simple question?
The core principle of this blog is that Ireland, unique among all other Western democracies, is a corrupt state. While all other Western countries suffer to some degree from the disease of corruption, Ireland is, as a country, a totally corrupt entity.
One of the strategies of this blog is to prove this point by asking questions of politicians and Government agencies and judge by their responses whether they have the best interests of the Irish people at heart or whether they are perhaps serving another agenda.
I want to make absolutely clear that I am not accusing any of those involved in this episode of being corrupt, what I am claiming is that they have to live, work and continuously deal with an intrinsically corrupt system.
Every other resident of this state must do the same, everybody is forced to adapt to the rotten system whether they like it or not.
Everybody has to adapt to a culture where tax evasion is endemic, where financial institutions are allowed to regularly rob their customers, where politicians are permitted to live out lucrative careers of corruption without being made accountable.
Where white collar crime is barely recognised as a crime, where nobody is ever, ever held accountable, even when people die because of gross incompetence or negligence.
Where everybody knows that arrogance, incompetence and corruption have become as much a part of our culture as St. Patrick’s Day and Guinness.
That’s why, I believe, the public/civil servants involved in this case have acted as they have. They have acted in a manner that is largely consistent with how the bureaucracy of any third rate banana republic would act when faced with the choice of enforcing the law against a law breaking Government minister or cowering in fear behind a wall of bureaucratic arrogance and officialdom.
If a politician deliberately set out to break the law in any other Western democracy there would have been widespread public anger, there would have been immediate and effective action by the authorities and that politician’s career would have been terminated on the insistence of his colleagues in the body politic.
As for Gallagher himself, he’s practically an irrelevance. A member of the most corrupt political party in Ireland, a typical backwoodsman politician who will do anything to get and hold power, including breaking the law.
A low pedigree politician following in the footsteps of a long line of low pedigree politicians who’s only distinguishing legacy will be the enormous damage they have done to the quality of Irish democracy.
Copy of this post to:
Dublin City Council
Standards in Office Commission
Donegal County Council
Mr. Gallagher, Minister of State with special responsibility for Health Promotions and Food Safety at the Department of Health and Children.
Letter to Mr. Cronin head of waste management at Dublin City Council.
23rd April 2007
Dear Mr. Cronin,
On Monday 16th April it was reported in the Irish Times that Minister for State, Pat the Cope Gallagher, had illegally erected a number of posters around Dublin.
On Wednesday 18th April I rang Dublin City Council to find out what action had been taken in response to this incident. I was informed by Bernie Lillis of the Litter Office that it was the policy of her office to keep such matters confidential.
When I asked Ms Lillis what legislation/regulation she was basing her decision on she referred me to your office.
On Friday 20th April I spoke with you on the phone and asked the same question. You refused to answer any questions on the phone and insisted I write to you on the matter. Here are my questions:
What action did Dublin City Council take in response to the illegal erection of posters around Dublin by Minister of State Pat the Cope Gallagher as reported in the Irish Times on the 16th April 2007?
If fines were imposed, what was the sum total of those fines?
Regarding the authority of public/civil servants to make personal decisions on what information will or will not be allowed into the public arena.
Does Ms. Lillis of the Litter Office have the authority to form a personal office confidentiality policy which results in information being denied to the public? If she has this authority, on what regulatory basis does her power rest?
Do you, Mr. Cronin, have the authority to refuse to answer my specific questions regarding the specific events surrounding the illegal erection of posters by Minister of State, Pat Gallagher? If you do have that authority, by what regulatory basis are you acting?
Do you have the authority to refuse to answer my questions on the phone and insist that the matter can only be dealt with in writing? If you do have that authority, by what regulatory basis are you acting?
In today’s Irish Independent (23rd April) it is reported that Minister Gallagher has again erected illegal posters in Donegal. From the report it seems that they are the same posters that were illegally erected in Dublin and which, according to Ms. Lillis, were returned to Minister Gallagher.
Does Dublin City Council have a policy of rendering posters unusable before returning them to lawbreakers? (A quick daub of paint is all that would be required to protect other jurisdictions from rogue politicians like Minister Gallagher).
My motive for requesting this information is simple. I am an anti-corruption campaigner. I do not belong to any political party but act out of anger at the enormous damage being done to Ireland by the disease of rampant corruption.
As part of my campaigning I write a blog at https://www.publicinquiry.eu/ where Irish corruption is reported and analysed.
