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What will code on right-to-disconnect mean for workers?

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The Government has introduced a new code of practice to bolster the right of employees to switch off from work outside normal working hours.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has presented the move as an effort to strike a better work-life balance, no bad thing in an era of home-working. However, the initiative is but a start down a long road and lawyers say it is open to court challenge.

What’s the problem?

The constant and ever-growing tide of calls, emails and text messages on work devices leaves many workers feeling they are never off duty. The intrusion on private life is all the greater because working from home has become the norm for many.

Varadkar’s solution?

The Tánaiste says the new code will protect the right of every employee to not have to routinely perform work outside normal working hours. Thus workers have the right not to be penalised for refusing to do so. Moreover, the code underpins the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect by not routinely emailing or calling outside work time.

How is it supposed to work?

Employers are being urged to engage with staff or unions on a right-to-disconnect policy that takes account of the needs of the business and its workforce. “It’s not revolutionary,” says barrister Des Ryan, associate law professor at Trinity College Dublin. “But at least it’s an initial step towards recognising the importance of the right to disconnect and the obligation on employers and employees to consider and monitor work-life balance.”

Back to 9-5?

Not so fast. “Does this mean that nobody is ever going to check or send an email after official working hours? Of course not,” Ryan says. “This is not going to be an instant panacea for people concerned about employee burnout because of a failure to switch off. Instead, it’s an important initial step in trying to normalise or bring about a culture in the workplace where consideration is given to the need to disengage from work.”

How big is this really?

The code itself is not legally binding and it won’t be an offence to break it. But it can be used in evidence in legal proceedings so it is a “significant” development, says Ryan. He notes that Supreme Court rulings on workplace bullying are grounded in definitions of bullying first set out in a similar code of practice.

What about dealings with colleagues in the US or China, several time zones away?

If employees in Ireland need to work beyond regular hours with colleagues in distant countries then the policy should reflect that. The policy must recognise that time differences and international travel “may result in colleagues connecting at different times” outside normal hours, says the code published by the Workplace Relations Commission. “This does not mean that the recipient needs to respond in the same time period. Clear guidance around disconnecting and expectations for responding to digital communications globally should be provided to all employees.”

Problem solved?

Far from it, says Richard Grogan, an employment law solicitor based in Dublin. Instead of enhancing workers’ rights, he argues the new code could be used to dilute them.

How can that be?

By law as it stands, an employer can contact staff to work out of hours only because of an accident or threatened accident, or with 24 hours’ notice. “You can’t have an emergency every week,” Grogan says. But the new code says company policies “should allow for occasional legitimate situations” when it is necessary to contact staff outside of normal working hours.

Legitimate reasons per the code are not limited to emergencies?

Exactly. They include: ascertaining availability for rosters; filling in at short notice for a sick colleague; where unforeseeable circumstances arise; where an emergency may arise; and/or where business and operational reasons require contact out of normal working hours. In this respect, says Grogan, the code “flies contrary” to the Organisation of Working Time Act. This is equivalent to saying drivers can occasionally exceed the speed on a stretch of road, he says.

So the code could be destined for the courts?

“It’s going to take a couple of years to get any cases running,” says Grogan.

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Planned review of State agencies’ actions dropped in 2018

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A proposed inquiry into the sexual abuse and neglect of several children by family members in the Munster area, to examine the actions of State agencies in the case, was previously shelved.

The review, announced in 2018, was halted after a number of months due to concerns raised by those conducting the work and the government’s legal adviser over fears it could prejudice criminal investigations.

On Tuesday, five family members were sentenced and jailed over the abuse and neglect, after earlier being found guilty by a jury of a total of 77 counts against the children following a 10-week trial last summer.

The family members were the parents, aunt and uncles of the children, and cannot be named for legal reasons. They were all found guilty of sexually abusing the three eldest children between 2014 and 2016, while the parents were found guilty of wilfully neglecting five of the children, who ranged in age from one to nine during this period.

