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Committee on Public Petitions debate -
Tuesday, 9 Mar 2021

Irish Ombudsman Forum: Discussion

I welcome everybody to our public virtual meeting this afternoon using Microsoft Teams. I thank the Business Committee for agreeing to this public meeting of the Committee on Public Petitions during the level 5 restrictions. We have made every effort to mitigate the risk of the new variants of Covid-19 to members, witnesses and staff. Apologies have been received from Deputy Griffin and Senator Gerard Craughwell.

I must read some formal notices. Members, witnesses and staff are requested to use the wipes and hand sanitizer provided to clean seats and desks that are shared so as to supplement regular sanitation. This will help to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 spreading among the parliamentary community.

I remind members of the constitutional requirements that they must be physically present within the confines of the places in which Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House and-or the Convention Centre Dublin, to participate in public meetings. I will not permit a member to participate where he or she is not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. Are all members of the committee within the precincts of Leinster House or the Convention Centre Dublin? As the members have indicated in the affirmative, I will proceed.

I wish to explain to the witnesses some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards reference they may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected, pursuant to both the Constitution and statute, by absolute privilege. However, the witnesses are giving evidence remotely from a place outside of the parliamentary precincts, and as such they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present. Witnesses may think it appropriate to take legal advice on this matter. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if statements are potentially defamatory in regard to an identifiable person or entity, witnesses will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction.

I will now to the discussion on the terms of reference of the committee. The first witness to address the first meeting of the then Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions on 20 July 2011 was the then Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, who discussed the terms of reference of the committee, including the relationship between the Ombudsman and the Houses of the Oireachtas. Since 2011, many Ombudsmen have appeared before the committee and other committees considering their annual and special reports. However, ten years later, we are once again reviewing the terms of reference of the committee, including the relationship with the Ombudsman.

On behalf of the committee I would like to extend a warm welcome to the following witnesses from the Irish Ombudsman Forum: Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, chair of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; and Mr. Peter Tyndall, Ombudsman. The witnesses will have ten minutes to make their opening statements and members will have five minutes each for questions and answers. We should have enough time to have a second round of questions. I invite Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring to make her opening statement. She will be followed by the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

I thank the Chairman and the gentlemen, as I note the committee membership is all male, for this opportunity to appear before them today to discuss a topic that I am returning to for a second, if not a third, time. I think Mr. Tyndall has a greater historical relationship with the committee. We have sent in a letter, which I hope all the members have had an opportunity to peruse. I will talk about the generalities and Mr. Tyndall will then follow me to talk about, in particular, developments since we were last before the committee.

For a historical reference for the members' information, in January of 2016, when the committee was the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions under the then chairmanship of Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, it produced an excellent report on the issue of the role and remit of Ombudsmen and our relationship with the Oireachtas. Obviously, each of us has a partner, as I would prefer to call it rather not a parent, Department with which we have a relationship. Clearly, in my case it would be with the Department of Justice and for the Children's Ombudsman, it would be with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. In that regard, we have interested Departments to which we report and engage but as an organisation we have been anxious to have a single commission that looks at the Ombudsmen community. We have different remits. We have different audiences so different members of the public interact with the different Ombudsmen and like the members, we have this important role in respect of the public.

The members' role, as the Committee on Public Petitions, allows members of the public to come directly to them with petitions and so it sits nicely in terms of our joint interaction with the public. It sits nicely with this committee but there is more to it than that. In particular, the fact that we all have different constituents, so to speak, means that it would be important that somebody is keeping an oversight of the different Ombudsmen, the value that the different Ombudsmen give to the community and, in particular, the use that is made of that by the community, and also issues of governance, transparency, who makes up a commissioner or, in our case, an Ombudsman in other instances. It is having a committee of the Oireachtas that has that role as distinct from our partner Departments with which we have an ongoing statutory relationship.

It is for that reason we met seven years ago. We were anxious to progress this matter and get the issues identified by the previous committee. In its report, it looked into the area of what is an ombudsman, all of the philosophical issues and then how that all tied together in terms of a practical relationship with the petitions committee.

We are anxious that the public oversight role be restored to the committee's remit. It provides to the forum an important avenue of interaction as well as elements of governance and transparency. We are also anxious there would be more oversight of the international community of ombudsmen. The Venice convention is an important step in that regard. It is about finding a role in the Oireachtas to take ownership in a communal way, as opposed to an individual way, of the various ombudsmen who provide important roles vis-à-vis to the public.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

The most important development in respect of ombudsman institutions worldwide relates to the Venice Principles. These are the principles on the protection and promotion of the ombudsman institutions. Some committee members will be familiar with the Paris Principles, which set out the rules governing national human rights institutions. Up to now, we have not had a global standard by which ombudsman institutions and the legislation which creates them can be judged.

That was redressed when the Venice Principles were prepared by the Venice Commission in 2019 and subsequently adopted by the Council of Europe. More particular for us is the fact they were adopted by the UN in December of last year in a motion which was co-sponsored by Ireland. I pay tribute to the Irish representatives at the UN who played an active role in making sure this global standard was put in place.

Ireland was a co-sponsor of the motion that adopted the Venice Principles. Why does it matter? It codifies some of the issues we have discussed with this committee and its predecessors. It sets out the importance of a set of fundamental principles around independence, jurisdiction and powers. It sets out how those should be delivered in practice. It does not just say an ombudsman should be independent but it spells out that the appointment process should enhance independence. It sets out that the status of the post should enhance independence and authority and so on. It specifies sufficient funding should be in place to enable an ombudsman office to do its job.

It sets out the importance of a broad jurisdiction across public services. It allows for the kind of arrangement we have in Ireland where one has, for instance, the jurisdiction over the Garda covered by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. It does not require a single ombudsman office covering the whole of the public service. However, it does require that, of the ombudsman offices that exist, there must be comprehensive coverage across the public service.

It specifies the relationship with the parliament - the Oireachtas in our case - in a way which is different from what our practice has been in the past. It looks to the parliament having ownership of the legislation which creates ombudsman offices. As many of the services an ombudsman oversees are delivered by government, it is important the appointment process for an ombudsman should be seen to be independent of government. In our case, as I am appointed by the President following a vote in both Houses of the Oireachtas, we have some elements of that in place.

