Tag Archives | Fine Gael

Some good but some pointless changes proposed – New Consumer Protection Legislation (1 of 5)

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has proposed new consumer protection legislation changes (logo)Back in May 2015, some extensive changes to consumer protection rights legislation were announced by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Richard Bruton, TD. Given the usual legislative delays plus the interjection of an election, the proposals haven’t progressed into law yet, but should they be, there are some interesting implications for consumers – some positive, some negative and some downright meaningless.

Some of these proposed changes have received more media coverage than others – particularly those instituting some rules for the issuing of vouchers and gift cards – including some significant coverage over the Christmas period.  For the record, I’ve frequently written here on the evil that is buying vouchers as gifts, or at all – see here my listing of reasons not to buy vouchers for any reason, so if these proposals didn’t ban vouchers completely, I’m probably not inclined to be interested.

But I’ll come back to vouchers later. In the coming days, I’ll publish my thoughts on a few sections of the proposed legislation, including a post highlighting what I think is a major gap that I think could, or should, have been addressed, but wasn’t.

Obviously, the potential for a change in government (particularly now that it’s not even definite that Fine Gael will continue to be the main players in the relevant Department) could mean that these proposals might not go through in their current form. Though, it’s worth noting that the 2011 change in government didn’t impact on the Fianna Fail plans to merge the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency into the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, even though such a proposal was never previously on the cards for Fine Gael or Labour.

What might change?

In summary, the changes proposed in this legislation are as follows:

  • Expiry dates on gift vouchers and gift cards will be banned
  • Consumers who receive products or services as a gift will be entitled to the same rights as if they bought the product or service themselves
  • Consumers will get a standard 30-day period during which they will have the right to return a faulty product and get a full refund, without going through the repair / replace shenanigans
  • Consumers downloading or streamlining digital content will now receive statutory rights, similar to what they receive when buying physical items
  • Consumers purchasing services will have their rights strengthened, such as now receiving the right to a repair or a refund for crappy service
  • Consumers of certain services (healthcare, social services, gambling) will now be entitled to additional information regarding transactions they undertake – e.g. GP pricelists.

Summary Conclusions

In short, it’s my opinion that the gift vouchers changes are merely there for their headline grabbing appeal. It’s one of those consumer laws being brought in to protect people who can’t be bothered looking after themselves.

I don’t know enough to comment on how necessary the additional statutory rights for online downloads were, but I do think the changes with regards to strengthening consumer rights when purchasing services is to be welcomed, though is likely to prove very problematic for consumers to actually benefit from those particular changes. The key sticking point here is likely to be how a substandard service is defined / identified / proven.

Importantly, while the automatic 30-day refund period for faulty products could probably have the biggest impact on making consumers purchasing experiences significantly better, it is also likely to be opposed most rigorously by retailers who hide behind the existing repair / replace options within consumer legislation to ensure they never have to return money to consumers for crappy products.

Finally, I do see one glaring gap right now in the information rights proposals for the new legislation. I can’t argue with proposals such as requiring GPs to hang price lists on the wall. Though, in the interests of consumers looking after themselves – have we lost the ability to ask up front what the charges would be?

First up then, in my next blog post I’ll look more at the 30 day refund rule, the “consumer rights by proxy” for recipients of gifts, and the voucher / gift card changes.

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Finding Real Value – here’s the last update from Fine Gael website, Ripoff.ie

While the old domain name ripoff.ie, as taken on by Fine Gael in 2003 now redirects to the main Fine Gael website, you can actually still read all of their old content here. As you can see on their 2009 update, detailing their “Finding Real Value” policy document, they’ve pretty much left it all behind given their recent budget.

Top of the list:

Reversing measures in Budget 2009 which are driving up prices, including the VAT increase to 21.5% and transport fares

Funny, eh?

If you're reading this, you're probably on a PC with internet filtering, or a poor connections, so you're missing a picture of the old Fine Gael Ripoff.ie website

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New government, same old guff in the Dail

I use the excellent KildareStreet.com to keep in touch with what’s being said in the Dail that’s related to the area of interest for this website – i.e. consumer affairs. (I’ve written about the site a few times before – see here).

