News Blog

Zero gravity, penalty points and more

Mary Minihan Wed, May 15
LIVE: News Blog

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  • 09:01
    Good morning Mary Minihan here. I'm at the helm of the live news blog today. Coming up: the latest on penalty points...Leaders' Questions..."immoral" fish discarding...rubbish disposal...and the Seanad: will it stay or will it go?
  • 09:09
  • 09:17
    But we have loads of other interesting stories...I'm kind of fascinated by this court case: Family in bitter dispute over will in Donegal 

  • 09:28
    Want a laugh? Read Miriam Lord's tale of what happened when an unsuspecting Finnish reporter collided with Leinster House's strict dress code (for journalists) yesterday...
  • 09:42
    Meanwhile in Britain...months of "simmering tensions" spill out into the open as our neighbours continue their difficult relationship with Europe. (Brace yourself David!) 
  • 09:46
    Congratulations to Laura Mahoney, the second woman in 228 years to take the top job at the Royal Irish Academy, as our science editor Dick Ahlstrom reports. But who was the first?!
  • 09:51
  • 10:07

    Caelainn Hogan reports from the Syria/Turkish border on Syrian refugees being forced to return to their homeland: We know we are going to our deaths.

  • 10:10

    Breaking news: Pfizer announces plans "to consolidate" manufacturing operations in Ireland. The company proposes relocating manufacturing from Little Island site (where 136 people are currently working) to Ringaskiddy and is seeking a buyer for Little Island...

  • 10:13
    Pfizer statement says: “This is a very difficult time for colleagues affected who deserve recognition for the great contribution they have made to manufacturing some of Pfizer’s leading medicines.

    “However, patent loss means that we must now compete with generic equivalents and generic manufacturers. The manufacturing operating environment has become much more challenging and greater competitiveness is needed so that we can continue to play a strong role in the manufacture of Pfizer’s new and off-patent medicines.”
  • 10:15

    More from the Pfizer statement: "The Little Island site is a leading active ingredient manufacturing facility and 136 colleagues are employed at the site. It is proposed that Pfizer will exit the Little Island site in 2014 and will explore opportunities to divest the site, in conjunction with state investment agencies. Success would depend on a number of market factors including demand for pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities."

    Seamus Fives, Site Leader, Little Island and Ringaskiddy sites, adds: “This recommendation is not a reflection of performance, it is driven by the changing business environment. Little Island has an excellent reputation and has won many awards in the areas of quality, safety, operational excellence and innovation."

  • 10:20
    I dare say Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin might raise the plight of Pfizer "colleagues afflicted" in the Dail at Leaders' Questions...coming up in ten minutes...we'll keep you posted.  
  • 10:44
    Ok I was wrong...Fianna Fáil chose to go with the Angelina Jolie/cancer theme and how it applies to Ireland.
  • 10:48
    Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams goes with yesterday's hospital reforms story during Leaders' Questions. 
  • 10:50
  • 10:58
    And finally, Independent TD Mattie McGrath raises the fodder crisis during Leaders' Questions...asks Taoiseach Enda Kenny to acknowledge the agriculture sector is in "great crisis".
  • 11:04
    Meanwhile, I'm on the look-out for the obligatory daily Cmdr Chris Hadfield of his colleagues has the best astronaut's name since Buzz Aldrin: step forward Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko!

    Question for space geeks: what's the difference between an astronaut and a cosmonaut?
  • 11:08
  • 11:17
    If you would like to contribute (this usually means complain but not necessarily!) to the live news blog today, then either tweet us at @IrishTimesLive or me at @minihanmary...or you can send an email to thanks
  • 11:18
  • 11:22
  • 11:33
  • 11:37
    Boris Johnson as Gaelige from my colleague Harry McGee: Cá bhfuil ár bhFionn féin?

  • 11:45
  • 12:00
    My Dail colleagues Michael O'Regan and Marie O'Halloran have a comprehensive report on Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin raising Angelina Jolie preventative double mastectomy in the Dail this morning here: Taoiseach says working group devising breast cancer strategy and structure
  • 12:07
  • 12:13
    Aisling Please don't remove the live blog at the end of each day. I really enjoy it and hate if I miss the last few updates! It's a great service. Thanks.
  • 12:17
    Here, I nearly forgot about the fish! Coveney says fisheries deal reached with other members states

    These statistics make me sad: An estimated 25 per cent of the fish caught by EU boats are thrown back into the sea, with the percentage believed to be as high as 70 per cent in some areas.

