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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reform Irish Style: Take action only in Response to a CRISIS...sorry...a DIRE CRISIS

Reform Irish style follows a familiar pattern and we had a regular reprise on Tuesday when sweeping changes in the structure of An Garda Síochána, involving the employment of civilians at all levels in the force from senior management to clerical grades, were proposed in two expert reports.

On Wednesday, we had a return to business as-usual when it was reported that Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea had given the go-ahead to a multi-million euro publicity campaign that will begin in January to inform people about the Government's emergency plans for disasters.

It of course has nothing got to do with the up-coming election and it may also be incidental that O'Dea himself may feature in the publicity.

We would have a nirvana in this country if publicity campaigns were matched by real action and reform. The upcoming publicity campaign will shovel money into PR but will it be matched by a non-partisan international assessment of the emergency plans?

As to the Garda reports, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, welcomed the recommendations and promised to implement them as quickly as possible.

The reports from the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, headed by former Boston police chief, Kathleen O'Toole, and the Garda Síochána Advisory Group, chaired by Senator Maurice Hayes, were published on Tuesday.

For years, evidence of the need for reform was staring McDowell and predecessors of different parties in the face but nothing was done.

The Morris Tribunal was needed to highlight the need for reform of Garda structures when it was so obvious that such a huge organisation was in dire need of people with credible management competence.

Today, it was reported that taxpayers have paid out up to €7.3m so far to cover the legal costs for the Justice Minister Michael McDowell and Gardaí at the Morris Tribunal.

But the McBrearty family, whose campaign to clear their name led to the setting up of the tribunal in the first place, remain without legal representation because of the State's continued refusal to award their costs on the same basis.

The tribunal was set up four years ago to investigate allegations of corruption in the Donegal Division of An Garda Siochana.

At its centre is a claim by the Raphoe-based nightclub owners, that Gardaí attempted to frame Frank McBrearty junior and his cousin Mark McConnell for the murder of a local cattle dealer Richie Barron, which turned out to be a hit and run.

Billions were shoveled into a health service black hole in recent times and the penny eventually dropped only when Mary Harney took charge of the Department of Health, when it dawned that the existing ramshackle system of health boards and professional vested interests, had to be challenged.

World Reports Record

Mary Harney's predecessor as Health Minister, former school teacher Micheál Martin, must hold the record for the number of consultant reports that any minister in the world has requested in the space of 4 years - at 145, he always had a cure for insomnia, at hand.

Martin spent more on a library of reports and reviews during his tenure than any minister in the history of the State.

The bill for 115 of 145 reports commissioned by the Minister in the Department, where he spent four years, was outlined in a parliamentary answer to Fine Gael TD Seymour Crawford in 2004. It was €30m.

Martin also likely holds the world record for pre-announcing the launch of a website that earned consultants Accenture €3 million but the website was never launched!

Publicity Campaign on the Government's emergency plans for disasters

The Irish Independent reported in March 2002 that long-awaited iodine tablets for every family in the country - to cope with radioactive fallout, and pledged after the September 11 US attacks - would be distributed to every household later that month.

An information leaflet outlining the Government's nuclear emergency plan would also be distributed to all households "over the coming weeks ... but will not include full details of what to do in a nuclear attack."

The Indo said that distribution of the leaflet was the first phase of an information campaign on nuclear safety initially promised in October 2001.

At the time, Junior Minister with responsibility for nuclear safety Joe Jacobs told RTE radio that information booklets would be sent to every home in the country by the beginning of November.

"The Department of Public Enterprise will operate a call centre from Monday until Easter, and a comprehensive booklet detailing the main features of the national plan for nuclear emergencies will also be available by phoning 1890-44-33-22," the newspaper reported.

Five years later, a multi-million euro publicity campaign will begin in January to inform people about the Government's emergency plans for disasters.

The three-year initiative will produce and distribute a DVD or handbook to explain specific responses by relevant Government departments to catastrophes like terrorist attacks or nuclear accidents.

The Defence Department has sought interested bidders for the contract on behalf of the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP).

Defence Minister Willie O'Dea brought the proposals to the weekly Cabinet meeting on October 17th and they were approved. "The contract is to plan and deliver a Public Information and Awareness Campaign on Emergency Planning in Ireland over a three-year period.

"The period will start from when the contract is signed," a spokesman for the OEP said.

Earlier this year, the OEP carried out preliminary research to identify the concerns and questions of the general public regarding potential emergencies, such as a nuclear accident at Sellafield or a major terrorist attack.

Applications from public relations firms from across the EU will also be considered as the tender notice appeared in the EU Journal.

"The task will be to gather information from all the Government departments on emergency plans in place and present this information in an accessible format to inform and reassure householders.

"We basically want to let people know what plans are out there," added the OEP spokesman.

Remember that story about graffiti in a toilet with the question : What to do in a nuclear war??

Picture the Yes Minister scene with a ministerial flunkey proposing a painless form of actionless action.

Bingo! Let's have a publicity campaign!

So much for the Ministry for Disasters...

On Thursday Nov 9th, plans for a Greater Dublin Transportation Board were announced to oversee some form of integration to the transport network in Dublin and sorrounding counties. It was provided for in the 2002 Government programme and as with Michael McDowell's Privacy Bill, it will likely be part of a raft of shambolic legislation that will be shouted through the Oireachtas just before the General Election next summer.

The busy bees will conventiently run out of time.

So much for time management...let's commission another consultants' report!!

Spare a thought in passing, for our overworked, underpaid legislators!