Following initial media reports in early 2018, then minister for children Katherine Zappone announced she was to commission an independent review into the serious case of abuse and neglect.


The review was to include an examination of the actions of An Garda Síochána and Tusla, and how they responded to the case.

The children came to the attention of the State’s social services in 2011, and there was extensive engagement between social workers and the family over several years, the trial heard.

Following years of severe neglect, the children were removed from the family home by Tusla in 2016, and placed in foster care. Later that year the eldest child made a disclosure about sexual abuse to his foster parents, which Tusla referred to gardaí, who later opened an investigation.

Criminal case

The proposed independent review of the case was to be led by Dr Geoffrey Shannon, child law expert and former special rapporteur on child protection. A three-person review panel would also include child welfare consultant Suzanne Phelan and retired Garda chief superintendent Pádraig Kennedy.

Internal Department of Children records show officials were in regular contact with Dr Shannon about the proposed review over several months in 2018, before it was halted.

It is understood those involved in the review raised concerns about the work impacting on the criminal case, which were shared by then attorney general Séamus Woulfe, and led to the review being dropped.

A 2019 briefing note from Fergal Lynch, department secretary general, said it “did not prove possible to frame terms of reference that successfully guarded against the dangers of pre-empting the criminal cases that were in process”.

“After a number of months it had to be postponed, because the Attorney General was very concerned about the potential effect on criminal cases pending,” he wrote in the note, released under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a statement on Wednesday, Tulsa said it would review the Munster abuse case “when appropriate to identify any learnings or insights that can be gained from our involvement in the lives of the children and their families”. The agency said its main focus continued to be to “support the children who were the victims in this case”.

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Rory McIlroy hails Séamus Power’s ‘amazing achievement’ after hitting world top 50

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Rory McIlroy has praised Séamus Power’s “amazing achievement” in breaking into the world’s top 50 as the Irishman bids to secure a Major championship debut in the Masters.

Power has finished fourth, 15th and third in his three most recent starts on the PGA Tour, with last week’s performance in the Sony Open lifting him to a career-high 49th in the world rankings.

If the 34-year-old from Waterford can remain inside the top 50 until the March 28th deadline, he will earn a coveted place in the field at Augusta National, where McIlroy will be seeking the victory required to complete the career Grand Slam.

Power will contest The American Express event in California this week while McIlroy begins his 2022 campaign in Abu Dhabi.

“Séamus has done it a very different way than a lot of us have done it in terms of going to college in the States and then basically staying over there and doing everything on the PGA Tour,” McIlroy said.

“But he’s done fantastically well. He’s played really well the last six months, he’s really excelled and he’s in the top 50 this week, which is an amazing achievement.

“There’s so many avenues or ways to do it, but for him to do it on the toughest tour in the world and the deepest fields, he’s done it the hard way, I guess.

“I remember playing the Munster Under-15s with him so I’ve known Séamus for going on 20 years at this point. I’m happy for him, happy that he’s playing so well and it will be great to see him play in some of those bigger events this year.”

The American Express features a pro-am format for the first three rounds on three different courses, with the top 70 professionals then contesting the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West.

Graeme McDowell gets his 2022 campaign underway in a tournament where Si Woo Kim is aiming to become the first player since Johnny Miller in 1976 to successfully defend the title. But the South Korean faces stiff competition from the likes of world number one and 2018 champion Jon Rahm.

Four years ago Rahm finished second to Dustin Johnson in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, skipped the following week’s Sony Open and then beat Andrew Landry in a playoff for what was then called the Career Builder Challenge.

The Ryder Cup star will be hoping the same approach pays dividends this year after finishing runner-up to Cameron Smith in the Sentry and taking last week off.

Philip Reid’s American Express Championship Lowdown

Purse: €6.7 million (€1.2m to the winner)

Where: California, USA

The course: There are three courses used for the first three rounds of the pro-am format – the PGA West Stadium Course, La Quinta Country Club and PGA West Nicklaus Course – which traditionally see low-scoring from the professionals. The Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course – 7,147 yards Par 72 – will play host to the final round.