Obviously, the irresponsible and illegal activities of a Government Minister and the apparent inability/unwillingness of any state authority to bring him to justice are reported on the blog.
Yours in anger
Official complaint to Donegal County Council.
23rd May 2007
To Whom It May Concern,
Subsequent to several phone calls and on the advice of Donegal County Council staff I hereby submit this official complaint regarding a breach of the Litter Pollution Act, 1997.
On Monday April 23rd 2007 it was reported in the Irish Independent that Minister of State, Pat the Cope Gallagher, had mounted posters on poles on routes out of his Donegal South West constituency. It is further reported in the same newspaper that the said minister admitted that he had not checked whether he was in any breach of regulations.
I can confirm that when the minister erected illegal posters in Dublin city a number of days before his actions in Donegal he was informed by Dublin City Council that the erection of such posters was an illegal act.
In other word, when the minister erected the posters in Donegal he was aware that he was committing an illegal act. This information can be independently confirmed by contacting Ms. Bernie Lillis at Dublin City Council litter office (01/2224243).
I request an acknowledgment of this official complaint and I would be grateful to be informed of the outcome of any investigation.
Formal complaint to Standards in Office Commission
24th May 2007
To Whom It May Concern,
I wish to formally lodge a complaint under the Ethics in Public Office, Acts 1995 and/or the Standards in Public Office Act, 2001.
The complaint concerns the illegal erection of posters by Minister of State Pat the Cope Gallagher in Dublin and Donegal.
The first incident, as reported in the Irish Times on April 16th, involved the illegal erection of posters around Croke Park in Dublin. According to the report, Minister Gallagher openly admits that he organised and participated in this illegal act.
The second incident, as reported in the Irish Independent on April 23rd, involved the illegal erection of posters on poles on routes out of the ministers Donegal South West constituency.
In respect of the first incident in Dublin, I have been informed by Ms. Bernie Lillis of Dublin City Council Litter Office (01/2224243), that she informed the minister that his actions were illegal. According to Ms. Lillis, the minister apologised for his actions but claimed he did not realise he was breaking the law.
By claiming ignorance of the law the minister is asserting that, as a citizen, an elected representative and a government minister, he was unaware of the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, a piece of legislation that attracted widespread comment and analysis by the general public, the body politic and the media.
He is also asking the nation to accept that claimed ignorance of the law is a justified and reasonable defence.
It is reasonable to assume that minister Gallagher knew or should have known that he was in breach of the Litter Pollution Act, 1997 when he erected the posters in Dublin and was therefore acting in an irresponsible and unethical manner.
Because of the information he received from Bernie Lillis, it is an absolute certainty that minister Gallagher knew he was breaking the law when he illegally erected posters in Donegal some days after the Dublin incident.
By deliberately setting out to break the law of the land, it is clear that the minister is in serious breach of the Code of Conduct for Office Holders as outlined by the Standards in Office Commission (Office Holders), sections 1.3 Requirement to observe the Code of Conduct, 1.4 Principles of Ethical Conduct and 1.5 Highest ethical standards to be applied at all times.
From Dublin City Council
Dear Mr. Sheridan
I refer to your letter of 23/04/2007 and apologise for the delay in replying, which was due to oversight.
On 15/04/2007 Dublin City Council staff removed posters carrying the name, “Pat the Cope Gallagher” which had been erected on it’s (sic) property, (public lighting poles).
Subject to stringent conditions, Dublin City Council occasionally gives permission for the erection of posters on it’s (sic) property, but no application was received in respect of these posters. They were removed for disposal but Mr. Gallagher claimed not to have known of Dublin City Council’s policy and the posters were returned on the understanding that there would be no further breach of that policy. In the circumstances no further action was taken.
Where fines are issued under the Litter Pollution Act 1997, Dublin City Council will disclose general details, but not personal information, pending possible prosecution and court hearing. This is in line with the principle of presumed innocence until proven guilty. In this instance no fine was issued and details of discussions held with Mr. Gallagher were regarded as confidential and not disclosed. This policy applies equally across the board.
Mr. Cronin requested that you put your various questions in writing. This was to enable a reasoned and accurate reply to issue, which he felt he wasn’t in a position to do in a phone conversation. In the circumstances the request was reasonable.
Again I would like to apologise for the delay in replaying to your queries, but if there are any issues you would like to discuss further please contact me as above.
A/Senior Executive Officer