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Private nature of Commissions of Investigation ‘problematic’, says McGrath

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Commissions of Investigations conducting their work in private is “problematic”, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath has said.

Mr McGrath said he would like them to hold hearings in public, questioning one of the main rationales behind this type of State inquiry.

The Commission of Investigation model was introduced in 2004 following widespread criticism of the enormous costs and inordinate length of Tribunals of Inquiry such as the Moriarty Tribunal and the Planning Tribunal which between them racked up hundreds of millions of euro in costs.

The brainchild of then minister for justice Michael McDowell, the thinking was a private enquiry would reduce the need for teams of lawyers for each witness and also obviate the need for lengthy cross-examination of witnesses. They would be less costly, speedier and more efficient.

However, it has not turned out that way with a number of investigations taking much longer than originally envisaged – and with substantial attendant costs – while little information filters through to the public because of their private nature.

Most of the ongoing Commissions – relating to the IBRC and Siteserv, NAMA’s Project Eagle, ‘Grace’ and convicted Waterford sex abuser Bill Kenneally – are going into their fourth or fifth years and have racked up substantial costs.

“The holding of Commissions of Investigations in private is problematic,” said the Fianna Fáil Minister.

“There is the facility to hold them in public but in very few instances is that the chosen method.

“It is fine to hold them in private in certain instances – Nyberg (the investigation into the banking collapse) was a good example.

“But the public do want to see key players being questioned and to see their answers,” he said.

The 2004 legislation provided commissions be conducted in private but under Section 11 it allowed evidence to be heard in public in certain circumstances. That section has not been invoked to date.

Critics claim the private nature of the proceedings have made them secretive, opaque and not open to scrutiny.

Personal testimony

Most recently, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission was criticised over the claim that personal testimony given by survivors to confidential committees was not used for the final report.

Commission members declined invitations to appear before an Oireachtas Committee to outline their approach.

Mr McGrath has contended that not only are the findings of an inquiry important but also the public hearing element.

“It is more efficient to do them in private but you do lose that element of transparency and public accountability. There is a balance to be struck.”

Referring back to the inquiry conducted by the Oireachtas into the collapse of the banking sector, he said: “One of the things about the banking inquiry is that we had public hearings everyday. Witnesses came in and answered questions or evaded questions. It was there for everybody to see.

“That is not accommodated within the current Commission structure.”

However, the Oireachtas banking inquiry report was itself severely criticised, something that Mr McGrath acknowledges. He says this form of inquiry is severely constrained by the defeat a decade ago of the Referendum to provide broader powers.

“You cannot reach conclusions that are adverse against people’s reputations. There are very few findings that are uncontested, and fewer of value that are uncontested.

“So you have to go in with your eyes wide open. The Court of public opinion is important. The fact that we got some of the main players to come before it in public… the public made up their own mind for good or ill based on what they heard.

“While we were limited in the conclusions we could reach, I believe the telling of the story and the holding of the inquiry in public session was of real value,” he said.

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Irish chief-of-staff meets Russian ambassador to discuss defence issues

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The Russian ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov and the Chief of Defence Staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy have met to discuss armed contacts between the two countries.

The meeting took place on Friday at the Russian embassy in Orwell Road, Dublin.

It was announced in a tweet from the embassy on Friday evening: “On January 21 the Ambassador of #Russia to #Ireland Y.Filatov met with the Member of the Chief of Defence Staff of Ireland S.Clancy.

“Parties discussed the issues of Russia-Ireland relations and international agenda, as well as prospects of contacts between (the) armed forces of (the) two countries.”

In response the Department of Defence said the meeting was a “routine courtesy call”.

A spokeswoman added: “As the recently appointed Chief of Staff, it is normal for foreign ambassadors to pay routine courtesy calls. This is one of a series of meetings. Such meetings are a matter for the chief of staff, not the minister. There is no ongoing military cooperation with Russia and there is no intention to do so.”

A spokesman for the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has not responded yet to the tweet.

Live fire exercise

Independent TD Cathal Berry said he believed the meeting has to do with a proposed naval exercise that the Russian navy intends to undertake in February.

The live firing exercise will happen 240km off the Irish coast outside Irish territorial waters, but within the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Irish Aviation Authority has sent a notification to air traffic control in Ireland stating that the live firing exercises will take place between February 3rd and 8th and between 5am and 3pm on those days. The area in question is off the southwest coast.

