Jake’s Law vigil mother meets minister

Photograph of transport minister with  Jake's Law campaigner Roseann Brennan and husband Christian.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe with the Brennans

ROSEANN Brennan with Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe on the day before TDs are due to vote on Road Traffic Amendment Bill 2015.

The 30-year-old and husband Christopher want the law changed to reduce speed limits in public and private housing estates to 20kph.

The legal speed limit is currently 50kph but local authorities have the option of imposing limits of 30kph in residential areas.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe in a photograph outside Dail talking to campaigners on Jake's Law
Jake’s father Christopher listens to Minister Donohoe outside the Dail.

The Brennans launched the campaign after their six-year-old Jake was knocked down and killed was playing outside their Lintown Grove home in Co Kilkenny last June 12 at 6.25pm – the time tomorrow the couple and their friends will end their three-day vigil outside the gates of the Dail.

pix-jakeslawRINAP2-1Earlier this week, she told the Irish Times: ’I heard a loud bang and I saw him being flung-up in the air.

‘I ran over and he collapsed in my arms.

‘He was telling me, “mammy, I don’t want to die”.’

Although she has met Minister Donohue five times during her campaign, she decided to take the campaign to the gates of the Dail because she felt she was getting fobbed off.

She says she has previously been told it would ‘take many years’ for the speed limits on residential estates to be reduced to a mandatory 20kph.

pix-jakeslawRINAP1-1Their campaign is backed by Sinn Fein’s Dessie Ellis and Mary Lou McDonald, who – along with other TDs – will debate the issue again tomorrow before the vote Wednesday night.

Photograph of Roseann saying goodbye to Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe at the gates of the Dail

The petition is on Change.org.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny enters The Taoiseach’s Office for the first time

These shots capture a few moments when Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny returned to Dublin’s city centre after receiving his seal of office from the President Mary McAleese at Aras an Uachtarain. Nice moment as he enters the gates, a teenage boy steps forward and shakes his hand.

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Labour Party vote on Fine Gael coalition motion

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Fine Gael and Enda Kenny Aviva election rally

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Life-saving bowel screening scheme scrapped.

A CANCER screening programme that has saved 50 lives is to be shut down.

The scheme, which screens for bowel cancer, is the only one of its kind in the country and will not be replaced until 2012, when a national programme is due to start.

In the meantime, the team running it. led by gastroenterologist Professor Colm O’Morain, will be disbanded in June.

As a result, thousands of people who could be screened in the two years between then and the rollout of the national programme some time in 2012 will now be missed.

The delay could mean more cases like the tragic death in 2007 of Susie Long, who died of a cancer that would have been diagnosed had she not been forced to wait seven months for a colonoscopy.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said: ‘This is typical of the HSE’s insistence on slashing services before there is an equivalent to replace them.’

A spokesman for Tallaght Hospital, where the screening unit is currently based, said: ‘We don’t have the resources to fund it.’

Kathleen O’Meara, Irish Cancer Society head of advocacy and communications, said: ‘The Tallaght pilot project proved its worth in terms of lives saved. It proved the case for a national programme.

‘It would be better if Prof. O’Morain could continue because his work has been extremely useful.’

The Tallaght project was set up in 2008 by Prof. O’Morain, head of health sciences at Trinity, after two years of planning and research.

Based at Tallaght Hospital, the programme worked around the delivery of test kits sent to 10,000 50 to 74-year-olds living locally.

The people’s names were taken from GPs’ patient lists and participants were asked to send back two stool samples in containers provided.

Samples were tested for the presence of blood and those who showed positive were invited to a Saturday clinic for colonoscopy.

It was during those tests that 50 cancer cases were diagnosed. Many more pre-cancerous growths were also found and treated.

In 2008, Health Minister Mary Harney told the HSE to cut public waiting times for colonoscopies to four weeks. This followed national outcry in 2007 at the case of Susie Long, who revealed on radio that she had faced a seven-month wait.

In spring 2009, reports to the minister by the Health Information and Quality Authority and the National Cancer Screening Service recommended a national programme. The NCSS said such a scheme would be the ‘single most important public health intervention ever in the Irish health service’.

An average of 2040 new cases of colorectal – or bowel – cancer were diagnosed each year between 2002 and 2005, with an average of 925 deaths occurring in each year.

Colorectal cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in men and women in Ireland.

We have the highest colorectal cancer mortality rate for men in western Europe. By 2020, it is estimated that new cases diagnosed here will have increased by 79pc in men and 56pc in women.

Dr Reilly said: ‘Why close down a perfectly good service that is saving lives on the promise of another service that is years away?

‘Despite concerns about the initial age range proposed in the national programme, I welcomed it as an important development.

‘Only in the loony world of Mary Harney and the HSE would the announcement of one life-saving measure mean another gets shut down.’

Unlike Prof. O’Morain’s project, the national scheme will be restricted to those aged 60-69, the highest-risk group. No date has been set for expansion.

Prof. O’Morain said: ‘I’d like to see funding extended – any test should be repeated after two years. A national programme is long overdue and it is great that one is on the way.

‘But it would be better if the age range were wider as the point is to catch people as soon as possible.’