It also suggests the oversight of the legislation should sit with the parliament. Some committee members will be familiar with the fact the legislation governing the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman was driven by a committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly, not by the Administration in Northern Ireland. That is the kind of model that is used.

The convention also deals with the role of the Ombudsman in reporting to the Oireachtas and the purpose of that. The Ombudsman is essentially an officer of the Oireachtas. The Ombudsman has the role of reporting on public services to the Oireachtas. It can be done through an annual report which comes before the Oireachtas. Equally, it can be done with special reports.

There are various reasons for that relationship but I just want to focus on several of them. In the past and internationally, not every ombudsman recommendation was accepted or, if it was accepted, not every recommendation was implemented. Ireland actually has one of the best records internationally on that count. It was the Oireachtas that brought about the report, Lost at Sea, from one of my predecessors, Emily O'Reilly. It was many years before the recommendations were ultimately accepted. That is an important role. It also helps the committee in its job of holding the Government to account, insofar as that is the role of the Oireachtas and its committees. We give the committee evidence that adds to the picture it has of how well services are being delivered to people in the communities across Ireland.

On reporting in general, if I am reporting on an issue to do with health, I would expect the report to be considered by the health committee. As Ms Justice Ring said, many of the reports from GSOC would go to the justice committee. The reality is there are a lot of cross-cutting elements to reports. The annual report in my office would in fact impact on many committees and Departments. It is important there should be some locus for the engagement of the ombudsman community with the Oireachtas. We believe the role played by the committee's predecessor is a good way of doing that. We think too there is the possibility of developing that role further in order that a committee would look at whether Irish ombudsman legislation is fully compliant with the latest international standards and to propose changes if required.

I hope that sets out why we take our relationship with the committee as fundamental to the ombudsman institution but also to the Oireachtas.

I thank Ms Justice Ring and Mr. Tyndall for their presentations. I am looking forward to working closely with their offices. It is to be hoped it will be as close as it was with the previous committee. We are all here for the benefit of the public to improve things.

We will give people five minutes each if they indicate by raising their hands on their monitors. Everybody should be able to get back in. Before bringing other members in, I will ask a few questions. How do the witnesses find the current arrangements where the sectoral committees have two months to consider the annual or special reports of the Ombudsman? The Committee on Public Petitions considers reports not considered by the sectoral committee after two months. Second, there is a provision in Standing Orders whereby the committee may refer a petition to the Ombudsman. Do the witnesses think that referral could be a useful process? Third, there is a provision in Standing Orders which says the committee will not accept petitions about the decisions of an ombudsman. Do the witnesses have any views on this Standing Order? Does it uphold the independence of the Ombudsman? Last, what do the witnesses see as the essential difference between the role of the petitions committee and the role of the Ombudsman? The staff of the Ombudsman and the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas are all civil servants of the State. It was suggested that the petitions committee usually looks at the general case or the public body while the Ombudsman usually looks at a particular case or cases. Does Ms Justice Ring or Mr. Tyndall have an opinion on that?

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

I will start the ball rolling. On the annual report, under the legislation we must have the annual report with the Minister by 31 March so we are working day and night at the moment. Then it is a matter for the Department and the Minister to move it on. In the past, we have had delays in that for whatever reason. The danger is that the information we have put forward is out of date by the time it gets into the public arena. That, in effect, makes the annual report less impactful. The sooner the Department - whichever the Department supervising each ombudsman is - releases the report, the sooner it is available for public consumption, critique and information. In terms of any statutory requirement, I would be anxious that the Department to which the report goes should move quickly. We have noticed the Department has gotten better in that regard. If there is a slippage, somebody should be in a position to shortly afterwards question the relevant Department on why it has not published the annual report. I will let Mr. Tyndall take the question on referral to the Ombudsman and decisions of the Ombudsman.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

The opportunity for the committee to refer cases to the Ombudsman is a helpful one. Sometimes the cases would sit more easily in an investigative mode where somebody can look into the detail, check the files and so on. It might be easier for my office, rather than a committee, to deal with such cases. We have the opportunity, if a complaint is not made directly to us, to use own initiative powers to open a complaint. That is a useful way of dealing with things.

Whatever has happened that caused an injustice to them, some people reach a point where no resolution is possible so they will come to my office, come to me as Information Commissioner or go to a variety of places. Sometimes one can well understand why somebody is distressed and why they feel a sense of injustice but one can see that nobody has done anything wrong. For example, we get a lot of farmers who are unhappy about changes to agricultural grants which cause people who had payments for many years to stop getting them. It is because of changes to policy that this happens, and not because anybody is guilty of maladministration. It is a tricky one. It is helpful to give a sense of finality and the role of an ombudsman is to be the final stage in a complaint process or the petitions committee can fill that role. It is not helpful to have cases shuttling between us. We would be unlikely to accept a complaint the committee had considered. Having the Standing Order is helpful in that way.

A way we could think about moving forward in terms of cases that cut across both of us is by having a memorandum of understanding between the committee and the relevant Ombudsman offices which sets out in some detail who would take which complaints or how we would interact over complaints. If the committee thinks that is helpful, there are examples elsewhere we could provide to the committee as the basis for progress. We could work with the clerks on that.

I welcome Ms Justice Ring and Mr. Tyndall and thank them for appearing in front of the committee. We are doing important work at the moment to finalise our terms of reference. When we were last in public session, members of the committee sought a clarifying statement from the Chair regarding comments he made on Tipp FM. We have not had that statement yet and I would like to take it up at the next opportunity when we are in public session but today I will focus on what we are here to do. I will use my five minutes for a back-and-forth.

In relation to the submission that came in, there was talk of the lack of legal powers meaning that strong links to the Oireachtas were critical. Will Ms Justice Ring give us an idea of how strong those links are today? If we exclude 2020 from being an example year for reasons we know, is it correct to say that when Ms Justice Ring engages with the Oireachtas, she makes a formal request to the committee? If so, has that ever been refused or has she ever encountered delays she considered unacceptable in dealing with the matter at hand?