The IAA states that “pursuant to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)annexs 11,15 and for safety of air traffic in the area you are kindly requested to issue international notam (a notice to airmen) to temporarily close above area for flights from surface to 11,000 metres”.

Dr Berry, a former army ranger, said the live firing exercise, while being legal, is a “warning to Ireland that we are military weak”.

He believed it was designed as an international provocation as it is close to flight paths and underwater submarine cables.

The Irish talks took place while negotiations ended between Russia and the United States in Geneva without agreement.

There are fears that Russia will invade Ukraine after Moscow massed tens of thousands of troops at the border, while the west has ramped up supplies of weapons to Kyiv.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met for about 90 minutes in Geneva at what the American diplomat said was a “critical moment”. Expectations had been low going in, and there was no breakthrough.

Mr Blinken told Mr Lavrov the US would give Russia written responses to Moscow’s proposals next week, and suggested the two would likely meet again shortly after that – offering some hope that any invasion would be delayed for at least a few more days.

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British Land unveils London Exchange Square scheme (GB)

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British Land reveals the opening of its new 1.5-acre Exchange Square located at Broadgate in the City of London. Designed by architects DSDHA, the park quadruples the amount of green space at Broadgate and creates a new outdoor space for workers and the wider community to enjoy in the capital. Exchange Square is now open to the public and includes 420m² of lawned areas, an exciting mix of planting and trees within its gardens, an amphitheatre with plenty of seating, and new retail and event space.

 

It aims to blend nature with the energy of London and promote the physical and emotional wellbeing of people who live and work in the local area. As spring approaches, the park will become a haven for workers looking to enjoy high-quality outdoor spaces when working from the office, and for the local community to enjoy a range of plants and biodiversity. The park’s range of planting is maintained by Exchange Square’s Head Gardener and is expected to be a popular choice for workers looking to make the most of premium outdoor space.

 

Health and wellbeing form a vital part of the €1.8bn (£1.5bn) investment in Broadgate to create an environment that brings people together to work, shop, drink and dine. Research commissioned by British Land shows that putting good design at the heart of urban development could lead to substantial improvement in peoples’ mental health, which would result in substantial economic rewards.

 

David Lockyer, Head of Campuses, British Land said: “As we start the New Year, Exchange Square aims to create an accessible, sustainable and better-quality place for workers and residents in the community in 2022 and beyond. Broadgate has undergone a significant transformation as a mixed-use destination that appeals to everyone. We hope that by creating a new outdoor area filled with green space, it allows visitors to find a tranquil place within a busy capital.”

 

Matthew Webster, Head of Environmental, British Land, said: “Exchange Square is a brilliant addition to London’s green spaces, and has a unique position within the City of London. Creating opportunities for people to encounter nature as part of their daily lives boosts wellbeing and productivity. This new, green space has been designed to enhance both physical and mental health in a variety of ways – through providing an area for tranquillity, opportunities for social interaction or through encouraging and making it easy for people to visit and move through the space.”

 

Deborah Saunt, Founding Director of DSDHA, said: “With Exchange Square, we are delighted to see the culmination of our Public Realm Framework for Broadgate, which has already enhanced and better connected the open spaces of Broadgate Circle, Broadgate Plaza and Finsbury Avenue Square. Our ambition for this new park was to create a landscape that nurtures both plants and people through retrofitting nature into the heart of the City, breaking down perceived barriers to the surrounding areas, and offering a space that provides opportunities for both recuperation and recreation.”

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Paint colour of 2022 is a deep purple called Very Peri

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Purple may not have graced our homes much since the psychedelic era of the 1970s, but all is set to change this year.

That is, at least, if we decide to follow Pantone’s recommendation. The world’s leading colour trend forecaster has controversially selected Very Peri, a shade inspired by the deep violet blue of the periwinkle flower, as the colour of 2022.

It may seem like an odd choice when we’re still embracing muted tones and understated interiors. 

But Pantone’s annual colour choices wield huge influence with fabric and paint manufacturers and also among interior designers keen to deliver the latest looks.

Love it or loathe it: Pantone¿s colour of the year Very Peri is inspired by the deep violet blue of the periwinkle flower

Love it or loathe it: Pantone’s colour of the year Very Peri is inspired by the deep violet blue of the periwinkle flower

Pantone says Very Peri embodies ‘carefree confidence and a daring curiosity’. Such assertions are another reason why some interior designers will not be recommending Very Peri. 

