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Garda whistleblower controversy had devastating effect, says Nóirín O’Sullivan

Voice Of EU



The Garda whistleblower controversy had a “devastating” effect on Nóirín O’Sullivan and her family, the former Garda commissioner has said in her first interview since her decision to resign in November 2017.

People called to her home and abused her adult children, and armed gardaí were sent to the sittings of the Disclosures Tribunal in Dublin Castle such was the atmosphere created by allegations against her that have since been shown to be untrue.

In a separate interview, the former tánaiste and now MEP, Frances Fitzgerald, described as “harrowing” the experience of having to leave government because of a false allegation.

The publication of the fourth interim report of the Disclosures Tribunal in July of this year means that all of the allegations against the two women that were made during the controversy have been dismissed.

Ms O’Sullivan was accused of being privy to or involved in attempts to target or discredit Garda whistleblowers Maurice McCabe and Nicky Keogh after they made protected disclosures.

Ms Fitzgerald was accused of knowing about but failing to stop a plan by Ms O’Sullivan to use false allegations against Mr McCabe at the confidential hearings of a commission of inquiry that was investigating complaints made by Mr McCabe.

The Disclosures Tribunal found that the former head of the Garda Press Office, David Taylor, and the then Garda commissioner, Martin Callinan, had been involved in a campaign to smear Mr McCabe.

Ms O’Sullivan said there was a “bombardment” of untrue allegations about her made in the Dáil and reported in the media.

“The cumulative effect of it all is that it is dehumanising. That is the word I would use. It is dehumanising to be at the centre of this vortex, and feel that you are a political football, which I felt very deeply.

“It had a huge effect on my family, on my husband and my [adult] children, and on people who dared to be close to me or dared to be supportive in any way.

“I had people call to my home. I had people abusing my children. I had such horrible things happen. Even at the tribunal, for example, we had to, albeit quietly, have armed detectives there. Because there were people, you know. It attracts this. And if this is allowed to continue, then actually democracy begins to break down, and society begins to break down.”

She said she was supportive of the Oireachtas committee system but her experience of appearing before them as a witness had been that some members were solely focused on “looking for sensational headlines”.

Ms Fitzgerald said genuine issues had to be dealt with during the whistleblower controversy, but “you don’t try and right one injustice by creating others, and I think that is a fairly basic point in democracy”.

“There was an awful lot of rushing to judgment,” said Ms Fitzgerald, who is now a Fine Gael member of the European Parliament.

She argued in the Dáil that the proper way to deal with the allegations was to allow for due process, but the Dáil had not done that, even though it had already established a tribunal.

When the tribunal’s reports are taken together, she said, the consequences of rushing to judgment can be seen.

“A lot of what was taken as absolute truth, by the Dáil, by the media, turns out actually not to have been true.”

False allegations were made by Mr Taylor, against Ms O’Sullivan and her husband, James McGowan, who was at the time a detective inspector.

Ms O’Sullivan said she and her husband, who retired as a detective chief superintendent, had to end their Garda careers with a public assumption that they had failed to live up to the standards they had tried to live by.

They had to wait for a number of years for tribunal reports to be published that said, “well, this is not true,” the former commissioner said.

It was claimed in the Dáil that Ms O’Sullivan was party to, or had known about, the targeting of the whistleblowers, Mr McCabe and Garda Keogh.

All of these claims about Ms O’Sullivan have been dismissed in tribunal reports, with the report in July saying Garda Keogh’s claim was meant to be “extremely damaging” to the then commissioner and was made without any basis.

The false claims against Ms O’Sullivan and Ms Fitzgerald were aired in the Dáil, where politicians enjoy absolute privilege in terms of being sued.

In his tribunal report in July, Mr Justice Seán Ryan noted how false allegations made by Garda Keogh against a number of members of An Garda Síochána had been disclosed in the Oireachtas.

“The problem was that the allegations could not be answered by the persons accused in the forum in which they were raised,” he said.