It was a regular question from members of the opposition during the last Dail to ask Fianna Fail / Green ministers when the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority merger was going to actually go ahead.

This merger was announced first in the 2009 budget (way back in October 2008), but nothing has been done to progress this merger since. I wrote about this previous, guessing that it’s a merger that wasn’t welcomed by the Competition Authority in particular.

As an example of the previous opposition questioning, back in October 2010, Joe McHugh TD (FG -Donegal NE) asked the following question:

To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation his views on the changes in the organisation structures and delivery of back office support which have been made since the announcement of the merger of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority; the values of the savings made; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The then Minister responsible, Batt O’Keefe TD didn’t answer the question directly, merely filling space and time with a non-statement.

We’ve now been treated to a new government and thankfully, a new opposition, yet we’re still getting the same questions asked, and not answered.

On the 20th of April, Willie O’Dea TD (FF – Limerick City) asked the following question of the Taoiseach:

When can we expect to see the consumer and competition Bill that will merge the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency?

To which, Enda Kenny responded (or not really):

I cannot give the Deputy an accurate answer. We do not yet have a date for the Bill’s introduction. I shall report its progress as it moves through the system.

I think it’s enormously disappointing how poor Fine Gael have been in Government since they’ve taken over. They had such a great opportunity (in so many ways) to show they were different from Fianna Fail, yet they’ve shown nothing to prove that they’re any different in any way.

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Readers E-mail: Fine Gael Jobs Proposal

This e-mail came through from a ValueIreland.com reader some time ago, but I’m only getting a chance to publish now. What do you think?

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am enthralled by the continuous claims being made by Fine Gael with regard to creating thousands of new jobs if they were to get into power. How could it be that Fine Gael know how to do this and yet the government are unable to come up with such magnificent plans? Do Fine Gael have some strange ability to see what the government are unable to see?

Why is this government ignoring these ideas if they are worthwhile considering?

I fear this government is running scared and and feel they are unable to retrieve the situation and get it under control. At present they are negotiating with the Trade Unions which are behaving like terrorists by making threats on a daily basis.

This is no way to behave during times of financial trouble. True it is not the fault of the employees of the Public Sector that this country is costing too much to run on a daily basis. It is in fact a combination of the Trade Unions and the government that these employees have gained such large increments over the past decade that they now have financial commitments that do not allow them to absorb these reductions in salary.

However, it is also fair to say that these same employees are reasonably secure in employment and do not have the same security worries as being experienced on a daily basis in the private sector. Although this is no excuse for claiming the reductions in salary across the board in the Public Sector are justified.

I would like to know why Trade Union subscriptions are tax deductible. Would the Trade Unions have as many members if these payments were taxable? I feel the membership of these Unions would be possibly halved if this was to be the case.

Isn’t it time the Trade Unions told their members the real truth about the state of the countries finances. Ireland is spending too much money on a daily basis to pay for Public services. We have some employees in the Public and Civil service that are too well paid for the hours they work. We have frontline services suffering due to overstaffing in administration and senior management level.

Why do we need 166 T.D’s when 78 would be sufficient? This would give each county 3 T.D’s. These T.D’s should be forced to spend their time running the country and not in local clinics or going to funerals trying to secure votes. Votes should be secured by doing what we are all paying them to do. There are thousands of areas in Public expenditure which could be reduced without having to reduce anymore salaries in the lower to middle income earners in the Public Sector.

The HSE is purchasing products such as toilet rolls, liquid hand cleanser and hundreds of other products which are being sourced from outside Ireland. Why do we not have a factory in Ireland to manufacture these goods and supply the HSE among other businesses? It would create thousands of jobs through manufacturing and supply.

Ireland is a agricultural land and yet we allow so many goods that are being grown in Ireland to be imported into this country. It is time this government got behind the farming community and started to grow more produce to prevent or reduce the import of these goods. Manufacturing plants could be set up to process and package these goods into strongly branded Irish goods. A wholesaling and distribution division could also be formed to sell to the retailers in Ireland and retailers globally.

