Best paid, least accountable

On 18th April last, I phoned Dublin City Council to ask a simple question.

Was Minister for State, Pat the Cope Gallagher, fined for illegally erecting a number of posters around Dublin?

104 days later, on 30th July, I was finally informed in a letter from Dublin City Council that Gallagher was not fined.

Over those 104 days I made numerous phone calls, sent emails, wrote letters, made official complaints and generally made myself known to Dublin City Council Waste Management staff.

Here’s the letter followed by my comments

Dear Mr. Sheridan,

I refer to your letter of 23/04/07 and apologise for the delay in replying, which was due to an 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 the 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 replying to your queries, but if there are any issues you would like to discuss further please contact me as above.

Yours faithfully

Niall O’Keeffe
A/Senior Executive Officer

I had regular and robust conversations with Dublin City Council staff on the matter so I don’t believe that the delay was due to an oversight. These so called public servants treated me as I believe they treat most other citizens.

First, a paternalistic attitude was adopted assuring me that the matter was dealt with and not to worry. When I insisted on an answer a more aggressive attitude developed and I was, in effect, told that it was none of my business. When this failed to work I was referred to a more senior staff member.

This public servant was at first outraged at the very idea that an ordinary citizen (peasant) had the temerity to challenge government officials. When I raised the question of regulations/duties/obligations I was angrily told to put my question in writing.

I did, by registered post and addressed personally to this particular public servant. The final contemptuous strategy was then adopted. Despite a clear request for an acknowledgement my letter was completely ignored.

It was, I believe, only after these people learned that I had made an official complaint to the Ombudsman about their behaviour that I finally received an answer to my simple question.

Arrogance, contempt, ignorance, paternalism, secrecy, dishonesty, incompetence – All this from the best paid but least accountable public service in Europe.

Feck off

It’s interesting to compare the different responses to water shortages in Galway and

In the UK, where the water shortage was caused by natural events, citizens have been supplied with free bottled water backed up with bulk water tankers.

In Galway, where the water shortage was caused by political incompetence, citizens have to pay for their bottled water and when they demanded bulk water tankers, the politicians told them to feck off – and they did.

Well done John Gormley and Greens

The Greens have made their first significant impact (3rd item) on the way things have been traditionally done in this country. John Gormley, Minister for the Environment has overturned hundreds of land re-zonings made by Monaghan County Council.

Traditionally, county councils ignore development plans, disregard advice from the Department of the Environment and local officials and proceed to grant planning, as Minister Gormley describes it, in a sporadic and haphazard fashion. Reasons for such curious planning decisions often come to light in tribunal’s decades hence – too late to rectify the damage.

I have to admit it’s difficult to get used to an Irish politician acting in the public interest. Actually using legislation, Section 31 of the 2000 Planning Act, to

“protect the national interest and ensure proper planning and sustainable development.”

Destructive and irresponsible planning has been part our culture for decades. Yet I have never heard of a minister using this power, indeed, I didn’t know such powers existed as County Councils usually do as they please without censure.

Planning decisions, as everybody knows, can make ‘lucky’ individuals very rich overnight. This happens when agricultural land is rezoned for residential use; the Monaghan case involved around 300 such re-zonings.

Unfortunately, such re-zonings can also add considerably to the cost of buying a house so the explanation of Monaghan County Councillor, Padraig McNally is curious to say the least.

“We are conscious that we did, to some degree, over-zone. But we did it in the knowledge that it would bring down the price of land and maybe have a knock on effect on the price of houses which is obviously the greatest problem that society, as a whole, has to deal with in terms of housing.”

Who lives in Alice in Wonderland?

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 was also reported in the same newspaper that Gallagher had not checked whether he was in any breach of regulations.

I can confirm that Gallagher did know he was breaking the law because a number of days earlier he had erected similar posters in Dublin and was informed by a staff member of Dublin City Council that his actions were illegal.

After many telephone calls, emails, false trails and blank walls, I submitted an official complaint to Donegal County Council against Gallagher on the 23rd May.