Mr Taylor, who was removed as head of the Garda Press Office by Ms O’Sullivan following the resignation of her predecessor Mr Callinan, falsely alleged that she had known, as deputy commissioner, about a campaign to discredit Mr McCabe.

He also falsely claimed that Ms O’Sullivan’s husband was party to a conspiracy to cover up evidence of her knowledge of the smear campaign.

In a tribunal report in October 2018, the then tribunal chairman Mr Justice Peter Charleton dismissed the allegations and said Mr Taylor’s “viciousness” towards Ms O’Sullivan arose because he was “suffused in bitterness” because she had moved him from the Garda Press Office.

Claims by Garda Keogh and another whistleblower Garda Keith Harrison that they had been targeted in the wake of making protected disclosures contributed to calls in the Dáil for Ms O’Sullivan’s resignation on the basis that she was not protecting whistleblowers.

“The assumption was that I was targeting and discrediting whistleblowers, without a shred of evidence to support that,” she told The Irish Times.

In a tribunal report in November 2017, Mr Justice Charleton said Garda Harrison’s claims against Garda colleagues and the child and family agency, Túsla, were “entirely without any validity”.

In his report in July, Mr Justice Ryan, who replaced Mr Justice Charleton as tribunal chairman in late 2018, said that all of Garda Keogh’s claims about being targeted were unfounded.

Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald described as ‘harrowing’ the experience of having to leave government because of a false allegation. Photograph: Alan Betson
Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald described as ‘harrowing’ the experience of having to leave government because of a false allegation. Photograph: Alan Betson

Ms Fitzgerald said there were lessons to be learned by politicians and the media from the whistleblower era, which threw up serious matters that had to be investigated.

“How did the Dáil deal with them? How did the media deal with them.”

In her case the publication of a Department of Justice email in which she was informed of a dispute at the O’Higgins Commission, led to claims that she had known about, but done nothing to stop, an alleged attempt to discredit Mr McCabe at the commission’s confidential hearings, by using false allegations.

In the Disclosures Tribunal’s third interim report in October 2018, Mr Justice Charleton said that the transcripts of the commission hearings showed “nothing of the kind alleged” ever happened.

Leaked “snippets” of transcript, and the email that referred to a row at the commission, had “somehow transmogrified” into an allegation that Mr McCabe had been “maliciously accused” at the commission of false offences, and that Ms Fitzgerald had “stood back and let it happen”.

No one, never mind the Garda commissioner, had ever accused Mr McCabe of any crime at the commission, “or hinted at it, or attempted any innuendo about it”, the judge said.

He said Ms Fitzgerald had been correct to decide, in response to the email, that it was not for her to interfere with the commission hearings and that she should let the sole member of the commission, Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins, “sort out” any dispute that might have arisen there.

A week before the proposed no-confidence vote in Ms Fitzgerald, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said in the Dáil that “it seems to me that there was a conspiracy to ruin this honourable man [Mr McCabe] and that members of An Garda Síochána and the tánaiste’s former department [justice] were part of this conspiracy.”

On the same day, the Fianna Fáil spokesman on justice, Jim O’Callaghan, said “the tánaiste was aware of the strategy of the Garda commissioner to attack and to try to personally destroy the reputation of Sgt Maurice McCabe.”

“What happened to me in the Dáil was completely connected with the idea that I knew there was a strategy to undermine the whistleblower,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “But there was no strategy, and I did not.”

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Japanese knotweed saves £11.8billion off property values  

Voice Of EU



Japanese knotweed is responsible for shaving £11.8billion off the value of Britain’s property market, new research by a removal specialist claims.

As many as 4 per cent of British homes are affected by the invasive plant – either on the property itself or on a neighbouring property.

The invasive plant makes homes significantly more difficult to sell as buyers can struggle to secure a mortgage on a property where it is found.

However, Britain’s biggest mortgage lenders told us that is possible to get a mortgage for a home affected by knotweed, but conditions may be imposed.