The field: Headed by world number one Jon Rahm, the strong field also features a number of players – among them Will Zalatoris and Rickie Fowler – making their first appearances of the year. Patrick Cantlay, the world number four, who closed with a 61 a year ago in finishing runner-up to Si Woo Kim returns for another crack at the title in a tournament hosted by PGA champion Phil Mickelson.

Irish in the field: Graeme McDowell is alongside Francesco Molinari (playing La Quinta, 4.50pm Irish time); Séamus Power is paired with Kevin Tway (playing the Nicklaus Course, 6.0pm Irish time).

Quote-Unquote: “I feel like I usually play my best golf in little spurts and it’s usually not the first week out” – Scottie Scheffler dampening expectations before a ball is hit.

Betting: Jon Rahm heads the market as 11-2 favourite with Patrick Cantlay (15/2) seen as his main danger. . . in-form Séamus Power is a 28-1 shot . . . while Russell Henley, who lost out in a playoff in the Sony Open, is a 33-1 shot to bounce back from that disappointment.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 5pm.

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Blue flag beaches must be kept dog-free, An Taisce says

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Coastal counties across the State will have to take steps to ensure dogs are kept off their blue-flag beaches if they are to retain the coveted international environmental award, An Taisce has advised.

Dogs, except assistance dogs, are already banned from Ireland’s 93 blue-flag bathing areas, under criteria set down by the international Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).

An Taisce, which operates the blue-flag programme in Ireland has been requested by the FEE to advise local authorities they must meet the rules of the programme if they are to retain their flags.

“The award criteria in relation to dog restrictions are international criteria that are in place in the 50 countries globally that operate the programme,” Ian Diamond, An Taisce’s coastal awards manager, said. “Ireland is an outlier in that not all local authorities would have bylaws or other rules governing the access of animals to beaches.”

An Taisce has contacted local authorities to advise they take steps if they wish to meet the FEE criteria, which state: “Dogs or pets, other than assistance dogs, are not allowed on a blue-flag beach or in the blue-flag area if it is part of a larger beach.”

Faecal contamination

The rule applies when the flag is flying during the bathing season which begins on June 1st. The objective is to keep dogs separate from areas used by bathers during bathing seasons, for health and safety reasons, Mr Diamond said.

“This criterion is imperative in all regions where blue flag is operated. The rationale for restricting access of domesticated animals to beaches is that among the most common hazards in bathing waters are microbial pathogens introduced by faecal contamination from humans and animals,” he said.

“The FEE has asked us to undertake an extensive programme of putting local authorities on notice that they must meet the criteria for blue flags to fly a blue flag . . . We have asked local authorities that they formulate plans for bringing in rules, if they don’t already have rules [with] which [they] comply.”

Meanwhile, some politicians in Kerry have said horses will also be banned from Kerry beaches apart from early morning and late evening.

‘Nanny state’

If the rules are not adopted, Kerry will lose some of its blue flag awards, director of Kerry’s services for beaches and water John Breen said.

Promenades and car parks outside the beaches will not be affected.

There has been strong reaction and Fianna Fail councillor Johnny Wall, former mayor of Tralee, who was co-opted onto the council seat vacated by Minister for Education Norma Foley when she was elected to the Dáil, said he could not support the proposal.

Fianna Fail’s Mikey Sheehy said it had the hallmarks of the “nanny state” .

Independent councillor Jackie Healy-Rae, a dog owner, said he feared for the tourism economy. Those with mobile homes on Banna beach would have to keep their dogs “locked up” between 11am and 7pm each day, he claimed.

Dog owners looked at places that were dog-friendly in selecting destinations, he warned.

He described the provisions as “heavy-handed”. Other provisions in the new bylaws make it an offence to fail to comply with a lifeguard’s directions, and a ban on the use of certain inflatable water devices. Restrictions on lighting fires in dune areas are also being proposed.

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