After many telephone calls, emails, false trails and blank walls, I finally received a response to my complaint in the post today. I quote:

Dear Mr. Sheridan,

I refer to your letter of 23rd May 2007. Firstly let me apologise for the delay in replying. The Council is not aware of any signs erected by or on behalf of Mr. Gallagher as referred to in your letter. We did not receive any reports or complaints in respect of such signs. Therefore, the Council had no cause to carry out an investigation into the matter or to take any enforcement action against Mr. Gallagher. I trust this clarifies the matter.

The letter was signed by Liam McCarron, Director Water, Environment and Emergency.

“We did not receive any reports or complaints in respect of such signs”?

It’s possible, but highly unlikely, that the publicity surrounding Gallagher’s activities was completely missed by the entire staff and membership of Donegal County Council.

It is, however, an absolute certainty that the council did receive a complaint. The very letter that Mr. McCarron is replying to is an official letter of complaint from me of which the opening sentence is:

“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.”

So, Mr. McCarron looked at my official letter of complaint against Gallagher, then sat down and wrote back to me saying that because Donegal County Council had received no complaint about Gallagher, it had no cause to investigate the matter.

The phrase ‘Alice in Wonderland’ keeps popping into my mind. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder, perhaps I live in Wonderland where the silly inhabitants labour under the amazing idea that litter laws are enacted to protect the environment and enforcement agencies are actually expected to er..enforce.

Civil Service secrecy speak

PJ Howell, Director, Environment Section, Fingal County Council (Whew! There’s a title) was interviewed on Morning Ireland (4th item) about the requirement to remove election posters.

After confirming that fines had been imposed in the past he was asked to name the political parties involved. He immediately reverted to what I call ‘Civil Service secrecy speak’.

“We wouldn’t want to say that now.”

This reaction is instinctive; it’s bred into all Irish public/civil servants. If a question is asked that even hints of actually informing the public, the shutters come down.

Like his colleagues ‘across the border’, (See below) Mr. Howell seems to be more interested in protecting the law breakers than naming and shaming them as an example of good law enforcement.

Still waiting for answers from Dublin City Council

On April 22nd last I wrote about my attempts to get information from Dublin City Council regarding the illegal erection of posters by Minister of State Pat the Cope Gallagher.

My question was, and still is, very simple. “Was the minister fined and if so, by how much?”

My last contact with DCC on that occasion was with Mr. Pat Cronin, head of waste management. He refused to answer my question, insisting that I put my case in writing and he would deal with it further.

On 24th April I wrote to Mr. Cronin by registered post. Despite several phone calls since I have not even being able to confirm if Mr. Cronin received my letter.

However, on the 22nd of May I did have another conversation with the public servant who first refused to divulge information on the matter. The conversation is worth posting as it gives a good idea of how things are done in our banana republic.

Me: I want to know, was the minister fined?

Public Servant: Why him in particular?

Me: Because he’s a government minister who deliberately set out to break the law

PS: How do you know he deliberately set out to break the law?

Me: Because you confirmed it to me when I last spoke to you and through the media

PS: I didn’t, I never used that word, let’s get something clear here; I never said to you that he deliberately set out to break the law

Me: OK, he has said himself that he did it, it’s in the papers

PS: No, he didn’t say he deliberately set out to break the law, he did put up the posters

Me: And the posters were illegal, so, did he put them up accidentally?

PS: Yes,

Me: Did he? (In astonishment)

PS: Yes, he didn’t know that they don’t have the strict regulations in Donegal that we have here

Me: (Still astonished) Hold on, are you telling me, are you confirming to me that the minister didn’t know he was breaking the law?

PS: That’s right, I am

Me: Did he tell you that?

PS: Yes, I was talking to him. He apologised profusely (“I honestly, genuinely did not know that I was breaking the law”). You see, you cannot put up posters in Dublin city but if you go across the road to Fingal, you know, when you cross the border, you can put up the posters

Me: No, you’re probably not familiar with the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, but I am

PS: Excuse me, I am, I work on it

Me: Ok, you should know so that’s it’s illegal to put up posters without permission, full stop, the LPA 1997 covers the whole country

PS: I understand, yes

Me: But what you’re saying is that it applies in some places

PS: I said, other local authorities are not as strict as we are

Me: I’m not concerned about strict or not strict. I’m concerned about breaking the law, especially when a government minister breaks the law

PS: I’m not defending Pat the Cope Gallagher, it’s not my job; he’s well able to do it himself.