The Government Parties are simply ticking off a list of so-called commitments. Just await the avalanche of announcements and cobbled together Bills in the coming six months.

Implementation, control, management and targets are a different story. Oh sorry...I forgot about benchmarking. So there must be targets. Ministers got 2 benchmarking payments - one as TDs and the other as Minister.

There were no targets, of course.

The joke line was that private sector workers without occupational pensions, were OVERPAID compared with public servants.

It could be used in a comedy routine but it's a serious issue and when the property boom subsides, today's politicians will be in clover on their gold-plated pensions as people will look back and wonder at the opportunities that were foregone during a time of unprecedented prosperity, to put reforms and structures in place for more challenging times.

Property or tulip mania, has never provided a foundation for a permanent prosperity.

Read the section on Sham Benchmarking here. Even public service pensioners were part of the bonanza.

Delay of at least 2 years expected in Response to initial report of Institutional Abuse at Dublin Nursing Home

On Friday Nov. 10th, the report on deaths at the Leas Cross nursing home in north Dublin - which found shocking deficits in the care provided to elderly residents - was published and passed on to the Garda Síochána.

The author of the report, consultant geriatrician Prof Des O'Neill, said in his review that his overall findings "are consistent with a finding of institutional abuse".

Prof O'Neill found staffing levels at the home to be deficient. He also identified failures in the regulatory process, criticised those in management for not taking complaints seriously and said "there is scant evidence that the Department of Health has taken cognisance of the huge concerns internationally over the quality of care provided to older people in long-term care".

"With a few honourable exceptions there has been a systematic failure by Government, health boards and professional bodies to address the issue of appropriate quality of care for older people with the highest levels of health and social needs in Irish society," his report added.

Aidan Browne, director of Primary, Community and Continuing Care with the HSE, said all recommendations in the report would be taken on board. Asked what actions would be taken against staff to ensure they were held accountable, he said: "If you read the report and you read the submissions, there is no evidence that people actually did anything wrong. The evidence is that the combination of factors came together that resulted in a wrong outcome."

Passing the buck is the most glaring characteristic of Irish public governance.

Simply, nobody has to take responsibility and there is more benchmarking payola in the pipeline!

In its submission, the Department of Health said that some criticisms of it by Prof O'Neill were made out of context and were not backed up by any evidence. And a former senior health service executive described parts of the report as "biased and inaccurate".

Minister for Health Mary Harney described the report's findings as "deeply upsetting" and promised legislation to allow for the setting up of an independent inspection regime for all nursing homes.

She said she wanted to see the legislation through the Oireachtas "hopefully before Easter of next year".

Hopefully before Easter 2007?

Before that, Bertie plans a referendum on an amendment to the Constitution to protect children - another example of painless actionless action.

So the busy bee TDs will have a six weeks break in the meantime and there's no embarrassment that it will have taken at least 2 years for the Government to respond to an urgent crisis.

When Ministers simply work part-time on issues of Government, should we be surprised at the glacial speed and the lack of ideas or interest in promoting reform?

Last week, apart from Iraq, an incompetent and corrupt Republican Party, was rejected by Americans after 12 years when it had failed to match promises of reform with results.

Here, much of a comatose electorate, expects results but it eventually gives a collective shrug of the shoulders, when there isn't delivery.

What can happen when the finger is ultimately taken out to tackle urgent issues?

Last week employers' body IBEC, released an analysis of insurance claims and settlements which shows a significant fall in the number of personal injury compensation claims in recent years.

Some of the facts are:

  • The number of employee insurance claims in recent years indicates a downward trend in claims against business by a much as 40% in real terms (from almost 12,000 claims per year in the period to 2002 to around 7,000 per year in the last three years - IIF Factfile)
  • Court writs in personal injury claims on average 33,000 per year up to 2004 were down to 4,000 in 2005
  • Insurance costs also show a significant decline with room for further improvement
  • The Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) process will handle on average 25,000 cases per annum including motor and public liability cases, and deliver assessments in nine months in respect of over 7,000 cases or an average of 200 per week. Maximum deliver costs are €1,350 per case.
  • Many cases are now being settled up front either directly between the parties or following enquiry to PIAB (6000 cases in the two year period to September 2006) and during the PIAB process ( 9,000 cases in the same period)

IBEC Assistant Director Tony Briscoe said: “The success of the PIAB as an alternative means of resolving compensation cases, together with the measures provided in the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 to deter fraud and exaggerated claims, means the compensation environment has changed significantly in recent years. People need no longer be forced into costly legal battles, but can settle claims directly or have them assessed by the PIAB."

“From the information available it is clear more and more claims are being settled earlier and in greater volumes than before (claims took on average three to four years under the old system).Of the enquiries to PIAB, one in six is resolved without the need for assessment process and a further one in four prior to the PIAB making an award.

In many instances claims are settled without any recourse to PIAB, which is the intention of the Civil Liability and Courts Act whereby any claimant is required to notify the other party of their intention to purse compensation within two months of the incident. To get the full picture we need more details on the stages at which claims are resolved. It is most likely that the existence of the PIAB, while not directly involved in all cases, contributed towards having genuine claims settled quicker, with huge savings to the parties involved,” he said.

Briscoe nevertheless said that there is concern amongst employers that the measures provided in the Civil Liability and Courts Act of 2004, which deal with fraudulent and exaggerated claims are not being applied as intended in some cases. “There are cases where evidence of exaggerated claims is not taken into account by the courts as we would have expected. This could encourage exaggerated and fraudulent claims. The courts have vital role in ensuring that when a person exaggerates a claim, the full penalties set out in legislation are applied,” he concluded.

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