    On RTE's Morning Ireland this morning Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said such discards were "immoral". A ban on 93% of discards will take effect immediately, while a full ban should be phased in by 2019.


    (Did you see his appearance on Newsnight on BBC 2 last night?)
  • 12:20
    Meanwhile, back in Finglas: A man has been shot on an industrial estate in the north Dublin suburb. Gardai said the victim was attacked at the Ballyboggan industrial estate in Finglas, Dublin 11. The shooting took place at about 11am. Further details as we have them. You can see a map of the location here
  • 12:28
    Will we have a quick look at today's birthdays? Madeleine Albright is 76 - the first woman to become US secretary of state
    Proinsias De Rossa is 78 - former Labour MEP
    Andy Murray tennis ace is 26 (is that all?!)
    ...and Paudie Coffey the Fine Gael TD from Waterford is 44.
  • 12:30
    Aisling: thanks for your comment re removing the live blog at the end of the day. You will be happy to hear we archive all our live blogs here 

  • 12:30
    Mr Tin Astronaut translates from Greek as 'Star Sailor'. Cosmonaut translates from the same language as 'Universe Sailor'. Taikonaut is a hybrid of Chinese (taikong) and Greek "Space Sailor". Bit of useless info there!!
  • 12:38
    Most popular story on is this sports yarn: O’Driscoll and Jenkins get body double ?
  • 12:40
    On the Seanad front, Sinn Féin thinks the referendum should be cancelled and the matter referred to the Constitutional Convention...One of the party's Senators, David Cullinane, says: “The government’s entire approach to the future of the Seanad has been opportunistic and ill thought out. Sinn Féin believes that the Seanad as currently constituted is deeply undemocratic and elitist.

    “However, simple abolition, without even allowing the opportunity to discuss considering reform is foolhardy. We have continually argued that the question of the future of the Seanad needs to be referred to the constitutional convention."

  • 12:52

    No Cmdr Chris Hadfield but more cosmonauts at play here
    But check out the impact of zero gravity on the women astronauts' hair. Not something I'd considered before. Seriously reconsidering my second career now...

  • 12:55
    Thanks to @ruthie147 for alerting us to that Nasa footage
  • 14:04

    Returning to penalty points...Fianna Fáil calls for naming of penalty point evaders, as my colleague Tim O'Brien reports. But what's this? The party's justice and transport spokesmen, Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley, claim their own licences ‘are a private matter’ and  decline to reveal whether they have ever had penalty points erased, or the level of points - if any - currently applied to their own licences.

  • 14:12
    We have a poignant report on the funeral of Kerry teenager Donal Walsh who died from cancer at the weekend. Our southern correspondent Barry Roche says thousands of mourners gathered in Tralee to pay their last respects.
  • 14:23
    Martyn Turner's latest cartoons are here
  • 14:25
    Meanwhile the "haitch or aitch" debate continues to rage on the Irish Times letters to the Editor page.

    I mean, really, everyone knows it's "aitch"...
  • 14:28
    Our deputy business editor Dominic Coyle has the latest on the Pfizer job losses...
  • 14:36
    Ok so we're expecting the penatly points report to be pubished within the next half hour...stand by.
  • 14:49
    There have been many twists and turns in the penalty points story...Just refreshing my memory by reading back over stories such as: How Luke Ming Flanagan explained away his penalty points
    My colleague Harry McGee wrote on March 13th that the Roscommon TD displayed hubris in condemning a system of which he himself availed.
  • 15:15
    The penalty points report found no evidence to suggest any act of criminality, corruption, deception or falsification as alleged by an "anonymous author", who submitted two separate documents listing alleged irregularities in the termination of fixed charge notices.

    "The examination did, however, identify certain departures from administrative procedures in the administration of the system requiring advices to be issued to some terminating officers surrounding the necessity for strict adherence to policy and procedures.