Me: A couple of days after the minister ‘accidentally’ broke the law, he was given back the posters intact and he put them up again in Donegal. He broke the law again in Donegal. Now, we have to assume that he knew he was breaking the law in Donegal

PS: I’m not commentating on that

Me: There’s another thing I need to find out. You and Pat Cronin have refused to tell me if you have taken action against the minister.

PS: We don’t discuss anybody’s business

Me: But what I want to know is; are you basing your refusal on legislation/regulation?

PS: I’m basing it on office policy

Me: I don’t accept that. I’m a member of the public; this is a government minister who has broken the law. I have a right to know, you’re telling me I don’t have a right to know.

PS: I’m not telling you that, I’m telling you I’m not telling you.

Me: Are you entitled to refuse me the information

PS: Yes,

Me: By what law/regulation?

PS: On the grounds that I’m the manager of this office and I do not discuss anybody’s business with anybody else

Me: Are you absolutely sure, on a personal basis, that you’re not breaking any public service regulations by refusing me the information?

PS: I am quite happy in not giving out information, I never give out information. If Pat Cronin wants to answer you he’s quite entitled to. I’m happy in the decision I’ve made, that’s my answer to you.

I am in the process of taking further action regarding the refusal of DCC staff to answer my questions and I will post on the matter as things develop.

In the meantime I have taken the following actions regarding Gallagher’s illegal activities:

Submitted a formal complaint to DCC regarding Gallagher’s breach of the Litter Pollution Act, 1997.

Submitted a formal complaint to Donegal County Council regarding Gallagher’s breach of the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, in that part of the country. I will be writing on this particular saga soon.

Submitted an official complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission regarding Gallagher’s breach of the Litter Pollution Act, 1997.

My complaint to SIPO is made on the basis 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.
1.5 Highest ethical standards to be applied at all times.

A contemptible nation

For sheer brass neck and total disregard for the laws of the land it would be difficult to surpass the arrogant and contemptible activities of Minister for State, Pat the Cope Gallagher.

This pathetic excuse for a public representative illegally erected posters in Dublin last week (See post below). During my enquiries with Dublin City Council regarding this incident (ongoing) I was informed that the posters in question were returned to Gallagher as the authority had no storage space for them.

It is likely that these are the same posters erected by Gallagher in Donegal as they are identical to those taken down in Dublin.

Clearly, this backwoodsman politician is supremely confident that he lives in a country where the rule of law does not apply to those in power. There is overwhelming evidence that his confidence is fully justified.


A public representative who knowingly breaks the law has no credibility whatsoever and deserves only contempt.

Local authorities who effectively condone such activities by inaction have no credibility and deserve only contempt.

A body politic that condones such activities by failing to condemn them has no credibility and deserves only contempt.

A political party who tolerates such activities by one of its members has no credibility and deserves only contempt.

A sitting government that fails to act against such activities has no credibility and deserves only contempt.

A nation that tolerates such low standards from its public representatives and State authorities has no credibility and deserves the utmost contempt.

Private (and) confidential

The illegal activities of Government Minister, Pat the Cope Gallagher, serve as a perfect example of how things are done (or not done) in this corrupt state. No anger, no accountability, no reaction (to my knowledge) apart from posts on this website and my letter to the Irish Times. (Below).

Madam, – Ireland is the kind of country where a Government Minister, Pat the Cope Gallagher, can break the law in an apparent effort to gain cheap publicity in the run-up to a general election (The Irish Times, April 16th).
It is the kind of country where the authority responsible for repairing the damage, at the taxpayers’ expense, is accused of being “overly vigilant” by the same Minister.
It is the kind of country where there is no outrage, no widespread reporting/analysis of his actions, no questions asked by his fellow politicians and not even a hint that he might be sacked or face any consequences as a result of his behaviour.
It is the kind of country where cute hoorism and political irresponsibility is the norm rather than the exception.
It is the kind of country of which I am ashamed to be a citizen. – Yours, etc,

In a follow up on the matter I rang Dublin City Council to enquire if Minister Gallagher was fined for his illegal activity. The conversation went as follows: (Emphasis’ are mine)

Spokesperson: Nobody is above the law as far as we are concerned, so you needn’t think that we treat anybody more favourably than others. We treat everybody as equal.

Me: What’s the procedure when somebody is guilty of something like that?