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

On my experience of Oireachtas committees, in my role in GSOC I have an ongoing relationship with the justice committee but it is usually a matter for them to call us before them. That is, 2020 aside, a yearly appearance. My relationship with the Committee on Public Petitions has been less frequent and, in my experience, it has been seeking clarity as to the role of the various ombudsmen vis-à-vis the petitions committee. Progress was made, the title was changed and it is moving forward. I think I speak for all of us when I say we are happy to have a relationship with the petitions committee but we need to work out what the role is, having regard to our various statutory relationships with other committees, how we can bring value to the committee and how it can assist us in our work.

I thank Ms Justice Ring. The suggestion of a memorandum of understanding is a good one and I would support that. I was interested in some of the work we did in advance of this session. There was a speech Mr. Tyndall made in 2015 in Turkey in which he made a point about "in exercising its role in considering petitions from members of the public the Committee [being our committee] will not accept petitions from members of the public about decisions already made by my Office." Will Mr. Tyndall elaborate on that? It suggests that where a citizen had their case dealt with by the ombudsperson and is not satisfied with the outcome, they would not be able to come to this committee, even though this committee would have oversight of the ombudspersons and their offices.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

I thank the Deputy. I know he has a particular interest in international matters because my colleague in Poland, Adam Bodnar, frequently mentions the Deputy's engagement with him.

I wanted to come back to the point I was making earlier about some sense of finality. The Ombudsman is a quasi-judicial role. Ordinarily, in a quasi-judicial role, the follow-up, if there is to be one, is about any matters of law that are subject to judicial review. The sense that people can try to find different routes is not helpful. There needs to be clarity and finality. That is the role of this. The purpose of a memorandum of understanding would be to make sure that appropriate complaints went to the appropriate place.

I have one more question for Mr. Tyndall in my remaining time about comments he made on the party Whip system and the role that we might have as a committee. One of his comments was that the Ombudsman should be heard and respected, beyond party Whips, in the Oireachtas. What does that mean with regard to oversight of legislation? I have done much work on Whip reform myself and the strict whip system that we have in the Oireachtas.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

That is an interesting question. It dates back to an issue that my predecessor had with the report that I mentioned, Lost At Sea, when the role of the Oireachtas as an independent body overseeing the Government was seen by the Ombudsman of the day to have been undermined by the use of the Whip system which, in that instance, prevented a debate about the report. Different ombudsman offices internationally have different levels of access to parliaments. Some get to speak in the plenary session of the parliament. Obviously, that is not at all consistent with our tradition and would not be appropriate, but it would be appropriate for there to be some point at which there can be discussion. In my tenure as Ombudsman, this has not been an issue. The creation of the committee and its original mandate grew directly out of the Lost At Sea issue, when it was highlighted that there had to be some access.

It is reasonable for a Government, if it so chooses, to reject an Ombudsman's recommendations. That is not something that happens regularly in Ireland, if at all, but there has to be some capacity for Parliament to scrutinise the Government's decision to ignore or reject the recommendation. That is what failed before the creation of this committee and why we were a little concerned when the powers of the committee were somewhat reduced. It was not that there was real and present danger. The relationship between the various ombudsman offices and the public services in our jurisdiction is good and the Oireachtas has been good in the way that it has supported our recommendations. I give the example of the Magdalen laundry redress scheme, where the Oireachtas played a critical part in making sure that the scheme was accessible to all those affected by their stays in the Magdalen laundries. It is working well at present but it does not do to be complacent. One has to have robust mechanisms if things are not working well. That is why we were reinforcing these issues.

I am out of time but the point about thinking about the future is well-made. I thank the witnesses for their answers. Please give my best to Adam Bodnar when speaking with him again.

I thank the witnesses. Regarding the power of the Ombudsman, I was a member of this committee in the previous Dáil and we received petitions which might cross over three Departments. Sometimes the petition would be referred to the three Departments and we might get one reply, then we do not know what ombudsman we are going to. Is there a system which we can tweak so that we can be more prudent? As Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring was saying, it is about producing something similar to the report. People do not realise how busy this committee can actually be. Much of it is important. We need a system where we can join up with the Ombudsman and the Department and convey that urgency so that we can get our replies faster and get them to the petitioners. Is there anywhere in a memorandum or the rules where we can set out our rules and state how we will do things from now on, which people which then be bound by? It would make it more efficient for all of us because it can be frustrating.

In this current climate, it is probably even more frustrating because getting information seems to have slowed down, and people outside this House are getting more frustrated and demanding. They want the answers yesterday but the way the process works makes it difficult. If we had a set of rules stating what the process is, at least one could go back to a constituent or petitioner and apologise if it is not going fast enough, but say that these are the rules and regulations. We would cover ourselves as well as everybody else. It would set out that from now on, things will not get lost on a shelf and have somebody ask where his or her reply is four months later. Is there some way to have that?

Mr. Peter Tyndall

It is frustrating for people when things take longer than one would want them to. I have a couple of points on that. One of the things that an ombudsman will try to do is to make sure that where the answer is not going to be helpful to a person, the person should not have to wait a long time for it. If a complaint has come to us more than a year after the incident, that falls outside our jurisdiction. We do not want somebody to wait for four months to be told that. Trying to establish a set of criteria to determine which are acceptable or not and which one can or cannot deal with, and making a decision quickly, is quite important. That process should be built in to the systems.

Regarding responses from Departments, these are strange times. In all of the different ombudsman legislation, there are requirements for co-operation from the bodies in our jurisdiction. The guards, for example, have to respond within a set time. A Department or local authority needs to respond to me within a set timeframe. The committee probably needs to find a way to establish a timeframe for itself. We have had to cut the HSE and the Department of Health some slack. I was talking to the complaints office at the HSE yesterday in a video call. It is trying to get an answer from a consultant about what happened in a particular incident. That consultant is up to their eyes dealing with Covid at present. If one knows that something is going to take a long time, one needs to tell people early that it will take a long time, and then they will be more prepared. If people are expecting a reply tomorrow and it does not come until next week, they will be upset, but if one tells them that it is not coming for three months, they will be delighted if it turns up in two months. One should try to create a sense of expectation.