The possibilities are endless. All it takes is for the government to provide good financial incentives to producers and farmers. With the correct implementation of these incentives we will eventually become a stronger economy less dependent on foreign direct investment. We will become a sustainable economy with a much brighter future and one in which will become a better place to live and work.

Every cloud has a silver lining and this could be our silver lining if the government are willing to help get people back to work. It will not happen overnight but it could happen reasonably quickly. It would release the pressure being put on the employees in the Public Sector to take more cuts in their salaries. I would also suggest reviewing the performance of some senior Public and Civil Service employees.

I do not think they are all doing the work they claim. If they were we would not be in the mess we are in right now. It is unfair on the honest hard working employees within this sector to punish them for the behaviour of the few hundred or thousand that are not pulling their weight.

Ireland with less than 50,000 unemployed and a happy and prosperous population in excess of 5 million sounds like a good place to be. It is up to every person in Ireland to ensure this government gives us this future.

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How to get free groceries – according to Dr. James Reilly, TD

There was an exchange in the Dail last week (as recorded on KildareStreet.com) where Dr. James Reilly, Fine Gael TD for Dublin North provided an insight into how consumers can get free groceries.

James Reilly
I wish to raise two matters. First, as a result of all the recent hospital bed closures around the country, people have to wait even longer for service and lie on trolleys for even longer then they did hitherto. Will the Taoiseach inform the House when the eligibility for health personal services Bill will be introduced? Will he consider inserting a provision in that Bill that if a person is waiting more than two hours in an accident and emergency department, he or she should not have to pay the fee of €100?

Bernard Durkan
Hear, hear!

James Reilly
There is a precedent for such a provision. If customers are waiting in some supermarkets for longer than 25 or 30 minutes, they will not have to pay for their groceries.

I must say, this is a new one on me. Does anyone know which supermarkets provide this service?

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How come we still can’t stop “Tiger Kidnappings”? Ability or inclination?

