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Ombudsman’s role to be extended as Oireachtas approves reform bill

The government has billed the legislation as the “most significant expansion” of the Ombudsman’s powers in 30 years.

Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly will now have the power to investigate the actions of a larger number of public bodies.
Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly will now have the power to investigate the actions of a larger number of public bodies.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE ROLE of the Ombudsman in scrutinising the behaviour of public bodies is to be extended, after the Oireachtas approved a bill extending the number of bodies over which the office has oversight.

The Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill completed its passage through the Oireachtas yesterday evening and is now likely to be signed into law by President Higgins this weekend.

The Bill will mean that, for the first time, the Ombudsman will have the power to scrutinise the actions of VECs, universities and colleges, as well as other bodies which had been set up after the Office of the Ombudsman itself – including FÁS and the Courts Service.

The Bill has also been written such that any public body created in future will automatically fall under the Ombudsman’s remit, unless the legislation setting it up gives it an automatic legal disclaimer.

The legislation was originally tabled by the last government, and had been cleared through the Dáil in 2010 – but the legislation had not been presented to the Seanad before the government collapsed. It was restored to the Seanad’s agenda last month and has now been approved in its entirety.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, said the reforms were the “most significant expansion” of the Ombudsman’s role since the office was first introduced.

“The enactment of this legislation will represent an important milestone in the Government’s programme of reform,” he said.

Howlin added that the reforms were “expected to further strengthen the standing of the citizen in their dealing with public bodies, ensuring that fair treatment is always provided, as well as improving the quality of decision-making”.

Read: Complaints to Children’s Ombudsman rose by over 20 per cent last year

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