The committee members and the committee clerks will know how long it typically takes to deal with things. Giving advice on that is helpful. Many of us publish on our websites information about particular kinds of complaints, which says that if they are complicated they take a long time typically.

I hope these are some helpful suggestions around how the committee perhaps provides information to members of the public who might approach the committee.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

It is incumbent on all of the ombudsmen organisations to keep under review for the purpose of educating the public the clarity of purpose and the clarity of expectation so that when people come to us they understand what we do and so they have an understanding of their expectation of the service we provide before they engage. That is a challenge. It is kept under review and it also has to go with the flow. At the moment the expectations have to be looked at in the light of Covid. Hopefully in the not too distant future that Covid light will be diminished. Certainly that is our challenge on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps something like a memorandum of understanding would help us and the committee to develop that clarity of purpose and expectation, for ourselves in our own interaction and also, ultimately, for the public.

I express our own wish that we could speed everything up but in the strange times we are in we have, as Mr. Tyndall has referred to, put in a small bit of slack and things will be a little bit slow. Hopefully, within a short distance over the summer and perhaps into the autumn things will start to speed up.

I welcome our witnesses. It is good to have them back with us. I join with Deputy Murphy in asking that the Chairman would bring clarity to the communication piece that he said he would address prior to our last meeting, which has not yet been done and which I believe he has a duty to do. As Deputy Murphy has said, we will not do it today because we have very important work.

In the context of Mr. Tyndall's last remarks on Covid-19, how is the resource situation for ombudspersons with regard to their work? Given the importance of electronic tools and social media for communication, and notwithstanding that traditional forms of participation are kept open, what is the position with resources?

Deputy Murphy referred to the paper given by Mr. Tyndall in Turkey in 2015 where he spoke about laying the special report before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Mr. Tyndall said that the Ombudsman legislation does not specify what action, if any, the Houses of the Oireachtas may take following receipt of a special report. In the context of our commentary around a memorandum of understanding what do the witnesses believe would be the appropriate response we should give? As a former chairman of a committee, is there merit in the ombudspersons appearing before the committee on a quarterly basis, as the HSE chief executive or the Minister do in the health committee? I am open to having a debate about this. Should there be an avenue such as a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas where the forum could present its annual report or its special report? I am aware that the Venice Principles talk of the importance of not damaging the role of the ombudsperson and that there should be no withdrawal of services. Under the Venice Principles around maladministration and the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, have there been petitions or requests from members of the public vis-à-vis the temporary restrictions of rights of people in the context of Covid-19?

Mr. Peter Tyndall

The issue around Covid is an interesting one. Ms Justice Ring will probably want to talk about the impact on the work of her office because it has been different for each of our offices. My office has what are known as "soft" phones, which essentially means that all of our phone lines can work from people's homes and we do not have to have people in the office to take phone calls on any of our numbers. Equally, we have the capacity to take complaints by email. We have a very well-used Twitter account where people approach us about complaints. We tend to direct them either to the phone or to the e-form on our website. We can take complaints in any number of formats. That has not changed.

We found there was a dip in complaint numbers initially but it picked up again. We have been able to deal with complaints more or less as efficiently as we had done when we were in the office. There are two changes that are important. One is that a lot of our work was outreach work. Every month we would have somebody in the citizens information centres in Cork, Galway and Limerick and people used that service. Some people liked to bring a file to us there or liked to come and talk to someone. Clearly we also had some business with people just coming into the main office in Dublin. We also had an extensive outreach programme with direct provision centres. We were about to introduce a similar programme for nursing homes. Where we have seen a reduction in complaints it is significant that the reduction in complaints has been in that outreach. We have had fewer complaints, for example, about direct provision. We have tried to provide outreach virtually. We have arranged for a room to be provided in direct provision centres where people can come to talk to us without being overseen by the staff in the centres. The reality was that a lot of the work we did in those centres was informal. A lot of the time a person might say "I cannot get a particular meal choice that suits my culture" and so on. We would just deal with it there and then. It did not show up in the formal complaints statistics but it was helping to make life better for people.

We have had specific complaints on the post-Covid situation. People first must complain to the body concerned. We have complaints at the moment such as visiting rights in nursing homes, as one would expect. We had a lot of complaints early on about the pandemic unemployment payment, just as it was settling down. We had very good co-operation with the Department and were able to resolve those quite quickly for people in general. If they were entitled to payments we made sure that they got them. There was confusion early on about the appeals mechanism but once that was properly put in place by the Department then the number of complaints coming to us reduced. We have also had to look at complaints about the leaving certificate calculated grades.

It has been different. People continue to complain to us. One of the things I always emphasise at committees is the role of Members of the Oireachtas in bringing complaints to my office. Many Members are very active in supporting constituents to complain. That is a very helpful route for us to make sure that things find their way to us that ought to.

In resource terms, not every office was the same. I am aware, for instance, that some of the offices have had to do things such as going in to listen to messages on answering machines because they were not able to divert their phones to people working at home. Some of us have had more challenges than others but it seems to me that everyone has risen to the challenge. They are all continuing to work and continuing to have an impact on improving the services they deal with.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

As with any ombudsman, I would say that we could use more resources.

In respect of the past year, in light of the fact that we had oversight of an essential service, we were therefore regarded as an essential service, so we have worked throughout the Covid period. We were lucky that we were in a position to provide our staff with the means to work from home electronically very quickly. As a result of having investigative staff, a number of people already had tablets and laptops before Covid hit. Therefore, we have been able to meet the challenge by working both in the office and remotely. Our investigators have met with witnesses, complainants and gardaí throughout, in a socially distant and Covid-appropriate way.

Interestingly, the number of complaints and queries made in 2020 increased. There continued to be complaints about Garda presence because there was perhaps more interaction at check points or queries were made about where people were vis-à-vis where their home was but, in fact, the increase was not down to Covid as such. Perhaps people have the ability and time to go online and discover they can make a complaint to various bodies via electronic means and the Internet. Therefore, complaints for 2020 increased. While we were getting complaints about Garda operational events, the complaint increase was not solely due to that.