Tiger Kidnappings
Right, before I get into this post, regular readers are probably familiar that I’m quite keen on my conspiracy theories, but I’m not trying to build one in this article.
Having said that, I really really can’t grasp why we’re still seeing so called “Tiger Kidnappings” in this country.
Personally, I’m fully convinced that at least one recent tiger kidnapping (and fairly large) and robbery was an inside job, but you have to think that with the levels of technology and security available to banks these days, that a fool proof way of preventing these thefts could be developed.
Now, banks have put procedures in place in the last year or so that are supposed to help in these tiger kidnapping situations, but as this article highlights (http://www.independent.ie/national-news/gardai-to-grill-boi-chiefs-after-tiger-kidnap-security-lapses-1923541.html) there’s not a whole lot can be done if the staff in question don’t actually follow the guidelines put in place.
Bank management ignored alert guidelines, which were drawn up by all of the financial institutions with the gardai and the Department of Justice, to protect the hostages taken in a tiger kidnap and help end the spate of similar robberies.
Reacting to this, Charlie Flanagan of Fine Gael completely pointlessly had this to say:
Fine Gael’s justice spokesman has said internal security staff at Bank of Ireland should consider their positions if they are unwilling to co-operate with agreed procedures between themselves and the Gardai.
For someone who expects to be part of a Government in the near future that will probably still have these robberies to address, shouldn’t this really have read:
Fine Gael’s justice spokesman has said that Bank of Ireland management should review the positions of their internal security staff at the bank if they are unwilling to co-operate with agreed procedures between themselves and the Gardai. Mr. Flanagan said that failure to fulfill contracted paid duties as part of their employment should result in the dismissal of such staff.
Simple as – you don’t do your job, you get fired.
Back in December, the Sunday Business Post published this interesting article on the phenomenon – How can Gardai tame the tiger kidnappings? http://archives.tcm.ie/businesspost/2008/12/28/story38410.asp
many instances of tiger kidnapping have occurred throughout the world – with Ireland, Britain and Belgium being the more likely locations for such a crime. There are at least 30 tiger kidnappings a year in Ireland and most are perpetrated against the immediate family of a member of staff while in their own homes.
Obviously there remains the question as to what can be done to prevent these robberies from occurring. I mentioned above that sure the levels of technology and security at the disposal of banks could ensure that they don’t happen. However, this article in the SBP points out:
The nature of the crime could be described as ‘asymmetric criminality’, because it employs simple psychological coercion to combat hi-tech security.
The only way to combat the crime is through avoidance of routine and developing what is termed ‘situational awareness’.
So it actually could come down to very simple procedures that could be most effective at preventing tiger kidnapping and robberies.
1. Avoidance of routine – don’t always have the same person responsible for the money every day.  Have more than one person responsible – 2 different people randomly responsible each day. In a bank branch of 25 employees, that would mean more potential combinations of employees with access on any one morning for any of these gangs to be able to cover.
2. I presume bank staff are provided with some sort of home and/or car security in the event of being approached. Even personal alarms of some sort would be enough to alert the necessary authorities of a problem.
3. There are already procedures in place for what should be done in the event of a tiger kidnapping and attempted robbery. It would probably be a good idea if these procedures were followed.
4. How about a system that prevents access to a bank to any staff outside of working hours? Any access outside of hours must be arranged in conjunction with security personnel, bank management and the Gardai?
Obviously, the stress and fear that a bank employee is under in such situations is incomprehensible for me. This BBC story, Can ‘tiger kidnappings’ be prevented?, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7154374.stm has a quote from John O’Connor, former head of the Flying Squad in the UK:
“One way (to prevent these occurrences) is to have a system whereby more than one person needs to be present for a door or a vault to open, but even then if someone’s family has been kidnapped, they will do everything they can to persuade their colleague to come in and help them.”
I referred to an “inside man” above – and obviously, the presence of such an inclined person within the staff of a bank may be hard, if not impossible, to prevent. However, having strict and always followed procedures within a bank would also mean that even if such a person was inclined, they’d know that in their particular branch, it would be pointless to even attempt such a robbery because procedures are followed so stricktly.
The infamous Securitas robbery in the UK in which £52 million was stolen depended on an “inside man” to get the key information necessary to allow the gang responsible to right man to target for the tiger kidnapping.
This “inside man” was familiar with the procedures within Securitas at the time:
“We were given a card with an 0800 telephone number on it, and were told that if we were kidnapped we should ring that number, which I thought was a bit strange.”
Strange? How about completely useless, pointless, inappropriate and unfeasible?
I really don’t know. Simple straightforward procedures, rigidly followed, combined with up to the minute technology and security techniques have to be the solution to preventing these robberies completely.
Then again, maybe I’m being too simplistic here. What do you think?

I wrote this post last week following some prompting from a ValueIreland.com reader, and based on some thoughts of my own. Given yesterdays events in Kilkenny, tiger kidnappings becomes topical again.

And just before I get into this post, regular readers are probably familiar that I’m quite keen on my conspiracy theories, but I’m not necessarily trying to build one in this article.

Having said that, I really really can’t grasp why we’re still seeing so called “Tiger Kidnappings” in this country.

Personally, I’m fully convinced that at least one recent tiger kidnapping (and fairly large) and robbery was an inside job, but you have to think that with the levels of technology and security available to banks these days, that a fool proof way of preventing these thefts could be developed.

Now, banks have put procedures in place in the last year or so that are supposed to help in these tiger kidnapping situations, but as this article highlights there’s not a whole lot can be done if the staff in question don’t actually follow the guidelines put in place.

Bank management ignored alert guidelines, which were drawn up by all of the financial institutions with the gardai and the Department of Justice, to protect the hostages taken in a tiger kidnap and help end the spate of similar robberies.

Reacting to this, Charlie Flanagan of Fine Gael completely pointlessly had this to say:

Fine Gael’s justice spokesman has said internal security staff at Bank of Ireland should consider their positions if they are unwilling to co-operate with agreed procedures between themselves and the Gardai.

For someone who expects to be part of a Government in the near future that will probably still have these robberies to address and deal with, shouldn’t this really have read:

Fine Gael’s justice spokesman has said that Bank of Ireland management should review the positions of their internal security staff at the bank if they are unwilling to co-operate with agreed procedures between themselves and the Gardai. Mr. Flanagan said that failure to fulfill contracted paid duties as part of their employment should result in the dismissal of such staff.