    "In a small number of instances

    (3) possible breaches of discipline have been identified and files have been forwarded to the Assistant Commissioner, Internal Affairs, the designated authority under the Disciplinary Regulations, for further investigation.

    "The two predominant areas of administrative and procedural failings identified by the examination centre on the creation and retention of audit material and cases where authorised officers terminating FCN’s for offences detected outside their Garda Districts."

  • 15:16

    The identities of a number of members of An Garda Siochana have been "anonymised" in the penalty points report.

  • 15:20

    The penalty points report says the "anonymous author" submitted 189 allegations. "Some allegations refer to the termination of hundreds/thousands of FCN’s by particular officers while the great majority of allegations cite individual officers and individual beneficiaries," the report states.

    "The anonymous author alleges that there is serious corruption, destruction and erasing of records, perverting the course of justice, falsification and deception in the administration of the Fixed Charge Penalty System by members of An Garda Síochána."



  • 15:24
    When the allegations were received, the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan ordered a full examination into all matters raised and appointed Assistant Commissioner John O’Mahoney to conduct the examination...

    The examination covered the period from 1/1/2009 to 30/6/2012. In addition, a full audit of a randomly selected 1% of FCN’s terminated during the same period was undertaken.
  • 15:28
    The report found 2.57% out of the 1.46 million FCN’s issued in the review period were terminated by authorised Garda officers employing “Discretionary Powers". This equates to a termination of 37,384 terminations in the three and a half year period. This averages out at 10,701 terminations of this nature per year nationally.
  • 15:31
    More from the penalty points report shortly. Just wanted to bring you some comments from Minister for Justice Alan Shatter on the contents of the report. He says: “Many of the more serious allegations made against members of An Garda Siochana have not been substantiated and I am relieved that no evidence has been found to suggest any criminality in the cancellation of Fixed Charge Notices.

    "However, I am concerned that it appears that there have been cases where clearly laid out procedures for the cancellation of Notices were not followed, for example where tickets were cancelled by some Superintendents outside their Garda District areas. It also appears that, in some cases, detailed records were not maintained.”
  • 15:34
    Minister Shatter also says: “I am  conscious that, even where correct procedures were followed, the subjectivity of judgements made in accepting petitions for the cancellation of fixed charge notices inevitably leaves room for disagreement on individual decisions. 

    "It is also clear from the Report I received from the Garda Commissioner that strengthened procedures and protocols with regard to the cancellation of Fixed Charge Notices are necessary and should without undue delay be put in place.”
    He continues: “As a consequence of the investigation carried out into allegations of the improper cancellations of Fixed Charge Notices, three Garda officers are now the subject of disciplinary inquiry, and of course nothing must be said which could prejudice that process.  Some other members, while not subject to inquiry, have been reminded of the absolute requirement to strictly follow procedures.”
  • 15:40

    Justice Minister Alan Shatter has asked the Oireachtas justice committee to examine the extent to which it should be permissable for penalty points to be terminated in cases other than family bereavements or medical emergencies.

    "I am conscious that the application of fairness, compassion and common sense to individual circumstances requires the making of subjective judgements and that each of us may address the same circumstances differently," Mr Shatter says.

    "Nevertheless, I believe there is a need for great care to be taken in the making of such judgements and this is an issue I would like the Oireachtas Committee to specifically consider.  From my reading of the Appendices I am concerned that decisions made in a small minority of instances in which Fixed Charge Notices were terminated defy logic and common sense, albeit the correct procedures were complied with.”  

  • 15:42
    Referring to the whistleblower who prompted the investigation, Mr Shatter said: "It is a matter of concern that the allegations made by this Garda whistleblower were in many instances seriously inaccurate and without any foundation in fact, or else involved an incomplete understanding of the facts.”
  • 15:49
    If you want to read the two penalty points reports published on the Department of Justice website today for yourself they are available to view at
    The titles are: 'Report on Allegations of Irregularities in the Operation of the Fixed Charge Processing System' and 'Report from the Garda Professional Standards Unit on its examination of the processes and systems in place to deal with the cancellation of Fixed Charge Notices'
  • 15:53
    Minister Shatter has interesting things to say about the oft-repeated suggestion that TDs and Senators can get away with penalty points if they can prove they are on their way to or from Leinster House.