I have one question. Could the commission identify the number of complaints about Covid checkpoints? Is that possible? If it is not, could-----

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

I can get back to the Senator. We have been keeping a running total and I will get my up-to-date numbers. However, many of the complaints were about the measurement of 5 km. For example, my idea of 5 km and that of the Senator might be a bit elastic. Similarly, with essential purposes, what I think is essential might not be the same as the Senator. Therefore, many complaints were matters which did not necessarily lead to investigations. I must say that we received many compliments, as well as complaints, in terms of interactions with the Garda, both at checkpoints, but also generally in the community. We have kept those separate and I will come back to the Senator with the exact numbers for the year, as of yesterday.

We have been able to meet the challenges and move forward but, of course, there have been new matters that would not have been anticipated, even this time last year. It has been an interesting year. Obviously, when members of the public feel aggrieved and go to an ombudsman office, delays are challenging, because they feel that they are not being treated well, or heard. When delays in responding are explained to them, they may understand it, but it still does not necessarily help with their grievance. Therefore, managing complainants across the ombudsman community over the last year has been a new dimension to the work we do.

On the issue of quarterly meetings, that is a great idea. As soon as we can work out our relationship with the committee, that would not be a difficulty.

Perhaps there could be a joint address to the Houses of the Oireachtas by one of the ombudsman offices or all of them?

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

We would be there for a long time if we all addressed the Houses. The difficulty with that would be each of us would be singing different songs, so to speak, because we have different relationships. We would need to work that out. The Office of the Ombudsman has the greatest cross-departmental relationship.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

I agree that it would be challenging to do that. The Ombudsman for Children's Office also has a big cross-cutting relationship, with jurisdiction across Government.

Deputy Devlin is waiting anxiously to speak.

I thank the witnesses for their most informative opening remarks. For me, the Irish Ombudsman Forum is an organisation with which I am newly familiar, so I read with interest the witnesses' correspondence to the committee.

I have a number of questions. First and foremost, I am interested in the number of cases that the ombudsman offices are dealing with on an annual basis. Ms Justice Ring said that 2020 was busier. Perhaps she could furnish the committee with more up-to-date information after the meeting.

The Office of the Ombudsman was established in 1984. Obviously, this committee is new but from 1984, what has the organisation's engagement with the Oireachtas been on annual basis, be it through annual reports or otherwise? Has engagement been very ad hoc? I note from Mr. Tyndall's remarks in September 2015 that from around 2002, engagement with the Oireachtas seemed to improve and become more formal. Today's step is most welcome, and it is great to formalise our relationship with the ombudsman offices. However, the MOU suggestion made by the witnesses is a very good one.

I am thinking about the expansion of this committee and, specifically, public petitions and those coming to us with their concerns, and, equally, others who approach the various ombudsman offices. How does that aspect fit into it? Obviously, an MOU is going to have to cover the approach to be taken if the relevant ombudsman office has dealt with a particular issue. Likewise, if the committee has dealt with an issue, the relevant office will not deal with it. I understand that. If we are going to go down that road, perhaps the name of the committee needs to be amended to ensure there is a formal recognition of our relationship with the Irish Ombudsman Forum. Maybe that is a discussion for another day. However, I certainly think an MOU is essential because I can think of several different elements to it, where the committee's work could really be blown out of proportion. How we go about that must be defined. It is a discussion that we have had as a committee.

I am going to quote from the correspondence the Irish Ombudsman Forum sent to the committee which states: "The Forum has also consistently argued for a single Committee to have an oversight of Ombudsman activity". That is where we are headed today and it is to be welcomed. Given the new nature of this committee, I ask Mr. Tyndall to describe the engagement of the ombudsman offices with the Oireachtas heretofore.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

The engagement with the Oireachtas in recent years has been good. By and large, ombudsman offices have had access to committees, as and when we have needed them. That has varied. As we outlined, some of the matters are very appropriate to the remit of certain committees. Generally, whatever the issue, my office has not experienced difficulty in engaging with the relevant committee. As stated by Ms Justice Ring, it is also the case for GSOC. Each of the offices, for instance, An Coimisinéir Teanga, has a good ongoing relationship with the relevant committee. The Office of the Children's Ombudsman also has very strong links with the relevant committee.

Access in recent years has been good, so we are not complaining about that. What we are saying in particular, as I stated in my earlier remarks, is that we need to be cautious that we do not become complacent because previously, when there was no formal basis for the engagement, it eventually went wrong when a committee was put in place with a specific locus to look at things that were not happening. It is worth saying that while recommendations are generally accepted, I suspect that a committee would also be interested in whether or not those recommendations have actually been implemented, and how well and how quickly they have been implemented.

It is one thing to say we agree with that, but another entirely to make it happen. There is a role for a committee in having that oversight.

To come back to the point I made earlier, there is no locus within the Oireachtas at the moment for oversight of the legislation governing the ombudsman offices. That was one of the things we were anxious to do, to see how this whole piece is working out. Are there things we need to do as a country to improve that? For instance, can we borrow from others who have had more recent experience in upgrading legislation? Those are some of the issues.

I emphasise we are not coming from a position where we had great difficulties in gaining access to committees. That is a historical problem. However, we want to see enshrined within the committee structure some protection for access, so there is a right of access. I come back to Senator Buttimer's comments that there is regularity to that access and a regular ongoing engagement. If it is dull, because everything is going smoothly, then we can keep it fairly brief and everybody can be happy. If it is not going smoothly, then there is a forum where any issues can be addressed.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

On the issue of the name, as indicated, the prior committee was named the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. That perhaps encompassed the role we are looking for in very succinct terminology. I urge the committee to look at the report of 21 January 2016 because some of these issues were debated by the then committee. Many of the recommendations and conclusions, five years down the road, are still good recommendations and conclusions. Why reinvent the wheel if that work is done?

