The amazing two minds of Irish officialdom

There’s an excellent example in today’s Irish Examiner of how Irish officials can operate both inside and outside of reality at the same time.

This amazing ability allows Irish politicians and civil servants to break a law or rule and, at the same time in their minds, obey that very same law.

This case involved tendering rules surrounding procurement procedures by Waterford City Council.

An internal auditor’s report looked at €4.9 million worth of spending and found that proper procedures were not followed in €4.3 million of the expenditure.

But Waterford city manager Michael Walsh assured everybody willing to believe him that no companies were given work on the basis of favouritism.

I mean the very thought that the setting aside of rules specifically designed to prevent favouritism could be seen as an abuse of power is an outrage against the unquestionable honesty of all state officials.

No – Mr. Walsh provided a perfectly clear, honest and uniquely Irish explanation.

Bending the rules’ isn’t the language I would like to use. We weren’t fully compliant is the point the auditor is making… and I accept that.

I want to be clear about this, in the circumstances we very deliberately decided that we were not going to be fully compliant but we did ensure, I can assure you, that there was competitive tendering.

In fairness, you have to admire this ability to make two completely contradictory statements while, apparently, believing the substance of both.

Garda Ombudsman: You are not entitled to any information whatsoever

Dublin TD Clare Daly believes that her arrest on a drink driving charge and the leaking of the story to the media was a deliberate attempt to discredit her because she has raised issues of malpractice within the Garda Siochana.

I agree with her conclusions.

Ms Daly was stopped by Gardai on 28 Jan last and breathalysed; the equipment did not register a reading.

Despite this Ms. Daly was arrested, handcuffed and taken to Kilmainham Garda Station 300 metres down the road.

When she objected to being handcuffed she was told that it was procedure.

Her legal team has told her that this is incorrect.

She was put in a cell and a doctor was called to take a urine sample.

Upon being released a female Garda told her to come back when she was sober.

Turns out she was sober. The urine sample showed that her alcohol level was 33% below the allowable limit.

Ms. Daly made a complaint and the Garda Ombudsman is investigating.

When the penalty points scandal first broke I rang the Garda Ombudsman office to inquire if they were investigating the very serious allegations being made against the force.

I was told that they can only investigate matters that involve complaints from members of the public who have been directly wronged by a Garda or a matter that they deem to be in the public interest

I rang again today to see if they were still of the view that it wasn’t in the public interest to investigate what are potentially the most serious allegations of corruption within the force.

Predictably, I ended up with a headache from banging my head against the solid wall of unaccountable bureaucracy.

Me: Is the Garda Ombudsman investigating the abuse of penalty points allegations?

Official: We can’t give out any information about complaints you haven’t made yourself.

Me: But I’m not referring to a complaint, I’m asking is there an investigation into the penalty points allegations.

Official: I can’t say, I’m not allowed to say because you’re not involved in it and you haven’t made a complaint yourself.

I can’t give you any information about anything, about any investigation or any complaints.

Me: Absolutely nothing? Nobody is entitled to know whether you’re investigating something or not?

Official: No, not unless you’re involved.

Me: That’s incredible.

Official: It’s confidential.

Me: I find that hard to believe. You’re saying that the general public is not allowed to know whether the Garda Ombudsman is investigating any particular matter.

Official: No. I can’t give out any information about any complaints.

Me: What regulation/legislation are you basing your refusal on?

Official: It’s confidential.

Me: Yes, but could you refer me to the regulation that permits you to refuse the information.

Official: It’s a confidential procedure making a complaint; I can’t give out any information on the matter.

Me: Ok, that’s fine but could you point me to the particular legislation that allows you to refuse the information?

Official: If you’re not happy with my answer you can put it in writing to the Commission.

Me: Yes, I’m accepting your answer; I’m just asking what legislation you’re basing your refusal on. Can I find the relevant legislation on your website.

Official: I don’t look at the website, I don’t know.

Me: There is a ‘legislation’ link on your website, would I find it there?

Official: If you’re not happy with my answer you can put it in writing to the Commission.

Me: So you’re refusing to reveal the legislation under which you’re refusing to give out information?

Official: I’ve just advised you, if you’re not happy with my answer you can put it in writing.

Me: Are you refusing to point out the legislation to me?

Official: I can’t give it to you.

Me: Why not?

Official: Hung up.

Update on missing art works from Leinster House

I had a long and detailed telephone conversation with an official from the Office of Public Works (OPW) on Tuesday regarding the art works that have gone missing from Leinster House.

While the official was courteous and genuine in her attempts to explain the situation it was obvious that there are glaring contradictions surrounding the whole scandal.

