I move the following motions:
That Dáil Éireann recommends Ms Emily O'Reilly for appointment by the President to be the Ombudsman.
That Dáil Éireann recommends Ms Emily O'Reilly for appointment by the President to be the Information Commissioner.
I am pleased to move these resolutions recommending Ms Emily O'Reilly for appointment by the President as the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner. This is an important appointment in the framework of our public administration and I hope the House will be able to support the resolutions, as it did when she was first appointed.
Ms O'Reilly was appointed to the Offices of the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner in June 2003 for a term of six years. I am pleased that she is willing to serve a second term, and to nominate her for re-appointment. I believe she is the right person to lead those offices in the challenging times that lie ahead of them and the public administration generally.
Ms O'Reilly is the third holder of the Office of the Ombudsman. Both her predecessors were reappointed and both contributed substantially to the development of the office during their tenure. The first Ombudsman, Mr. Michael Mills, a former political editor ofThe Irish Press, established and developed the Ombudsman’s central role of examining individual complaints against public bodies. During his term, and thanks largely to his efforts, the office achieved widespread respect and acceptance within the public administration. The second Ombudsman, Mr. Kevin Murphy, a former Secretary General of public service management and development at the Department of Finance, was also the first Information Commissioner under the Freedom of Information Act 1997, a role in which he contributed to a fundamental shift towards openness and transparency in administration. The second Ombudsman, Mr. Kevin Murphy, formerly Secretary General in charge of public service management and development, was also the first Information Commissioner under the Freedom of Information Act 1997, a role in which he contributed to a fundamental change towards openness and transparency in administration.
I should mention that the current Ombudsman has also seen her role enlarged. Since 2007 she holds the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information, providing an independent appeals system to cater for applicants whose requests for environmental information have not been dealt with to their satisfaction.
The Freedom of Information Act 1997 made a fundamental change in the relationship between the Administration and the citizen. Where previously most of the business of Departments was conducted in secrecy, today, under the Act, that business is open for inspection. Twelve years on, freedom of information is well embedded in our public administration. More than 140,000 requests have been made over that period to more than 500 public bodies.
The Information Commissioner and her distinguished predecessor have played a central role in establishing the freedom of information regime in Ireland. As one would expect, there has not always been agreement between the Administration and the commissioner about the interpretation of the Act, nor should one always expect there to be. Her office has won the respect of citizens and of public servants alike for a very important and independent role in helping to bring about the necessary culture change and she has been a strong and relentless advocate in articulating the importance of openness and transparency in Government.
While the fundamental role of the Ombudsman's office is to examine individual complaints against certain public bodies, the Ombudsman has often referred to the "added value" that her office brings to bear arising from the complaint examination process. By this she means the wider improvements in public administration which her office brings about by the unearthing of systemic issues which come to light through individual complaints. Where public bodies use the lessons learned from her findings their clients will not have similar cause for complaint, thus improving public administration.
Based on lessons learned from individual complaints over the years, the Ombudsman and her office have produced a series of guidelines for the public service which serve as templates to improve the quality of specific aspects of customer service. These include the Ombudsman's Principles of Good Administration; the Ombudsman's Standards of Best Practice for Public Servants; the Ombudsman's Guide to Internal Complaints Systems; and Redress — Getting it Wrong and Putting it Right.
A long awaited extension of the Ombudsman's jurisdiction is provided for in the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008, which is now awaiting Report Stage in this House. When the Bill is enacted, the Ombudsman will be empowered to investigate the administrative actions of vocational education committees, higher education institutions and a range of other bodies whose administrative actions have not previously been subject to investigation. The Bill also provides the Ombudsman with additional powers and updates various provisions in the Ombudsman Act 1980 in the light of the passage of time.
Ms O'Reilly in her second term of office will be required to oversee the most significant extension of the Ombudsman's remit in almost 25 years.