Absolutely. I thank Ms Justice Ring. Principle 20 states the Ombudsman shall report to Parliament on the activities of the institution at least once a year. Is that done via committees the witnesses are linked with currently? Would it assist them if such a link existed with this committee to discuss the annual report or activities for the year?

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

It would assist us. Although it is done on an annual basis, life and politics being what they are, it could slip. It would be nice if somebody was minding us, to make sure that if there was slippage, for whatever reason, a team would come in to remind us and our partner Department that this slippage was occurring. It would keep us all straight.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

I will add slightly to that. The principles are very clear that the reporting arrangement between an ombudsman covering the public services, which includes GSOC, should be to Parliament. If there is a review of legislation, that is something I suspect will need some scrutiny. The annual report should, preferably, be laid before Parliament, or the Oireachtas, and then discussed in committee. It does not have to be in plenary session. However, it is very important, as Ms Justice Ring said, that reports come out in a timely fashion, because the learning from them is often critical.

I thank the witnesses for a very informative discussion. I also thank all the Senators and Deputies who contributed. I am a new committee member and I am learning quite a bit about this space as we go, although I do not think we have not sat publicly.

Ms Justice Ring makes a very important and timely point about the membership and gender of the committee. That is something we need to reflect on. If we are to embrace the narrative in this discussion, I support addressing the name of the committee. It is important that people understand our job and what we are doing, as is agreed among everyone. It is a question for the committee to ask itself. However, in the event we are dealing with a report or something not yet dealt with by another committee, would the secretarial assistance or expertise to deal with the substance of those reports be available to us? One of the issues in getting public time is that we share a secretariat. These are probably internal issues that the witnesses may or may not want to comment on.

Are there any legacy reports that need to be dealt with? How far back might we need to go? Are there any ombudsman offices that do not deal with a particular committee? Is there a body of work we would naturally have to deal with as a starting point? We talked about the name of our committee and public understanding of the Ombudsman's office. I have always wondered, and this is a personal observation and question for the witnesses, if there is any merit in changing the Ombudsman's name to something simpler. It is an imported, Swedish name. It is gender neutral in Swedish and gender neutral in English, arguably. We also have An Coimisinéir Teanga. We have precedence for changing the name and I wonder is there any merit in that? I thank the witnesses. It has been very informative. I look forward to working on this committee and to the witnesses' response.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

I will give the Senator an overview with more on the historical background. He will have noticed I am the only female who signed the letter; somebody is perhaps taking the Ombudsman's role too literally. I would obviously like to see how we could deal with that, going forward. There have been attempts to shorten and neutralise it but, on a serious note, the role of an ombudsman is an important one in a democratic society. It is important, however, that we look at it, to hold firm on the role of an ombudsman. Looking at the people who have signed the letter, there is a broad sweep of mandates and it is up to each of them to educate the public, and the committee, as to the scope or limitations of each of their roles. I am sure that can be done with a more regular relationship with the committee.

It is an area which is fraught in how we all move forward. For instance, it is not a state secret that there will be legislation, in the next number of uncertain months, on policing. Part of the matters under review will be the oversight for policing. If there is a proposal for an ombudsman, it will be important, whether in policing legislation and proposals or in any other proposals for reviewing or introducing an ombudsman, that a committee such as this looks critically at legislative proposals on the issue.

Is the proposed new ombudsman coming within the terms of the Venice Commission proposals? Is the new ombudsman being properly resourced, both financially and in terms of personnel? Will the proposed ombudsman have a clear channel of dialogue and answerability to a particular Department, or Departments, as the case may be? Where new legislation brings in proposals about an ombudsman and the role of an ombudsman, I could see a committee such as this being able to focus in, look critically at the legislative proposals on those issues and bring forward to their colleagues suggestions, amendments and talking points that would allow for a more consistent approach to the introduction of a revised or new ombudsman. Mr. Tyndall might want to add to that.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

That is very helpful. It is important, if we are to develop further offices, that they are consistent with what is now an international set of principles. It is a way of looking at things from that perspective.

The other point about what there is in terms of legacy is a very interesting one. I suspect that each of us, were we asked, and even if we do not have recommendations that have not been accepted, could go back and identify recommendations that have never been implemented. The ones that come to the front of my mind actually pre-date me. They are to do with disability transport schemes which were the subject of a report by my predecessor and which many of the members will have written to me about in respect of the unhappiness of their constituents. There are issues. I am sure, if the committee were to have regular meetings, it would be very helpful if we were to be asked to prepare lists of recommendations that either have not been accepted or have not yet been implemented. That would provide a useful basis for scrutiny.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

Following on from that, going back to looking at proposed legislation, in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which set up Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, we have no statutory power to make any recommendations. Is that something, if there were new legislation, for instance, that should be allowed to continue? We have a very short list of statutory recommendations we have made since 2005, and despite not having the power, we have made recommendations to An Garda Síochána about practice and procedure over the years. Because it has no statutory force, however, the Garda can, and has, ignored those recommendations. It is entitled to. If recommendations are something the committee sees as important, then it should scrutinise any new legislation to see if the proposed legislation has included that right for a new ombudsman or a revised ombudsman.

I thank the witnesses and I appreciate them sharing their thoughts on the legacy reports. We take note of that and the committee secretariat might take note of that as well.

The issue of titles would be an issue for the Oireachtas. Does that mean the forum does not have a formal view in terms of streamlining titles for ombudspeople? Is that a yes? There is no formal view. Do people understand what an ombudsperson does and is it an accessible title? I obviously wonder about the gender neutral issue. Primarily, is it an accessible title and do people understand what the office does? It would help in terms of accessibility if there were a streamlining of the title but that is a personal view.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

It is a global brand of course that has been around for more than 200 years so it does have a certain impact. One of the things we often say is that the important thing is that people know how to find us when they need us. The critical thing is that bodies dealing with complaints signpost members of the public to our offices. That is something we put a lot of effort into. For instance, I have recently agreed revised wording which all local authorities will use in letters when they receive complaints. In some ways, having a high public profile is helpful. It obviously attracts people to the office. Equally, even if we do not have such a profile, either through outreach or through signposting, it is essential people know how to find us. That is the critically important bit of it.