According to this official the number of art works missing is nowhere near the 38 reported by the Irish Independent and several have been located since Christmas.

She did, however, inform me that some items have been missing for decades.

I was informed that the Art Management Office has been carrying out a continuous cataloguing of state art work since its establishment in 2000.

This involves cataloguing works aquired since the foundation of the state and even works that were left behind by the British administration.

In other words, prior to 2000 there was no oversight whatsoever of state art works. It was, apparently, open season for anyone who wished to help themselves.

Since 2000 however, I was informed that a very tight system of control was in place that involved the following procedures.

A data base for all art work. This system allows officials to instantly identify the exact location – building, floor, room – of all items.

All items (or at least the more valuable items) are digitally photographed, measured, described in detail and assigned a unique serial number.

Building managers are directly responsible for all items under their care. The OPW provides a list of all items to each building manager outlining exactly what items they are responsible for.

When an item arrives in a building the building manager signs it in. When an item leaves the building the building manager signs it out.

When an individual (official or politician) requests an item the building manager obtains it from the OPW. The transaction is noted on the OPW data base and the building manager receives a formal letter from the OPW outling the exact details of the items delivered.

All art works within Leinster House are controlled/monitored by this system.

Very impressive but the contradiction is obvious – If the system is so efficient why did dozens of items go missing just two years ago, years after the ‘effective’ control system was put in place?

The official denied that dozens of items had gone missing. The Irish Independent had got its facts wrong and several of the items have since been located.

A number of other excuses were mentioned.

We have a tiny staff and very few resources.

We are responsible for several hundred offices throughout Ireland.

Our inventory system is ongoing so an item may only be discovered as missing after a full inventory rotation (approximately one year).

We respond by writing to the building manger asking him to check it out.

Most disturbingly, the official said that the first response by the OPW when art items go missing is to presume that the items have been misplaced or innocently moved to another location.

The possibility of theft is seldom a serious consideration.

What we see here is a typically Irish two-faced bureaucratic system which on the surface claims to be efficient and accountable while at the same time studiously ignoring the fact that serious damage is being done to state/citizens interersts.

Stephen Donnelly: Nearly gets it right

Speaking on radio over the weekend independent TD Stephen Donnelly delivered an almost perfect analysis of Ireland 2012.

I say ‘almost’ because, with his final sentence, Donnelly demonstrated that he doesn’t really understand the reality of Ireland 2012.

The Oireachtas does not work, it’s a joke, it’s a farce. It’s a pretence of parliamentary democracy, this country is run by the Cabinet.

Fianna Fail became institutionally corrupt and that corruption spread right through the country. At the same time the civil service shut themselves off from internal oversight and from parliamentary oversight.

And so when the Tsunami came the country had become so unstable, so badly governed that we fell off a cliff. At the heart of it is institutional self-interest, weak politics because we kept voting along tribal grounds

Now that’s all gone.

It’s all gone…all the corruption is gone, all is reformed, democracy has returned…we don’t vote along tribal grounds anymore…Where…When…Who?

Feck, I must have blinked at some point.

More questions for the Office of Public Works

Sent the following email to the Office of Public Works (OPW) in my continuing efforts to get some answers regarding the missing art work from Leinster House.

Dear,

In your email of Thursday 8th November regarding the art work missing from Leinster House you state that the OPW is not in a position to confirm that items are missing.

I would be grateful if you could clarify the following statements and claims as reported in the Sunday Independent dated Sunday October 21st.

Thirty-seven pieces of state-owned art work are missing or “unaccounted for” from within Leinster House, it has been confirmed.

Is this statement true?

Did an OPW spokesperson confirm to the Sunday Independent that 37 pieces of state-owned art work are missing or unaccounted for?

Is the reference to ‘missing’ items incorrect?

Individual paintings, prints, statues and other pieces of state-owned art work assigned to the Leinster House complex, under the charge of the Office of Public Works (OPW), have been misplaced following the largest changeover of offices because of the general election last year.

Is this statement true?

An initial inventory of the State’s art collection has been completed and it found that 37 pieces of art work from within Leinster House are “unaccounted for”, the OPW has confirmed.

Is this statement true?

Did an OPW spokesperson confirm to the Sunday Independent that an initial inventory found that 37 pieces of art work were unaccounted for?

Often, when staff move offices, they take art work they like with them and this poses great difficulty to the OPW and management staff in Leinster House to keep a track on them, the spokesman said.

Is this statement true?

The OPW was not in a position to put a valuation on the collection, or the missing pieces, but said none of the pieces in question was of “critical importance”.