    "It may also be worthwhile clarifying the position regarding the issuing of fixed charge notices to members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, as comments have been reported in the media to the effect that TDs are exempt from liability for road traffic offences on their way to or from Dáil Éireann. This assertion is simply incorrect," Mr Shatter says.
    He quotes from Article 15.13 of the Constitution, which provides that “The members of each House of the Oireachtas shall, except in case of treason as defined in this Constitution, felony or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest in going to and returning from, and while within the precincts of, either House …”.
    Mr Shatter says Article 15.13 "clearly, therefore, does not provide immunity from liability for offences, but only immunity from arrest in respect of certain offences.  Where a member of either House has simply been issued with a fixed charge notice, for example for a speeding offence detected by a speed camera, Article 15.13 provides no basis for the cancellation of that notice, even if the offence allegedly occurred when the member was travelling to or from Leinster House."
  • 15:57
    Getting to the crux of the report, Mr Shatter says it recommended the referral of 3 officers for disciplinary investigation as it appeared that some cancellations made by them may not have been conducted strictly within administrative policy and procedures. 

    These 3 officers accounted for 661 of the cancellations under examination, he said, "although it must be stressed that only some of these cancellations will be the subject of inquiry". 

    Any final determination of the propriety of those cancellations must await the outcome of the disciplinary process, he added.
  • 16:01

    Recommendations for dealing with penalty points in the future include new checks to identify what Mr Shatter describes as "recidivist petitioners".

  • 16:05
  • 16:09

    Meanwhile, Minister Shatter has released a second statement in which he takes aim at Independent TD Luke "Ming" Flanagan. “The Gardaí have been investigating the circumstances surrounding the termination of fixed charge penalty points involving Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan," Mr Shatter said. 

    "During the course of the investigation, the investigating officers arranged to meet Deputy Flanagan.  Prior to the arranged meeting, the investigating officers were contacted by his Office and were informed that he didn't wish to engage further with them. 

    "My understanding is that their investigation is substantially complete at this stage but the investigating officers are seeking written confirmation of his position in order that the investigation may be completed.

    “I am disappointed but not entirely surprised that Deputy Flanagan, despite all his public statements and having written a very self-serving letter to me on the 21 March 2013 regarding the matter, naming individuals he claimed were involved and stating that he believed "the truth about the situation must be established" and that he “would have a very strong argument for having the points removed", is unwilling to engage further with the Garda investigation."

  • 16:33
    Ok maybe that's enough about the penalty points report for now..!

    In other news, the Associated Press is reporting that Ariel Castro will be pleading "not guilty" to charges of abducting and raping three women at his home for 10 years. The latest on that story is here.
  • 16:41
    The Irish really do get everywhere...A 26 year-old DCU graduate has beated off 620,000 applications from 330,000 individuals to make the Best Job in the World finals.

    Best of luck to Allan Dixon in his bid to become Outback Adventurer. What a cool thing to put on your CV.
  • 16:55
  • 17:00

    Good news for bus passengers...Bus Éireann has confirmed it will operate all services as scheduled tomorrow.

    "For clarity, this does not mean that agreement has been reached between Bus Éireann and the trade unions. Those intensive talks, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, are continuing this evening," the company's PR man Andrew McLindon says.

    "If these talks do not lead to an agreement, in order to provide certainty to our customers and help them plan ahead, we have agreed with the parties that a minimum of 24 hours notice will be given if there is going to be disruption to services."

    Keep an eye on

  • 17:05
    ...and now I have the answer to the question that's been bugging me all day. Our science editor Dick Ahlstrom reported that Laura Mahoney is the second woman in 228 years to take the top job at the Royal Irish Academy. I wondered who was the first. The Academy's head of communications has been in touch to say it was Jane O’Malley, who served from 1964 until 1977.

    So now we know!
  • 17:14
  • 17:24
  • 17:35

    I'm going to sign off the blog on a tragic and somewhat disturbing note as a Garda investigation gets underway into the shooting of seven sheep in Co Wicklow. 

    Warning the pictures are a bit shocking...

    Thanks to @lisa_pereira  for the alert on Twitter. 

  • 17:43
    Thanks for staying tuned. Mary