Coming back to the point about outreach, one thing Covid has taught me is that if a body is going to make itself accessible to groups of people who are less likely to be aware of the brand, the office and the work, then it must get out and talk to people to a much greater extent. We engage a lot with NGOs and we also provide regular training to staff of Citizens Information centres on the work of the offices so they can help people bring complaints. I mentioned about the role of Members of the Oireachtas in helping people to bring complaints to the offices. All of those elements help, but in the case of, for instance, people who are in prison, who are detained in mental health facilities, or who come to the State as asylum seekers and refugees and who may not have English as a first language, for us to sit in our offices and wait for them to come to us does not work. It comes back to the issue of resources. We need to rethink the model to the extent we extend our outreach to make sure we reach the groups of people who are often most dependent on public services and who are possibly least likely to be well placed to complain. That is an answer to a slightly different question but it is an important development we need to build on in the years ahead.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

The international element is important because we get complaints from new members of the Irish community. Perhaps it is because they had an engagement in their country of origin, as they sometimes call it, with an ombudsman's office. Even though their first language may not be English, they recognise the ombudsman from their national experience. There is a lot to be said about the fact it is an international brand as we become a more international outward-looking country in that regard.

I appreciate that and I thank the witnesses.

On the replies getting out faster, Mr. Tyndall mentioned we need a higher profile and outreach in county councils and so on. That will only bring so much. With all the new technologies, the likes of computers, phones and through social media, and this is in the forum report, could they be used and would they speed up things in getting information out to the public, both bringing in petitions and getting replies back out?

On the last point, resources are needed. I do not know whether it is us or the ombudsman's office that needs to get promotional material in different languages out to the main immigrant communities that have come into the country in recent years.

What feelings have the witnesses about using the smart technology in the report? There is mention of greater visibility and closer contact with the citizens. Could we use that kind of technology?

Mr. Peter Tyndall

Yes we can and yes we do. We could use it more. Ombudsman offices have all gone online and into social media to a much greater extent in recent years, as I have said. We try to encourage people to use the web form as the principal means of submitting complaints. We always need to be aware there are plenty of people out there who prefer to write or speak on the phone, so these processes cannot be used instead of the old methods. We are working on our web form currently to make it more accessible and to give more interaction with people complaining. For example, if they are trying to complain about a particular local authority service, it would bring up information about what we can and cannot do with claims about the service or it would signpost people elsewhere. As I have said, Twitter has been a good platform for us and many people have reached us on that.

Interestingly, in developing countries and certainly in Africa, the ombudsman community relies very heavily on mobile phones because it is one of the few means of communication that is pretty universal. They use those processes a lot in some countries, and sometimes in a more sophisticated way than we do. We have been slow and there are challenges in giving people information about the status of a complaint via the website. We do that via email but it can be helpful for people to be able to log on without needing interaction with us. It is an area we can certainly improve. It is very clear the digital native generation we have now will not thank us for sending them forms and asking them to fill them in with pen and paper. For many of them, the last time they used pen and paper was when they did their leaving certificate. People expect to be able to interact with us in different ways.

One of the strange outcomes of Covid-19 is that we always thought going paper free would be a great challenge. We are used to dealing with large paper files, both those generated ourselves and those sent to us by public bodies. Suddenly nearly everything is online and the challenge turned out to be entirely overcome because of the circumstances. We see more developments in that direction as we go along.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

On the use of the Internet, people can make a complaint to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, on the phone or use a laptop or desktop computer. That is clearly the way forward. We also have provision for a number of languages available when making a complaint because we have seen an increase in that regard. It is a challenge.

All ombudsman offices, no more than any public body, need an IT section that is capable of meeting challenges and keeping the organisation ahead of the posse, so to speak. As Mr. Tyndall has mentioned, the past 12 months have done away with much old practice that we thought we could never eliminate. It also means we must be able to pivot properly and have the capability to back up changes with an IT section, including, for example, somebody to maintain the Twitter feed or keep the website up to date. In fairness, not every ombudsman office has that capacity. Perhaps having a body like the committee where such matters can be discussed and concerns may be relayed to the Departments responsible for justice and children matters, for example, is required so we can have the support of people understanding the importance of all ombudsman offices being able to interact with the public in the new ways we all meet every day.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

Coming back to the question of language, Ms Justice Ring highlighted the question of accessibility, and we have made key information available in the major community languages as well as Irish and English. We try to ensure we are accessible. We can accept complaints in any language and we have access to translation services if needed to deal with that.

One of the sad casualties of the Covid-19 crisis is we were looking at taking on board two interns from the Polish ombudsman office to work with us in Dublin because the Polish community is clearly one of the largest communities in the State. Unfortunately, that initiative was a casualty of Covid-19.

I appreciate that. I am conscious of the time and we are approaching the two-hour mark. Senator Eugene Murphy has apologised as he had to leave but he thanks the two guests.

I thank our two witnesses and I have two quick questions. It sounds from Ms Justice Ring's comments that we may be getting a request for additional resources for some offices. We may be a helpful channel in getting those resources where they are needed. The point is well made, and if people are to interact through online communications, the offices need to have the supports to back up such processes and deal with them correctly.

Throughout the course of this meeting there has been a good case made for us to retake an official direct role and responsibility relating to the various ombudsperson offices. It was well made before this session but this has clarified why it is necessary. With the six offices there, just dealing with annual reports would probably be a quarter of our work programme if we decided to take that on. There is also the role of scrutinising legislation, and it is a good idea for us to do that if we are to do this properly.

Mr. Tyndall has touched on another element and I will ask him to elaborate on it. He mentioned that more oversight of international ombudspersons is required. How does he see that being done with regard to this committee? The accountability of European institutions to this Oireachtas in the past has been quite poor. I am thinking of the banking inquiry and the refusal of certain persons to attend it. How would interaction take place with the European Ombudsman, for example, if that is what Mr. Tyndall meant?