Is this statement true?

Is the reference to ‘missing’ pieces incorrect?

The OPW said that while a number of pieces are unaccounted for since the general election, others have been missing since before that.

Is this statement true?

Is the reference to ‘missing’ pieces incorrect?

Clearly there is some confusion between your statement that the OPW is not in a position to confirm that items are missing and the Sunday Independent report which clearly confirms an OPW spokesperson as saying that items are missing.

To help you in your reply I contacted the Sunday Independent and they have confirmed to me that they did speak at length with a spokesperson from the OPW.

The Sunday Independent stated that the OPW confirmed all the details of the story.

The Sunday Independent stated that the OPW at no time complained or objected to the story in terms of its accuracy.

The Sunday Independent stated that the OPW has made no request for the story to be withdrawn or amended as a result of inaccuracies.

Yours Sincerely

Anthony Sheridan

Office of Public Works arrogantly refuses to answer questions

For over two weeks now I’ve been attempting to extract some very simple answers from the Office of Publc Works (OPW) regarding the large number of art work that has gone missing from Leinster House.

I’ve been through all the usual hoops – several emails, numerous phone calls, moved from extension to extension, from office to office, sidelined into the Press Office, put it in writing Mr. Sheridan, listened to officials trying to sound professional as they tell me fairy tales until, finally, I hit the standard bureaucratic brick wall.

The brick wall arrived, at is usually does, when I insisted on knowing the precise legislative basis for refusing to answer my questions.

I would be grateful if you could confirm to me the precise rules/regulations/laws on which your office is refusing to answer my questions on this matter.

I received the following email which, without exception, is the most arrogant/dismissive response I have ever received from a public official.

A public official who, in theory, is supposed to be working in the best intersts of Ireland and its citizens.

The form of the email is exactly as I received it.

Mr. Sheridan,

I refer to previous emails and telephone conversations. Please see responses below.

What are the name, position and rank of the person/s responsible for the safe keeping of the missing items?

The OPW Art Management Office manages the State Art Collection.

What action has been taken in response to the missing items?

The OPW Art Management Office is not in a position to confirm that items are missing.

In particular, what action has been taken in respect of items that went missing prior to the last general election?

The OPW Art Management Office is not in a position to confirm that items went missing prior to the last general election.

What is the overall time period in which the items went missing?

The OPW is not in a position to confirm that items are missing.

Please supply a list of the estimated value of each missing item.

The OPW is not in a position to confirm that items are missing. Therefore it is not possible to supply such a list.

Please supply a list of the exact offices/locations from which items went missing.

The OPW is not in a position to confirm that items are missing. Therefore it is not possible to supply such a list.

Please supply a list of the officials/politicians who occupied offices from which items went missing.

The OPW is not in a position to confirm that items are missing. Therefore it is not possible to supply such a list.

Please confirm or otherwise if members of the public are entitled to speak directly to OPW officials regarding this matter.

I confirm that responses will issue to you from the OPW Press office.

I would be grateful if you could confirm to me the precise rules/regulations/laws on which your office is refusing to answer my questions on this matter.

As previously stated the OPW is currently not in a position to answer questions relating to the ongoing art inventory.

I trust the above clarifies the matter.

Regards

A freedom of information request is on the way.

When should the Gardai be called in – Well, it depends

What kind of suspicious incident needs to happen in Ireland before the Garda get involved?

Well, it depends.

Take, for example, the thirty-seven pieces of state-owned art that recently went missing from Leinster House.

The Gardai were not called in and are, apparently, not interested.

It’s all being quietly dealt with ‘in house’, so to speak.

First of all the art pieces are, apparently, only ‘missing’, ‘misplaced’ or otherwise ‘unaccounted for’. They have not, apparently, being stolen.

The accommodation managers have beeen ordered to locate the artwork and if they cannot then they will be officially declared missing.

This will take two or three weeks, so no hurry; no panic.

It seems that when staff take a fancy to a particular piece of art they ‘take it’ with them when they move office.

According to an official the resources necessary to keep track of everything are not available.

While some of the pieces went missing after the last general election other items went missing well before that.

It appears that the whole matter of artwork going missing from Leinster House is as common and as unremarked upon as a politician doing a favour for a constituent.

No need to call in the Guards, sure the art will turn up somewhere, sometime and if they have to be officially declared ‘missing’ sure what’s harm.

But what happens when state-owned artwork goes missing from a location outside the control of politicians and state officials?

Well, it’s theft, pure and simple and the Gardai are called in immediately.

A major Garda investigation is underway after state-owned paintings were stolen, not ‘missing or misplaced’ now, but stolen from a warehouse in Co Kildare.

