Bórd Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), which has applied for a licence to facilitate a massive salmon farm in Galway Bay, says there’s nothing fishy about its expenditure of tens of thousands of Euros for communications advice.
The state agency has come under fire for hiring a private public relations company that sent heavy-handed letters to editors of three Irish newspapers in relation to articles about the controversial proposed salmon fish farm off Galway Bay.
Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages (GBASC) says it is “worrying” that BIM spent over €57,000 last year for advice from a Dublin-based PR company Keating & Associates, to complain to newspaper editors and “stifle debate”.
This was just one of a litany of payments to private consultants hired by BIM last year at a total cost of €685,242, according to documents released under Freedom of Information (FOI).
But BIM has defended its outlay on consultants, and says it, like other State agencies, hires outside expertise when the need arises.
It also defended its expenditure on communications, and said Keating and Associates had provided services to BIM to cover maternity leave last year.
Data released to GBASC through FOI, shows that some €143,239 was paid to Keating & Associates for “communications advice and communications support” from January, 2010 to April 1, 2015.
This, it said, included €98,500 to cover for maternity leave for a thirteen month period. Its payments to Keating & Associates involved almost €58,000 for a “communications service” in 2014.
During that period, BIM sent letters to the editors of three newspapers, including the Connacht Tribune, Irish Times and Irish Examiner.
GBASC accused BIM of trying to “stifle debate” by issuing strongly worded letters to editors of newspapers. “We believe these letters are an attempt by BIM to stifle debate on the Galway Bay and other proposed mega salmon farms,” the group said in a statement.
It added: “GBASC are astonished that BIM, with all their highly paid staff, some of whom are earning in excess of €100,000, couldn’t find someone within their ranks to give communications advice and write a small number of letters to the media at a cost to the taxpayer of €143,239 since 2010.”
The campaign group said it was “shocked to learn” through FOI that BIM spent a total of €685,000 on consultants last year, which includes communications advice and some other outside expertise to advance plans for the salmon farm.
“This seems to be an exorbitant sum to be paying to consultants when BIM claim to be the experts in this area. BIM seems to have access to a bottomless pit of money, and unquestioning support from the relevant Minister to push their mega salmon farm on an unwilling population,” it said.
The group pointed to a recommendation in the 2009 An Bórd Snip Nua report on areas that could be cutback, which in relation to BIM said it could be subsumed within the department and “formally abolished”.
“GBASC believe that the implementation of this recommendation is long overdue,” it added.
BIM in a statement defended its expenditure.
It confirmed it had authorized Keating and Associates to issue separate letters to the editors of three newspapers on its behalf, “in order to address the publication of inaccuracies regarding BIM and the Galway Bay application”.
Two of the publications, it said, issued clarifications.
The state agency, in a statement, added: “BIM engaged Keating & Associates in order to provide the communications support needed within BIM to manage the significant workload associated with the Galway Bay aquaculture licence application, its public consultation process and the intense media activity that surrounded same. The firm also supported the organisation while the internal Communications Manager was on maternity leave.
“Like many state organisations, BIM, on occasion, engages external consultants either to provide a professional capability not available internally or to provide additional support to internal resources.”
Teenager caught with €20,000 worth of cannabis
A teenager was stopped and searched by Gardaí in Eyre Square on Monday evening, and found in possession of an estimated €20,000 worth of cannabis.
Members of the Galway Divisional Drugs Unit stopped the man, aged in his late teens, at around 6pm and searched him under the Misuse of Drugs Act. During the search the man was found in possession of a €20,000 of suspected cannabis herb. The drugs seized will be sent for forensic analysis.
He was arrested and detained at Garda Headquarters in Renmore and was released from custody this morning. A file is now being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Level 5 ‘lockdown’ restrictions from midnight Wednesday
‘Crass stupidity’ to allow Leisureland close
The looming threat of closure for Leisureland after Christmas amounts to “crass stupidity” and requires an urgent commitment for funding from Government, according to a local TD.
Deputy Catherine Connolly told the Galway City Tribune she had raised the issue in the Dáil with the Minister of State for Local Government and he had expressed an openness to meeting with a delegation from City Hall in relation to the City Council-owned facility’s dire financial situation.
“It’s simply not acceptable that a public swimming pool would close when we have the Minister for Finance announcing a budget of €18 billion this week – that’s Monopoly money.
“We have €18 billion to dispense and the challenge is to do that in a way that ensures a basic level of services below which we cannot go, and that requires funding the local authority. The local authority is fundamental in any civilised society, as are the services it provides,” said the Independent Deputy.
Raising the issue in Leinster House, Deputy Connolly said that Leisureland was an excellent public facility that had been open since 1973 and had broke even for the last number of years, but had run into major funding shortfalls as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It is a fantastic swimming pool. I must declare a conflict of interest as I use it every weekend, It helps to keep me semi-sane and semi-fit.
“No public swimming pool makes money and few of them break even. This pool needed money due to Covid-19 and the difficulties experienced by every public swimming pool in the country. The management in the City Council said it was not in a position to give it money and that the swimming pool would have to close,” said Deputy Connolly, adding that the decision had been made and staff were informed.
Due to public pressure and resistance from local councillors, the decision was reversed and €207,000 in funding had been provided by the Council Executive.
“However, it pointed out that the money was coming out of next year’s budget, so it could not continue, and it would not be in a position to fund it.
“I do not expect miracles, but I expect commitment from the Minister and the Government that, regardless of what happens, we are not going to close public swimming pools or public libraries. They are essential services,” said Deputy Connolly.
She said €2.5 million in funding had been made available for “swimming pools with public access” in the private sector as part of the Government’s July Stimulus package, but nothing for publicly-owned facilities.
“It is very ironic if we are going to keep private swimming pools open once they have some limited access to the public, while we close down the public swimming pools,” she added.
Responding, Minister Peter Burke said his Department was keeping spending and cash flow at local authorities under constant review and would continue to work with Galway City Council to address issues.
“My Department is engaging with representatives of the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the financial challenges facing local authorities as a direct consequence of the pandemic, in terms of additional costs incurred as part of the local government response and decline in local authority income streams.
“I will do my very best with regard to the Deputy’s ask. I would be willing to meet a delegation from the City Council in connection with this issue. However, there are going to be significant asks emanating from this crisis. We are doing our very best to make what we have go as far as it can. It presents a major challenge,” said Minister Burke.