Simple as – you don’t do your job, you get fired.

Back in December, the Sunday Business Post published this interesting article on the phenomenon – How can Gardai tame the tiger kidnappings?

many instances of tiger kidnapping have occurred throughout the world – with Ireland, Britain and Belgium being the more likely locations for such a crime. There are at least 30 tiger kidnappings a year in Ireland and most are perpetrated against the immediate family of a member of staff while in their own homes.

Obviously there remains the question as to what can be done to prevent these robberies from occurring. I mentioned above that sure the levels of technology and security at the disposal of banks could ensure that they don’t happen. However, this article in the SBP points out:

The nature of the crime could be described as ‘asymmetric criminality’, because it employs simple psychological coercion to combat hi-tech security.

The only way to combat the crime is through avoidance of routine and developing what is termed ‘situational awareness’.

So it actually could come down to very simple procedures that could be most effective at preventing tiger kidnapping and robberies.

  1. Avoidance of routine – don’t always have the same person responsible for the money every day.  Have more than one person responsible – 2 different people randomly responsible each day. In a bank branch of 25 employees, that would mean more potential combinations of employees with access on any one morning for any of these gangs to be able to cover.
  2. I presume bank staff are provided with some sort of home and/or car security in the event of being approached. Even personal alarms of some sort would be enough to alert the necessary authorities of a problem.
  3. There are already procedures in place for what should be done in the event of a tiger kidnapping and attempted robbery. It would probably be a good idea if these procedures were followed.
  4. How about a system that prevents access to a bank to any staff outside of working hours? Any access outside of hours must be arranged in conjunction with security personnel, bank management and the Gardai?

Obviously, the stress and fear that a bank employee is under in such situations is incomprehensible for me. This BBC story, Can ‘tiger kidnappings’ be prevented?, has a quote from John O’Connor, former head of the Flying Squad in the UK:

“One way (to prevent these occurrences) is to have a system whereby more than one person needs to be present for a door or a vault to open, but even then if someone’s family has been kidnapped, they will do everything they can to persuade their colleague to come in and help them.”

I referred to an “inside man” above – and obviously, the presence of such an inclined person within the staff of a bank may be hard, if not impossible, to prevent. However, having strict and always followed procedures within a bank would also mean that even if such a person was inclined, they’d know that in their particular branch, it would be pointless to even attempt such a robbery because procedures are followed so stricktly.

The infamous Securitas robbery in the UK in which £52 million was stolen depended on an “inside man” to get the key information necessary to allow the gang responsible to right man to target for the tiger kidnapping.

This “inside man” was familiar with the procedures within Securitas at the time:

“We were given a card with an 0800 telephone number on it, and were told that if we were kidnapped we should ring that number, which I thought was a bit strange.”

Strange? How about completely useless, pointless, inappropriate and unfeasible?

I really don’t know. Simple straightforward procedures, rigidly followed, combined with up to the minute technology and security techniques have to be the solution to preventing these robberies completely.

Then again, maybe I’m being too simplistic here. What do you think?

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UK Government proposes a “Consumer Tsar” – do we need one too?

Recently, I asked the question here as to whether Irish consumers should expect a better level of consumer advocacy and protection than is currently provided by either the Consumers Association of Ireland, the National Consumer Agency or other consumer related agencies, quangos and other supposedly responsible organisations.

In the past few days, on a slightly related note, we’ve also seen a number of calls for retail or grocery ombudsman. Whether or not this would add to the protection provided to the consumer, or would just become another useless quango organisation set up to give the impression of something being done, but actually isn’t, remains to be seen. My two (initial) cents is that it’s a ridiculous idea based on what I’m seeing proposed at the moment but I’ll come back to that in the coming days.

Maybe the solution to all our consumer woes here in Ireland can be seen in the framework currently being proposed in the UK where there are moves afoot to provide what’s being called a “consumer tsar”?

According to an article in The Guardian, National consumer champion to help people get their money back , the British consumer will benefit from a proposal that:

A high-profile national “consumer champion” is to be appointed by the government to help people get their money back when things go wrong and fight for redress over personal finance problems such as unauthorised overdraft charges.

