No. 38 is a motion on the lost at sea report. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Connick, to the Seanad for his first encounter.
Lost at Sea Scheme: Motion.
It is my second visit. I was on Front Bench cover last week.
You are away ahead already.
That Seanad Éireann:—
the publication of a Special Report by the Office of the Ombudsman is a serious and rare occurrence and has only happened once before in the history of the Office;
the findings of the Ombudsman relating to the design and administration of the Lost At Sea Scheme in the recently published Special Report on the scheme;
the first and only other time a Special Report was published by the Office of Ombudsman, Government instructed the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service to carry out an investigation into the Report and its findings;
the Ombudsman's recommendations regarding the complainant at the centre of this case;
the persistent refusal of Government to refer this Special Report to the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for investigation;
the open criticism by the Ombudsman of this refusal by Government to consider the report further and the serious ramifications this action will have on the future integrity of the Office of the Ombudsman;
the Ombudsman's concerns that this case has highlighted the failure of the Oireachtas to hold the Executive to account;
the worrying implications this failure has for the wider political system;
calls on Government to immediately instruct the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to carry out a thorough investigation into the Lost at Sea Report.
I join the Acting Chairman in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Connick. It is not his first occasion to be here but it is his first occasion to debate across the floor from us and I wish him well in his new appointment. He has come here to respond to an important Fine Gael Private Members' motion, supported by many of our Opposition colleagues, concerning the Ombudsman's report on the lost at sea scheme and the role, function and status of the Office of the Ombudsman.
I commence my remarks by quoting a concluding comment made by the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, in her report of December 2009:
The Office of the Ombudsman relies on the authority which comes from its independence, impartiality and competence to gain fair play for people who have been wronged by public bodies. As Ombudsman I do not make binding decisions. The Department is free in law to reject my recommendations. My only recourse, when I consider that a public body's response to a recommendation is unsatisfactory, is to make a special report to each House of the Oireachtas under the Ombudsman Act, 1980. This is such a report.
I respectfully ask the Houses to consider my report and to take whatever action they deem appropriate in the circumstances.
This is a very significant statement from the Ombudsman. We request the Minister of State and his Government colleagues to allow the report on the lost at sea scheme to go before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for full debate and deliberation. This matter was previously discussed in the Seanad, the other House and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. At the pertinent meeting of that committee a motion was submitted in the names of some of the Fine Gael and Labour Party Oireachtas Members requesting the committee to investigate fully the Ombudsman's report on the lost at sea scheme. However, that motion was defeated by the Government majority on the committee. The committee met again today and very significant correspondence which had been received was presented to us. This was a letter from Deputy Sargent in which he stated to the Chairman:
I write to say I would support an invitation being extended to the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, to attend and discuss the comprehensive Special Report prepared by her Office regarding the "Lost at Sea Scheme" with your Committee. From her public statements, I feel sure the Ombudsman would welcome such an invitation. The Office of Ombudsman rarely feels it necessary to make such statements. Accordingly, I believe that issuing an invitation to attend the Committee would reflect well on the integrity of the Office of Ombudsman and the Oireachtas. I thank you for your consideration of this matter.
This was a significant intervention from Deputy Sargent and the Green Party component of the Government. Perhaps as a result of that and of this motion being put before the Seanad, we were informed at this morning's meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that an invitation was due to issue to the Ombudsman to present her case before it.
I welcome this degree of progress but in this motion we are calling for the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to carry out a thorough investigation into the report on the lost at sea scheme. Obviously, the attendance and co-operation of the Ombudsman would be integral to that investigation but if the investigation were to be deemed worthy of the word it would also require the appropriate personnel involved in the scheme at official level, at political level via the office of the former Minister, the complainant and others to come before it not simply to make statements but to take questions and engage in frank and open dialogue with us.
