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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ombudsman warns Government over applying whip

Ombudsman warns Government over applying whip

The Irish Times - Thursday, July 21, 2011

PAUL CULLEN, Political Staff

OMBUDSMAN EMILY O’Reilly has warned the Government against applying the whip at a new Oireachtas committee set up to deal with the grievances of citizens.

Ms O’Reilly said she fully accepted the right of the Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions to reject her findings but she warned that it would be less than satisfactory if the Government applied the party whip on votes.

Ms O’Reilly also warned of serious implications for the independence of her office if the committee were to seek a role in reviewing her office’s decisions.

As far as it was concerned, she said, there were only two avenues open to people who were dissatisfied with the decision of the ombudsman in their case – an internal review or court action.

The new committee, chaired by Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín, plans to introduce a petitions system similar to that operating in other parliaments and to act as a “clearing house”, directing complaints to other bodies.

Ms O’Reilly appealed for an extension of her remit to cover the areas of prisons, aliens and the process of naturalisation. Her office was one of the few ombudsman’s offices in Europe whose jurisdiction was restricted to exclude these areas, she told the committee.

While there was a non-statutory inspector of prisons appointed by the Minister for Justice, there was no independent oversight of complaints about prisons.

She acknowledged debates about prisoner issues could be emotive, but insisted they had the same rights of redress as anyone else in society. Her stance received support from Charlie Flanagan, chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, who said prisoners should have the opportunity to communicate directly with Ms O’Reilly’s office.

Comment: The Coalition should bear in mind the highlighted sentences ready for when the recess is over, in particular in relation to prisoners votes. Bear in mind that the ECtHR has given the UK until 11 October to change the law.

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