Gardai are investigating staff at the private warehouse where the paintings were stored.

Neither Leinster House staff nor politicians are being investigated by Gardai.

Gardai want to know how the thieves were able to gain access to the warehouse.

Nobody in Leinster House is being asked about access to the missing artwork.

The Gardai are trying to determine when the artwork was last checked.

In Leinster House nobody seems to know the when, who or how when it comes to checking artwork.

Gardai are trying to establish a timeline of events leading up to the theft of the paintings.

In Leinster House, well, some of the artwork went missing before and some after the last election; nobody really knows what’s going on.

Gardai are trying to establish who had access to the warehouse and who had knowledge of its contents.

In Leinster House it seems everybody had access to the artwork and just took what they liked.

Gardai want to know what security procedures were in operation, how they were bypassed and how the theft went unnoticed.

In Leinster House there is, apparently, no security and the ‘missing’ artwork wasn’t missed for ages.

The Department of Arts and Heritage is carrying out a massive review of security within the department.

In Leinster House the accommodation managers have been instructed to have a look around and see if they can find anything.

So it seems, when state property goes missing at a location where state officials and politicians are responsible nothing much really happens.

There’s no suspicion that a crime may have been committed, the very thought.

When state property goes missing outside of the political/administrative sector there is a strong and immediate reaction by state authorities.

And the lesson is?

If you fancy a nice piece of free art – Leinster House is the place.

Feck them, feck them all

There was a very angry woman on Liveline yesterday complaining about the harassment she has received from the incompetent Local Government Management Agency.

Despite having paid her household charge the woman continues to receive threatening letters from the agency.

She told Joe that she’s sorry now that she obeyed the law and paid up immediately ending with:

Feck them, feck them all.

Reply to Office of Public Works

My reply to Office of Public Works Press Office regarding thirty seven pieces of state-owned artwork missing from Leinster House.

Dear…

Thank you for the generalised overview of the State Art Collection.

Unfortunately the information you provide bears little relevance to the series of questions I had asked.

You did confirm that the art collection is managed by an inventory system and therefore you will be aware that such a system is very efficient in recording and tracking the location and movements of all art items.

The system also allows for the immediate identification of those responsible for art items at any particular time.

You will be aware, for example, that if a work of art is moved from Leinster House to another location in the country it is signed out of Leinster House and signed in to its new location and that inventories at both locations are changed to reflect the event.

This also applies when items are moved from office to office within the same building.

You will also be aware that inventories and those responsible for their contents are regularly checked by a higher authority to ensure that all items are present and correct.

My queries are specifically concerned with the art items missing from the Leinster House complex over a very specific period of time.

On the assumption that the Leinster House inventory system was properly operated and supervised it is reasonable to assume that the information I have requested is in existence.

With this in mind I have re-submitted my questions below.

If you are unable to answer any particular question I would be grateful if you would simply state that fact and provide a reason for your inability to answer.

I would also request that in replying to my queries that you extend the same courtesy to me that I automatically extend to you – that I am a person of at least average intelligence.

Yours Sincerely
Anthony Sheridan

What are the name, position and rank of the person/s responsible for the safe keeping of the missing items?

What action has been taken in response to the missing items?

In particular, what action has been taken in respect of items that went missing prior to the last general election?

What is the overall time period in which the items went missing?

Please supply a list of the estimated value of each missing item

Please supply a list of the exact offices/locations from which items went missing

Please supply a list of the officials/politicians who occupied offices from which items went missing.

Please confirm or otherwise if members of the public are entitled to speak directly to OPW officials regarding this matter.

OPW replies but gives no answers

The Office of Public Works (OPW) Press Office has replied to my questions regarding the missing art items from Leinster House.

Predictably, none of my questions were actually answered. Instead I got a generalized overview of how the OPW handles public works of art.

Dear Mr. Sheridan,

I refer to your below e mail.

The art works located throughout the buildings in the Leinster House complex are from the State Art Collection.

By its nature, the State Art Collection is mobile.

The works circulate from building to building and inventory keeping is an integral part of day-to-day collection management.

The art works are placed on loan to many buildings throughout the country and locations are routinely checked.

There are over 15,000 art works in the State collection located in thousands of rooms in hundreds of public buildings.

Works that are not located during a routine inventory check are not necessarily missing. In most cases, these works have simply been moved to a different location within a building.

The staff from the OPW Art Management Office work closely with building managers in other State properties on a regular basis.

An inventory check is taking place in Leinster House at present in co-operation with staff there.

I hope the above is of assistance to you.

Regards,