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that makes a property significantly more difficult to sell as buyers

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that makes a property significantly more difficult to sell as buyers

Japanese knotweed on a property reduces its value by an average of 5 per cent, according to the figures from removal specialist Environet.

It used that to estimate that with 890,000 households across the county are being hit by a typical reduction of value of £13,200 due to knotweed, this equated to £11.8billion in total.

The plant can be stopped from spreading – although this process can be costly, at around £2,500 for a 10sq m area for a herbicide treatment or £5,000 for a 10 sq m for an excavation.

Environet claims that removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth.

It said that despite the lower costs, herbicide treatment is increasingly recognised as a control method only. 

This is because above-ground growth can disappear, but the root system beneath the ground is often induced into dormancy meaning it’s capable of regrowing in the future – particularly if the ground is disturbed by landscaping or building work. 

Environet says removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth

Environet says removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth

Nic Seal, of Environet, said: ‘Those buying and selling property are legally required to declare if the property is or has been affected by Japanese knotweed, but if an infestation has been professionally excavated with an insurance-backed guarantee to satisfy mortgage lenders, it is possible to restore the property value to close to the original value.’

He added: ‘Herbicide treatment of knotweed has always been very popular due to the lower costs, but the message is getting through that it’s only a control method and won’t solve the problem definitively.

‘Buyers are much more wary of buying a property which still has knotweed rhizome beneath the ground as there’s no way of knowing whether it’s completely dead. There’s also an environmental cost to using chemicals, which is of growing concern.’

Environet explained that the excavation element can be carried out during the winter months, allowing for full use of gardens during the summer.

What mortgage lenders say about knotweed 

Mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, explained that those buying a property where Japanese knotweed is found may find it less of a deal breaker than in the past where the lender may have automatically declined a mortgage application.

SPF Private Clients’ Mark Harris, said: ‘Should Japanese knotweed be identified, there are four categorisations assessing its severity, with 1 being best-case scenario and 4 being worst-case. 

‘Depending on which silo the property falls into, and whether there is specialist eradication work either ongoing or planned, and insurance in place, lenders may be willing to consider the application.

‘Depending on the severity of the problem, lenders may tailor the amount they are prepared to lend, or not lend at all.’ 

While securing a mortgage on a property with knotweed can remain challenging, lenders confirmed that they are open to providing finance if a management plan is in place. 

A Nationwide Building Society spokesman said: ‘Our policy on Japanese Knotweed depends on how far the plant is from the property. If it is less than seven metres away from the property, we would request a specialist report about eradicating it before deciding whether we could lend. 

‘If the plant is more than seven metres away, we would need written confirmation from the borrower that they want to proceed with their mortgage application despite the presence of the plant. 

‘What may be required is assessed on a case by case basis. Where the valuer identifies the presence of Japanese Knotweed, they may advise that a specialist report is required with respect to eradicating the plant and, where applicable, to report on repairing the property. Any report for eradication of the plant should include an insurance-backed 5 year warranty against re-infestation.’ 

And spokesperson for Halifax explained: ‘The presence of Japanese Knotweed itself is not a barrier to lending. 

‘We will be guided by the surveyor’s, and any subsequent expert’s, report on the scale, location and effects of any presence on or around the property.’  

How were the figures calculated? 

Official figures from the ONS show there at 27.8million households in Britain.

Environet disregarded 20 per cent of households that are flats as these are less likely to be affected by knotweed. 

That produces a figure of 22,420,000 homes in Britain. 

Environet’s survey conducted with YouGov in 2021 revealed that around 4 per cent of homes are affected by knotweed, either directly – meaning that it grows on the property – or indirectly where a neighbouring property is affected. 

It means 889,600 homes are affected in total, according to Environet.

The average value of a property in Britain is £264,244, according to Land Registry’s figures for August. 