I want to make it very clear that in moving this motion we on this side of the House aim to be neither judge nor jury. The Ombudsman has produced a comprehensive report. As the Minister of State is aware, this is only the second time in the history of the Ombudsman's office or, to put it more dramatically, the history of the State that such a special report has been presented before the Oireachtas and Members must take note of its significance. It is not the role of Members to be the final jury or judge but to ensure the report is examined in minute detail and that the serious questions posed in the Ombudsman's report are answered fully. Moreover, the former Minister, Deputy Fahey, who has frequently claimed on radio to have been vindicated by the report, although many disagree, and who appears to stand over fully the decisions he took must have his case presented before and debated with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Similarly, all concerned must be heard and interviewed before the joint committee and I hope progress can be made. This is the reason the wording of Fine Gael's motion is deliberate and careful. It seeks a full examination of the report and that a thorough investigation be undertaken by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The Minister of State is aware of the tragic background to this case. In October 1981 a fishing vessel sank with the tragic loss of five lives. The history of this tragedy has been well documented and many Members have met family members of the tragic drowning victims. The Byrne family, in particular, which brought the complaint obviously was greatly affected by the loss of two family members, namely, a father and son. The remaining family members who have had a difficult time financially and in all aspects of life subsequently presented their case before the Ombudsman who submitted the report to the Oireachtas. This is a substantial matter of concern, public policy and political decision-making. It has been given a thorough, detailed and fair examination by the Ombudsman in her report. She is entitled, as she noted at the outset of her presentation, to make findings and, where she considers that such findings are not being responded to adequately by whatever is the appropriate Department, to follow up with her inquiries and make a special report. That is the reason the report is before Members.
The country has been well served by the Office of the Ombudsman since it was first created many years ago. If memory serves correctly, the first person appointed to be Ombudsman was Mr. Michael Mills. Across all Departments, many investigations have been conducted and many individual queries, concerns and worries have been addressed and, in many cases, redressed. Government policies have been changed and legislation has been amended on foot of thorough investigative work by the Ombudsman.
The report pertains to one individual scheme. As the Minister of State is aware, the complainant had grave concerns that a particular scheme was designated and almost ring-fenced to suit a small number of applicants. I do not use the word "evidence" because Members are neither judge nor jury but there certainly is a substantial body of opinion to suggest all was not well with the aforementioned scheme and the decisions taken and exclusions made. This pertains to taxpayers' money, Government decisions and families that were adversely affected. It relates to families whose way of life, income and family members literally disappeared. This is the reason Members must ensure the concerns outlined by the Ombudsman and contained in her report are not simply left on the shelves of the Oireachtas Library but are fully and thoroughly investigated. I ask my colleagues across the floor of the Chamber why anyone should fear the asking of questions or the provision of information. Why should anyone fear giving the opportunity to all those affected, on both sides of the argument, to come before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to state their cases, take questions and highlight their views, arguments and concerns?
The joint committee is the most appropriate venue in which to pursue and I hope finalise the work commenced by the Ombudsman in her report. She recommended that a particular sum of money be paid to the Byrne family but this appears to have been rejected by the Government to date. However, I hope that, on foot of what appear to be second thoughts on the part of the Green Party in particular which presumably led in a small way to the mini-U-turn of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today, the report can be investigated in the thorough fashion it deserves. As a member of the aforementioned joint committee, I believe all of its members would be willing to examine the report in a neutral fashion without prejudging the outcome and accept this is a personal report by the Ombudsman and that others may have alternate views.
While the joint committee's members will listen to their views and presentations, they cannot afford to sweep the report under the carpet or state that, while they acknowledge the Ombudsman has made serious allegations about the workings of a particular scheme, they intend to do no more about it. For politics to be well served, the Office of the Ombudsman to be respected, the role of the Oireachtas in holding the Executive to account to be upheld and the role of Oireachtas committees to be enhanced, respected and used to the full, it requires at a minimum that the report should be placed before the aforementioned joint committee. Moreover, this should not take the form of a simple presentation by the Ombudsman but should allow for a full debate and investigation with all the affected parties concerned.
