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Solicitor to begin jail term for social welfare fraud

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A solicitor impacted by the effects of the drug Thalidomide who fraudulently claimed over €120,000 in social welfare payments will begin a jail term next week.

Herbert Kilcline (60) told gardai­after the fraud came to light that he felt he was entitled to the payments because he had been excluded from compensatory payments made to victims of birth defects caused by the Thalidomide drug. He has since repaid the money in full.

Kilcline told gardaí: “I admit it was wrong, no matter how aggrieved I felt. It wasn’t the right way to deal with my grievance.”.

Kilcline told gardaí that the deformities suffered to his hands as a result of his mother taking the anti-nausea drug during pregnancy had left him unable to peel vegetables or use a can opener.

Judge Karen O’Connor said Kilcline’s moral culpability was very high, noting the offending was not motivated by financial pressure or gambling, but by a grievance and an element of greed.

She indicated a three-year sentence with the final one year and three months suspended.

Defence counsel asked Judge O’Connor to defer sentence for one week to allow Kilcline to put his affairs in order. She granted the application and deferred sentencing until this day next week.

Kilcline, of Bessborough Parade, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to obtaining disability allowance on false pretences on dates between 1996 and 2001 and making a gain by deception in relation to social welfare payments on dates between 2004 and 2010.

At the original sentence hearing in 2019, Garda Conor Bresnan told Dean Kelly SC, prosecuting, that after being contacted by social welfare officials in relation to suspected fraud gardaí had launched an investigation and Kilcline had co-operated with a search of his home, handing over documentation such as his social service card.

The total amount fraudulently obtained was €129,293 and the entire period of offending taken into account was from 1996 to 2012.

The court heard that Kilcline had not been put forward previously as a child for the scheme by his parents as the effect on him was relatively minor then and they did not want to stigmatise him.

Kilcline said in 1992 he was officially diagnosed as a victim of Thalidomide but was told that the State compensation scheme was out of time. He then applied successfully for the mean-tested disabled person’s maintenance allowance.

He was legitimately granted this payment but failed to inform the department when he began working and when his financial situation changed. The court heard that Kilcline worked as a tutor in Trinity College Dublin and had income from the sale of various properties and from rental income from six flats in the city.

He said he felt morally justified in getting the money but accepted he was not entitled to it. He said he felt resentment for not getting compensation and accepted he had withheld information

Michael Bowman SC, defending, said at a previous hearing that his client took the view that because the Thalidomide compensation was not a means-tested scheme that he was entitled to the disability allowance regardless of his means.

Judge O’Connor noted the aggravating factors included that the offences occurred over a long period of time, that there was premeditation involved and the loss to the exchequer was considerable.

She noted he was not devoid of means, had been in employment and acquired property.

She noted in mitigation that Kilcline had pleaded guilty, co-operated with the investigation and had been “remarkably forthcoming”.

She noted his remorse, shame and that he had been assessed as being at low risk of reoffending. She took into account all the money had been repaid.

The judge noted that he had overcome his limitations but continued to live with the physical, psychological and social consequences of Thalidomide. She said he finds basic daily functions difficult, had become very reclusive and suffers with anxiety and depression.

Judge O’Connor granted an application from The Law Society for transcripts of the sentencing hearing and later noted this may have an impact on his professional future and reputation.

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Simon Harris and wife welcome new baby boy

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Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has announced the birth of a baby son.

Posting on Instagram, the Minister said he and his wife Caoimhe had on Wednesday “welcomed Baby Cillian into the world”. Cillian is the couple’s second child, they also have a daughter Saoirse.

“Caoimhe and baby doing great and Saoirse delighted to be a big sister and looking forward to meeting him soon.”

Mr Harris thanked all of the staff at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin.

The Fine Gael TD said he will be taking paternity leave for a few weeks to “get to know this new little man”.

In a previous post he said Tánaiste Leo Varadkar would be taking any of his department’s business to Government during the time while Minister of State Niall Collins would be carrying out his day-to-day work in the department and Labour leader Alan Kelly would be providing a pair for Dáil votes.

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Macron presses Biden for ‘clarifications’ over submarine snub

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Macron was left furious by Australia’s decision last week to ditch a 2016 deal to buy diesel submarines from France in favour of nuclear-powered ones from the United States and Britain.

After a cabinet meeting, government spokesman Gabriel Attal made clear French anger had not abated with an unusually frank statement of Macron’s expectations from the scheduled conversation with 78-year-old Biden.

The exchange would be an opportunity to “clarify both the way in which this announcement was made and the way for an American re-engagement in its relationship with an ally,” Attal said.