One remarked: ‘None of my clients would want purple in their homes, especially in the corner that they’ve set aside for their desk.’

Others are more positive, praising its effectiveness in almost any space.

Andrew Dunning, of London Contemporary, says that it represents a further move away from the Elephant’s Breath, the mid-grey Farrow & Ball paint that held sway in interiors in the early years of this century.

As a champion of the deft use of patterned wallpapers and brighter colours, Dunning considers Very Peri to be warm rather than chilly, particularly if furnishing fabric companies produce a lush velvet in the shade.

‘People have been scared of colour, but I think Very Peri could work well in a ‘wow’ piece like an accent armchair upholstered in the shade,’ he says. ‘It’s also an option for a cloakroom, a smaller place in the home in which you can be more audacious.’

Beth Travers, of Bobo1325, a Manchester design business, also argues that we should lower our resistance to the colour purple. 

Its historic links with royalty endow the colour with ‘luxury, power and nobility’. Since Very Peri is a blue tone of purple, Travers believes it can be ‘relaxing and soothing’.

Paula Taylor, of Graham & Brown, the paint company whose range includes the purple-blue Tanzanite, also thinks going bold could bring decor dividends.

Sitting pretty: Tresor Stool in Very Peri, to order at bykoket.com

Sitting pretty: Tresor Stool in Very Peri, to order at bykoket.com

‘Our Tanzanite used in a hallway would make visitors feel reassured and joyful. In a living room, it would be crisp but comforting, especially when teamed with one of our soft-whites, such as Baked Cheesecake, for a more timeless effect.’

The warm reception to Very Peri — in some quarters at least — could indicate that the shade will become an important part of the rise of blues and greens, a movement that began this year.

Simone Suss, of Studio Suss, a London design business, says this is connected to the wish to bring nature into our homes.

Such is the growing demand to introduce more elements of the great outdoors in the interior that more housebuilders will be prioritising ‘biophilic’ elements in their developments next year.

‘I am always inspired by the natural world,’ says Suss. ‘ I think biophilic design will be key in 2022.’ 

The other shades vying for supremacy in 2022 include Dulux’s selection Bright Skies, an airy blue that aims to inspire hope. Dulux recommends several palettes to accompany Bright Skies such as Greenhouse.

This array of blues and greens encompasses Fresh Foliage and Calming Meadow.

Breakfast Room Green, a cheery tone ideal for kitchens, and Stone Blue, a light indigo, are among the five shades that Farrow & Ball is tipping as the colours of 2022. 

The company is also backing the elegant School House White, along with Incarnadine, a dramatic crimson, and Babouche, a sunny yellow.

F&B senses people are ready to step outside their comfort zone which could augur well for Very Peri. 

But, in the short term, this shade seems less likely to suddenly explode than to be seen in small touches, such as Dark Flowers, a £23.95 poster print featuring sultry purple blooms from Desenio and purple cushions, such as the £25 cotton velvet cushion from Cotswold Company.

Loaf’s Joelle £2,345 19th-century style bed is available with a purple headboard for those who aspire to a more formal, almost regal setting after the pared-down aesthetic of the past two decades. But experimenting with Very Peri does not necessarily mean a break with the past.

It can look smart with any shade of beige or grey. Going with purple requires confidence. It will be interesting to see what’s in store for Very Peri over the next 12 months.

Savings of the week! Draught excluders 

William Morris print excluders from Lancashire company ReddandGoud come in different sizes

William Morris print excluders from Lancashire company ReddandGoud come in different sizes

The draught excluder, a long sausage-shaped pillow placed at the foot of a door, is a low-tech, planet-friendly means of staying cosy indoors.

This utilitarian item seems to inspire creativity among designers meaning that you can have warmth, plus aesthetic appeal. 

Low-cost options include the Kaia from The Range in charcoal, reduced from £11.99 to £10.99 and the Plush Bear in mustard at £5.59, down from £6.99. 

Not On The High Street’s cheery blue and red plaid version, pictured left, is reduced from £22 to £11.

The Snap Croc from Dora, a mid-price option, is down from £32 to £9.60. 

It resembles a crocodile whose aggression focuses on warding off chills. Wayfair’s Emmett excluder, with its prints of bees and ladybirds, reduced from £28.99 to £26.99 would lift any decor.

If you want to splash out, William Morris print excluders from Lancashire company ReddandGoud come in different sizes. The widest (99cm) is £40.80, from £48.

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