Environet claimed that Japanese knotweed reduces the value of a property by 5 per cent on average. This is based on its own anecdotal evidence of what a property is worth once a knotweed management plan is in place (ie the 5 per cent reflects the amount that a buyer might try to reduce an asking price by due to the stigma and risk of the knotweed returning after treatment or removal). 

The 5 per cent reduction translates into £13,212 being knocked off the average home.

As such, the total amount knocked off property values in Britain as a result of Japanese knotweed is therefore 889,600 households multiplied by £13,212, which is £11,753,395,200.

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Ikea offers personalised design service in Ireland

Voice Of EU



Ikea is piloting a home design service in Ireland. The Swedish furniture giant opened the new service in Naas on Monday.

Customers will be able to consult the retailer’s in-house home interiors specialists at the new store. The company said the service would be free, personalised and one-to-one.

It said people would be able to talk through ideas for upgrading their kitchen, living room or wardrobes with a designer. They will also be able to order any Ikea products from the store for delivery. Unlike Ikea’s other smaller store in Carrickmines, south Dublin, there will be no items available on site to bring home on the day.

The company said Ireland was one of eight markets worldwide in which it is piloting the new service.

“This new service allows us to bring our home furnishing expertise to the many, with bespoke design solutions that best reflect our customer’s unique style and design challenges,” said Martyn Allan, Ikea’s market manager in Ireland. “At the same time, we get the opportunity to listen to and learn from our customers to continue to develop our store formats.

“We are so proud that Ireland is part of this pilot, offering us the opportunity to move closer to our customers in towns and cities currently without IKEA stores,” he added.

People looking for a design consultation will need to book in advance online. When the company confirms the booking, it will let the customer know what to bring with them, such as measurements or photographs.

Over one or two consultations – which will not cost anything – the designer will draw up a 3D plan which will be accessible on the Ikea website to the customer up to five days after the consultation.

The store on Naas Main Street will feature some room sets and the company says the consultations will operate in strict compliance with current public health guidelines.

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Dubs get exercised over digital dollars

Voice Of EU



Dubliners are to be “paid” for a walk in the park with “civic dollars” they can cash in for coffee and cake and other goods and services, in an effort to encourage outdoor exercise.

Visitors to five parks in the Dublin 8 area can earn the community currency if they sign up for a new smart phone app to allow Dublin City Council to track their park use.

The scheme is being piloted in the area from the Liberties to Inchicore, following research by the council’s Smart D8 team which found just 40 per cent of local residents took regular exercise, but 92 per cent said they would use a park for exercise if it was available to them.

Visitors to St Audoen’s Park, St Patrick’s Park, Weaver Park and Oscar Square in the Liberties, and Grattan Park in Inchicore who use the app will be rewarded with civic dollars for every 30 minutes they spend in the park up to a limit of 5 dollars a day.

Data anonymised

The system uses GPS data and allows users to opt in once they enter a park. Their data is anonymised, and a user’s session will end automatically once they walk out of the park. Data gathered will be used by the council to analyse park usage and allow for future planning and infrastructure improvements.

The dollars can be cashed in for discounts in a number of local businesses including Little Bird cafe, the Bike Hub, Mobility Genie, the Digital Hub and Epic Ireland. The dollars can also be donated to community organisations for more expensive services including marketing or IT advice and legal consultations, with participating companies including Core Tech IT, Paul Saxon Consulting, Éire Graphic Design and VAVA Influencers.

The Smart D8 project was established earlier this year to investigate innovative approaches to improve citizens’ health and wellbeing in Dublin 8, with the involvement of St James’s Hospital and the Digital Hub.

The civic dollars pilot will run for five months, with the aim of attracting 1,000 users in the first two months, and could be rolled out to other parks in the city if successful.

Organisations accepting dollar donations include Warrenmount Community Education Centre, Robert Emmet Community Development Project, Solas Project and Fatima Groups United.

The scheme had the potential to “improve the health and wellbeing of our citizens”, Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland said.

“We need to encourage increased use of our parks, and the civic dollars project will do that while having the added benefit of contributing to local businesses and community organisations.”

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