Paris was particularly outraged that Australia negotiated with Washington and London in secret, which French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced as “treachery” and a “stab in the back”.

French officials were notified about the loss of the contract just hours before Biden unveiled the new AUKUS security and defence partnership between the three English-speaking countries.

READ ALSO OPINION: France’s Australian submarine row shows that Macron was right about NATO

Macron was expecting “clarifications about the American decision to keep a European ally outside of fundamental talks about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” Attal added, without giving the schedule time for the exchange.

“We expect our allies to acknowledge that the exchanges and consultations that should have taken place did not, and that this poses a question about confidence, which all of us need to draw conclusions about now.”

Showdown

The submarine row has plunged Franco-US ties into what some analysts view as the most acute crisis since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Paris opposed.

After four years of tumultuous relations with ex-president Donald Trump, the spat has also dashed hopes of a complete reset under Biden, who took office in January aiming to rebuild frazzled ties with Europe.

As the row drags on, observers and some of France’s European partners are wondering how and when the French leader will call an end to the face-off, which is playing out just seven months ahead of presidential elections.

British Prime Minister Johnson said it was “time for some of our dearest friends around the world to ‘prenez un grip’ (get a grip)” in comments in Washington that mixed French and English.

“‘Donnez-moi un break’ because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security,” he told Sky News.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, whose country is staunchly pro-American, defended Biden as “very loyal” and warned against turning “challenges which will always exist between allies into something they should not be.”

Conditions

Attal said that France and the US needed to begin a process “to create the conditions for confidence to be restored”.

As well as an acknowledgement of French interests in the Pacific region, the process should include “full recognition by our American allies of the need to boost European sovereignty as well as the importance of the growing commitment by the Europeans to their own defence and security.”

This latter point is a source of tension between Biden and Macron, who has pushed hard during his four-and-a-half years in office for Europeans to invest more in defence and pool resources in order to increase their joint military capabilities.

The US, and some EU members including Denmark and Baltic countries, see this as a potential challenge to NATO, the US-led transatlantic military alliance that has been the cornerstone of European defence since World War II.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly argued against the idea of France withdrawing from NATO command structures, which some politicians in France have suggested in the wake of the submarines snub.

“Is it worth slamming the door on NATO? I don’t think so,” she said, while adding that “political dialogue is non-existent in NATO.”

Australia’s decision to order nuclear-powered submarines was driven by concern about China’s commercial and military assertiveness in the Pacific region, where Biden is seeking to build an alliance of democratic states to help contain Beijing.



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Paschal Donohoe plans bank levy extension but lower haul

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Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will continue the Irish banking levy beyond its scheduled conclusion date at the end of this year, but plans to lower the targeted annual haul from the current €150 million as overseas lenders Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland retreat from the market, according to sources.

Reducing the industry overall levy target will avoid the remaining three banks facing higher levy bills at a time when the Government is seeking to lower its stakes in the bailed-out lenders.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB paid a combined €93 million levy in each of the last two years, according to their latest annual reports. A decision on the new targeted yield, currently linked to deposit interest retention tax (DIRT) collected by banks on customers’ savings, will be announced at the unveiling of Budget 2022 on October 12th.

Originally introduced in 2014 by then minister for finance Michael Noonan for three years to ensure banks made a “contribution” to a recovering economy after the sector’s multibillion-euro taxpayer bailout, the annual banking levy has since been extended to the end of 2021.

A further extension of the levy has largely been expected by the banks and industry analysts, as the sector has been able to use multibillion euro losses racked up during the financial crisis to reduce their tax bills. A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on the future status of the banking levy as planning for Budget 2022 continues.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB (PTSB) alone have utilised almost €500 million of tax losses against their corporation tax bills between 2017 and 2019, according to Department of Finance figures.

Sources said that the Government will be keen not to land a levy increase on the three lenders at a time when it is currently selling down its stake in Bank of Ireland and plotting a course for the reduction of its positions in AIB and PTSB in time.

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which holds the Bank of Ireland stake on behalf of the Minister for Finance, sold 2 percentage points of holding in the market between July and August, reducing its interest to just below 12 per cent.

Meanwhile, it has been reported in recent days that the UK government is planning to lower an 8 per cent surcharge that it has applied to bank profits since the start of 2016. It comes as the general UK corporation tax is set to rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.

“The optics of reducing the surcharge might still be bad politically, but it would signal the partial rehabilitation for the nation’s banking sector,” said Eamonn Hughes, an analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers, in a note to clients on Tuesday, adding that he continues to factor in a retention of the Irish banking levy in his financial estimates for banks over the medium term.

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