Spokesperson: First, a fine of €125 would issue, if the fine is not paid legal proceedings would follow.

Me: That would hardly put a dent in the Minister’s petty cash.

Spokesperson: Depends on how many fines we issue. We could fine for each poster.

Me: Has any action been taken against him?

Spokesperson: That part is actually confidential.

Me: Why is that?

Spokesperson: But listen to what I’m saying in between. This would be the type of answer you’re looking for; it’s open to us to issue a fine.

Me: No, That’s not what I’m looking for; I’m not looking for a nod nod wink wink reply that might indicate that the Minister may have been made accountable. I’m looking to challenge the system to see if it properly brings law breakers to account.

Spokesperson: I don’t discuss anybody’s fines; it’s a matter between Dublin City Council and the person who caused the offence.

Me: Are you making that decision or is it based on a legal requirement?

Spokesperson: That is the policy of this office.

Me: Where does that policy come from?

Spokesperson: It’s my policy.

Me: I do not accept that.

Spokesperson: That’s fine, if you want to go further, that’s fine.

The crucial point of this conversation was reached when the spokesperson based her refusal to answer a question on her own personal office policy of ‘confidentiality’.

This is not to accuse this particular person of being dishonest or corrupt. It is, however, to assert that she operates in a corrupt system whereby strategies are employed to avoid answering questions.

Firstly, the softly softly re-assuring approach; ‘nobody is above the law etc. Then the wink wink strategy; I’m not going to give you an answer but here’s a strong hint that we can make wrong-does accountable if we have a mind to and finally, when all else fails, the most common and most powerful strategy of a corrupt state was invoked – It’s confidential, it’s a state secret, you are a non entity, a mere citizen and we don’t have to tell you anything.

After a couple of days trying I eventually got through to a higher authority. I was point blankly refused answers. When I asked for the legal basis of this refusal I was told to put my questions in writing. When I asked what regulation required citizens to put questions in writing on such simple matters, the spokesperson just kept repeating – Put it in writing.

Obviously this is going to take time but I will update as things develop.

It is important to remember that my question is very simple. Was the Minister fined and if so, by how much? Simple, you would think.

Who are the real bandits out West?

Cllr. Michael Fahy of Galway County Council was recently found guilty of fraud and theft. Fahy had caused over €7,000 to be paid by Galway County Council to a company for fencing on his own land.

Fahy denied guilt to the end and when things became desperate he tried to implicate others in his crime, notably, council staff and the company that installed the fencing. Fahy was fined €75,000 and sentenced to one year in jail.

I agree with the many commentators who claim that the sentence was too severe. A fine and suspended sentence would have been more appropriate.

But a discussion about the case on a recent Liveline programme demonstrated the amazing ability of Irish people to avoid reality at all costs. They simply don’t have it in them to say – ‘Perhaps the punishment was too severe but the man is guilty and should suffer the consequences of his actions.’ Here are some of the excuses.

After positing the novel idea that Fahy should serve his sentence only after his mother dies, Actress and journalist, Jeananne Crowley made the following excuses:

His sentence was unfair because a rapist was recently let off and that’s a far more serious than ‘diddling’ Galway County Council out of a bit of fencing.

We watch the tribunals and don’t see Frank Dunlop being brought to trial.

He’s been shamed enough.

He offered stones in return for the fencing.

He paid the money back.

This kind of thing goes on all the time, people do favours and get favours back.

Yes, it might have been illegal but doesn’t really rank with other crimes.

We see so many people who are not held responsible.

He wasn’t trying to avoid responsibility.

He confessed.

He’s been punished enough.

He’s been made an example of because he’s a politician.

    Other neighbours and friends

We had a judge who recently failed to face allegations.

Many people have been allowed to escape the net.

He was a prominent member of the GAA.

He did an awful lot of good for the community.

He was doing it for the good of the community; he wasn’t doing it for himself.

Garrett O’Callaghan, however, came up with the most incredible excuse for Fahy’s behaviour.

In a contribution that bordered on the hysterical O’Callaghan said he was horrified, shocked and stunned by the sentence and apparently without a hint of tongue in cheek claimed that Fahy put up the fence to protect himself and his mother because people in rural communities were in grave danger from drug addicts in fast, souped-up cars, trying to kill them.