Competition Authority probing €2bn bid-rigging cartel

By Brian Carroll.

DETECTIVES have uncovered evidence pointing to a E2.5bn conspiracy to rig bids on

Government construction contracts.

More than 30 construction companies are being investigated for falsifying tenders and up to 110 firms may have participated.

Every major Government construction contract for the past 10 years is under review.

The Competition Authority this weekend refused to comment on any probe.

However, in a statement issued in response to the Irish Mail on Sunday’s exclusive revelations, it said it would offer immunity to those willing to testify about their involvement in bid-rigging.

The authority and the DPP are offering whistleblowers a place on what they called the Cartel Immunity Programme.

The authority and officers seconded from the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation have executed more than 20 search warrants at construction company offices nationwide.

After a two-year investigation, detectives made a critical breakthrough recently when they discovered falsified tenders agreed between companies.

The documents appear to show a conspiracy between various companies to alternate the winning of Government construction contracts by submitting falsified tenders.

The companies were agreeing in advance which would submit the lowest tender and, while the officers are concentrating on 30 companies at the moment, there is evidence that up to 110 firms may have participated.

The Competition Authority said: ‘The authority treats investigations into allegations of bid-rigging very seriously. Anyone with information on such activities would be encouraged to contact us.

‘Of particular interest would be information from anyone that may work or have worked previously in the industry and would have attended meetings, have knowledge of agreements between competitors on taking turns at winning contracts, or knowledge of communication generally among companies relating to how they operate agreements.

‘For any individuals concerned about their own involvement in bid-rigging activities, it is worth looking into the Cartel Immunity Programme that is operated in conjunction with the DPP.

The programme offers the opportunity for anybody involved in a cartel to avoid prosecution by being the first person in a cartel to come forward and cooperate fully with the authority investigation.

‘That person or company cannot be the leader of the cartel.’ The Cartel Immunity Programme number is 087 763 1378.

The authority refused to comment on the specifics of its investigation.

However, the MoS has learned that the investigative unit in the cartels division of the Competition Authority, assisted by two detective sergeants from the Garda

Bureau of Fraud Investigation, achieved major breakthroughs in recent months.

A source close to the eight-person investigation team said: ‘We were gobsmacked when we started looking into this. I can’t go into how or why the investigation started, but no one expected it to be this big.

‘You’re really talking about every public tender for Government construction contracts, hospitals, schools, and even a couple of major private contracts. We are going back to contracts from the late 1990s.’

Fine Gael and Labour have called on the Government to give extra investigative resources to the Competition Authority to expedite the investigation.

An expert working on the investigation said: ‘The bid-rigging is very sophisticated. It works like this. State buildings are being refurbished across the country, for example.

‘The Office of Public Works has to put a public tender out for each project. The OPW looks for expressions of interest. People are then asked to send a detailed tender document. There is a rigged system in place where the builders decide it is a particular person’s turn to win the contract.

‘You have eight contractors. The person whose turn it is to win the contract draws up all eight tenders, ensuring his is the lowest, even though it’s inflated by several hundred thousand euros.

He then sends a tender to each of the other people. ‘This “cover” or tender is then submitted by the other builder to the OPW, even though they know they can’t win the contract.

In this way they divvy up all the Government construction contracts.’ The OPW has had a total gross expenditure of over E6bn in 10 years.

The Department of Education separately spends E500m a year on school building and refurbishment projects. The Department of Health administers the hospital building programme, for which E564m was set aside for 2006 alone.

It’s understood that some of the search warrants executed by detectives working for the Competition Authority have resulted in the seizure of ‘cover letters’.

‘You are talking about a very narrow window here,’ said the expert. ‘You have to seize the cover letter between the tender being advertised and the tender being issued. The investigators have done that in a number of cases.

‘There’s 30 companies at the core of this, but it had to be broadened out after some of the searches.

There’s about 110 companies involved in total. We are talking [about] a long investigation here.’ Company directors found guilty of bid-rigging or operating a cartel can face up to five years in prison and/or a fine of E4m or 10pc of the company’s turnover, whichever is bigger.

A Competition Authority team is preparing files for the DPP. Sources, however, say a combination of staff shortages and the complexity of the cases means the investigation could take another two years at least.

‘In fairness to the Government, it had no idea of the size of this thing. Much more staff are needed.

‘When we started looking into it, we were amazed. The chartered accountants haven’t put a figure on it yet but you are talking about at least E250m a year, going back 10 years at least.’

Fine Gael deputy leader and finance spokesman Richard Bruton said: ‘We deploy 14,000 gardaí a day to deal with so-called ordinary crime. White collar crime is serious crime and we have to deploy resources to match.

‘The State has to take this seriously. If there are allegations of this magnitude, the Competition Authority has to be given the resources. We are talking here about E2.5bn. That’s equivalent to E2,000 out of the pocket of every family in the country.’

Labour finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said the cost of public construction contracts in Ireland had always been suspiciously high.

She called on the Government to increase resources to the Competition Authority.‘It has been an ongoing cause of complete puzzlement to many, many people how the cost of construction contracts and public projects have been so high here relative to other countries. Almost any public project you can think of in Ireland has been far more expensive than equivalent projects in other EU countries.’