Whilest this proposal is amongst a raft of other consumer related legislation being proposed to help out the British consumer, this particular proposal interestingly came about:

After recognising the valuable role of newspapers’ own consumer champions in exposing bad practice by financial companies and publicising key issues of consumer concern, the government is to appoint a new “consumer advocate”.

A key feature of this proposal is that the consumer be educated to help them fight for their rights and to get their own money back. Though, as pointed out by the Guardian Money Blog, maybe it’s the businesses that are screwing the customers who need to be educated rather than the consumer.  As I’ve found with many of the e-mails I receive at ValueIreland.com, Irish consumers know their rights and what they’re entitled to in many cases, but they just struggle to get them from many businesses.

By the sounds of things, what’s being proposed in the UK is almost an institutionalisation of the BBC Watchdog programme – a high profile consumer advocate taking on big business on behalf of consumers.

Would this work in Ireland? In name at least, it does sound like the “Consumer Rights Enforcer” that was proposed some years ago by Fine Gael. (Though, upon reading that legislation proposed, that role proposed by FG was no more than the National Consumer Agency with a different name but appointed in a different way).

On the basis that, as I have opined many times here already, consumer advocacy and protection in Ireland needs to be completely shaken up in order to truly advance the cause of the Irish consumer, and not the vested interests supposedly protecting them, then maybe a well thought out position such as this could work here.

What do you think? Who could do this – Eddie Hobbs? Or based on the journalistic slant of the UK proposal, how about Charlie Weston? Or Conor Pope?

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How upset is Eddie Hobbs at leaving the NCA?

So upset that he’s refusing to believe that the National Consumer Agency exists at all maybe? His website still refers to the Office of Director of Consumer Affairs which ceased to exist in 2007 when the NCA took over it’s powers, and no mention at all of the NCA.

Then again, the National Consumer Agency is so useless and does so little, maybe it is difficult to actually remember that it’s there. Even Fine Gael, on their RipOff.ie website, gets it wrong:

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Ringing Government Departments on 1890 LOCALL numbers

This article from Mondays Pricewatch column in the Irish Times from Conor Pope highlights a reader, Mannix, who takes issue with the fact that many government departments provide 1890 contact numbers. While these numbers appear to be cheaper, given their LOCALL and CALLSAVE descriptions, for the reader who uses an O2 mobile, it actually costs significantly more.

This is an issue that I’m constantly highlighting on the SayNoTo1890.com website. In fact, a very committed reader has been chasing many of the regulatory organisations within the country to see if anything can be done about this issue, but without any success. ComReg, the National Consumer Agency, the Competition Authority, and the Minister at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamonn Ryan, all say its not their problem. And obviously, the mobile companies who make a huge profit from these calls don’t want to know either.

The research, referred to in Conors article, carried out by Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael is available on their RipOff.ie website here.

The SayNoTo1890.com A-Z geographical alternative telephone number page on the site provides landline numbers for many government departments, including all but 2 of the 21 departments referenced on the Fine Gael website. Calling these numbers instead of the 1890 numbers means that people can call from their mobile without incurring the higher costs.

I’m constantly on the look out for more of these geographical alternative numbers, so if you know of any others, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list. The two from the Fine Gael listing that I don’t have are the National Treatment Purchase Fund and bizarrely given that it’s most likely to be called from a mobile, the Garda Traffic Watch hotline.

 

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

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Fine Gael – Do as we say, not as we do!

It was a pity to see over the weekend that Fine Gael had their National Conference in Whites Hotel in Wexford Town.

Whites Hotel, and an associated company, are at the centre of a dispute with contractors and sub-contractors who are alleging that they haven’t been paid approximately €3.2m for recent work done on renovating the hotel.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, given the recent protests and the controversy over the manner in which the hotel renovations were completed, you’d have thought that Fine Gael would have stayed away.

Ignoring what’s going on isn’t really ending the “softly softly” approach that Fine Gael demanded when they proposed the Consumer Rights Enforcer that would stand up for consumers rights.

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