Mr. Peter Tyndall

I was not conscious of having said that. I obviously did but I may have misled the Deputy. My issue was around international standards. The current European Ombudsman is my predecessor as Ombudsman here in Ireland, Ms Emily O'Reilly. I am sure the European Ombudsman would be happy to speak about her work to the committee and, of course, some of the matters would be of great interest to people in Ireland. As the Deputy is probably aware, she is currently scrutinising the EU's response to Covid-19, including the availability of vaccines. These are of great interest to the Oireachtas and not just to the European Parliament, and it is something the committee might explore. I am sure there is no way the committee could require the European Ombudsman to attend, but on the other hand I am sure she would be interested in speaking about the work as much of it has a relevant dimension.

I apologise for cutting across Mr. Tyndall but he read my mind and I was wondering about the vaccinations programme. Mr. Tyndall indicates there is no legal requirement and we cannot write in such a legal requirement in the Oireachtas. I apologise if Mr. Tyndall did not say exactly what I thought - I had taken it down - but it would be a welcome intervention for us to have greater scrutiny of the European Ombudsman, for example, and not just on the vaccination roll-out. It is clearly very important and we care about it in Ireland but there are other issues to consider as well.

I made a mistake and we have another 30 minutes. It was 12.30 p.m. when we started and not noon. There is plenty of time.

Has Mr. Tyndall received complaints about the 5 km rule? From a cursory glance at the @OfficeOmbudsman handle on Twitter, and my poor operation of Twitter, it is difficult to find. Has he considered changing the name on Twitter?

I join with Ms Justice Ring in commending the men and women of An Garda Síochána for the courtesy they have shown at checkpoints, and I have met them in the course of my work as I travelled to and from Dublin, in particular. They have been very courteous and understanding in dealing with me and other people for which I thank them. Let me add that the gardaí have had to work in very inclement weather.

Deputy Murphy made a point about the six ombudspersons' offices and annual reports. I have a view, which I shared at the last committee, that we should be the lead committee to deal with all, collectively and individually, of the ombudsmen's offices and that we should give Mr. Tyndall's office star billing, which is a term I hate to use. I mean he should be central to our committee's work because we can play a pivotal role with him in promulgating and highlighting his work. We can also be a voice for the under-represented, which is part of what we should do as the Committee on Public Petitions.

Deputy Murphy also mentioned the vaccination programme and the EU ombudsperson. It would be fantastic if we could have that interaction because it would help us and illuminate a lot of information from this committee into the general public around vaccination and the work of the EU. Prior to this meeting we got a very interesting paper from Mr. Tiago Tiburcio, who is a researcher in the University of Lisbon, on the role of ombudsmen and petition committees in detecting breaches of EU law. Leaving the last part aside, I would like if we could meet Mr. Tyndall again on a further date to explore how we can work in terms of EU law and greater visibility. I thank the delegation for today.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

I thank the Senator; we were very glad of the opportunity to speak.budsman to

In terms of the issues raised, one could not ask the European ombudsman to come but what harm could possibly come from extending an invitation? However, as I say, there will be issues there.

I want to make one point. Particularly from our perspective, it is the public service ombudsmen who need to have the relationship with the committee so that is five rather than six. The Financial Services Ombudsman is a proper ombudsman role but the bodies in its jurisdiction are not public bodies. So probably, if I did not say something, Mr. Deering would be cross with me for not doing so. I just wanted to point out that specifically.

Could one argue, in light of what happened with Davy Stockbrokers, that we would have a role in that context?

Mr. Peter Tyndall

I am afraid that is probably beyond my area of expertise, Senator.

I did not mean to put Mr. Tyndall on the spot. In the context of the existing furore around Davy, I wonder if we should have a role.

That is probably something that we can get advice on rather than ask Mr. Tyndall.

I hope that Mr. Tyndall understands that I did not mean to put him on the spot.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

Sorry, I was not very helpful with my answer. The difficulty is that I do not know whether there will be any complaints to an ombudsman about Davy Stockbrokers. I am not sure who could make such a complaint and so on. It really is getting a long way away from the day-to-day business that we would be engaged in so that is why I could not be more helpful.

I did not mean to put Mr. Tyndall on the spot and I apologise for that.

Does any Deputy or Senator wish to ask questions? No. On behalf of the committee, I thank the witnesses from the Irish Ombudsman Forum, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, Chair of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, and Mr. Peter Tyndall, Ombudsman. I thank them for coming here today for a virtual meeting and I hope they will be able to visit us again later in the summer. In the meantime, I hope everyone stays safe, I wish everyone a happy St. Patrick's weekend and I hope that it is a good Easter and summer.

As Chair, I have found the discussion to be very beneficial and informative as I am sure it has been for the committee members. We will reflect on the advice that we have heard from the witnesses today and in the written submission, which we will try to add to our report that we will produce in the next few weeks.

I will adjourn with some formalities. I propose that the submission from the Irish Ombudsman Forum be published on the committee's website. Is that agreed?

Can the committee go into private session for a couple of minutes after we conclude the public session, please?

The Clerk has said that as this is a public meeting, there was no agreement to go into private session.

Just following on from the engagement that we have just had, I wanted to raise something with the other members, as a proposal, in private session.

I am happy to do so.

Is the committee meeting on Thursday?

Yes. The Clerk has said that after the meeting is adjourned, we can try for a private session. Is it agreed that we publish the submission of the Irish Ombudsman Forum on the committee's website? Agreed.

I propose that we request the Business Committee to make the necessary arrangements, including agreement to have public meetings of this committee, so that we may finalise our report before the end of March 2021. I realise that this is very difficult during level 5 restrictions but I would like the committee to be able to accept new petitions as soon as possible while negating the risks of the new variants of Covid-19 to the members, witnesses and staff. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The committee is adjourned until Thursday, 11 March 2021 at 10 a.m. for a virtual private meeting on Microsoft Teams. If members stay on the line we will try to have a private meeting.

Finally, I again thank Ms Justice Ring and Mr. Peter Tyndall for attending today.

Mr. Peter Tyndall

I thank the Chair.

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring

Thank you very much, Chair. I promised some figures for Senator Buttimer. After this meeting I will make arrangements for that information to be provided to the Chair.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.08 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 11 March 2021.
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