The Minister of State should listen favourably to Fine Gael's proposal which constitutes a fair and balanced approach to the report. Members are not here to condemn but to try to shed light on this tragic scenario, as well as on the political and administrative decisions taken which have caused and continue to cause such distress to so many. Moreover, the proposed amendment tabled by Government Members, if it remains the official position, does not constitute a sufficient response. The holding of a full investigation by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be supported by everyone who is genuinely concerned about bringing this tragic case to a conclusion.
I second the motion.
Statements were made in the House previously on the Ombudsman's report on the lost at sea scheme. In the contribution made by the former Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, he clearly pointed out that "eligible applicants were those who had lost a fishing vessel between 1980 and the establishment of the sea fishing boat register in 1990, but who had been unable to replace the fishing vessel for verified financial reasons." A superficial understanding of this case might lead one to conclude that this sounds relatively straightforward. One might conclude that a scheme was set up for boats lost between 1980 and 1990, to which anyone who wished to so do could apply and that the applicant in the case under discussion did so one year after the closing date and that a report was produced by the Ombudsman who found in favour of the applicant. If asked what was the likely outcome, one would have been likely to suggest the Ombudsman would find the application had been made outside the time limit, that it had been too late and that the applicants had been given plenty of time in which to apply. For most, this is what a superficial understanding of the report would suggest. However, for the first time, the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, has proposed that it be referred for a full debate in the Oireachtas. Consequently, if this is how the Ombudsman feels about the report, one might conclude there must be something to it. When one hears that the Government has tried to block discussion on the report at a committee, one really starts to become concerned about what is going on. When the Minister of State responds, he must clarify why the Government is blocking our motion.
The debate on 18 February was a good and open discussion on this issue,. It was kept below the political radar.
That is right.
In light of the report, no strong political attacks were made on anyone. Instead, it was a question of asking for an examination of the matter and for some straightforward answers.
The more the Government tries to block discussion, the more suspicious I get about the report's background and what it is the Government is afraid of. Objecting to something this strongly means the Government is afraid to have the type of to and fro discussion on a report seen at committees. This worries me. Concerns might have been raised about the luck of the successful applicants, two of whom got a large tranche of the tonnage handed out by the scheme, but discussions of that type occur. However, when the Ombudsman raises concerns about the way in which the scheme was established and administered, we need a deep discussion if we are to fulfil our roles as Members of the Oireachtas.
This is probably the new Minister of State's first opportunity to get involved in a meaty issue in his Department. Perhaps it is an opportunity for him to put his stamp on the matter and to support a call for a full debate on the reason so many concerns have been raised by the Ombudsman and the question of why the Government is afraid to answer them.
Our previous debate on the issue was not emotive. No one tried to claim the Government was the big bad wolf or that it was hammering down, so to speak, some poor, unfortunate family. The circumstances had been pointed out and we avoided being overly emotional and overly political because most Senators wanted straightforward answers. We are seeking the same today. Why does the Government object so much to the discussion of this issue in a public forum? The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food voted to block a discussion. I have sat on other Oireachtas committees and there is usually a political aspect to a vote that is called to block a discussion of a document. However, when the Government calls a vote to obstruct a public debate on a report of the Ombudsman, do the Senators opposite not view it as a serious issue? In light of concepts like democracy, transparency, openness and accountability to the people, I would have concerns about a Government party that called such a vote. It is not important that Senators might wish to say outside the House that they are favourably disposed towards a debate. Instead, they should exercise their power to call for the debate. We will revert to this issue repeatedly until the Government starts giving satisfactory answers. Clearly, there is a reason it is not prepared to discuss the report fully. We want straightforward answers.
I hope the Minister of State has read the report and the previous debates on this issue, that he has noted the concerns raised and that he will respond to them. He should not give us the reheated speech the then Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, gave on 18 February. The Minister of State should not take issue with the same two points. Neither should he tell the House that certain matters are not relevant. I do not want to rehearse my speech. I raised an issue about a fisherman in County Wexford that I am sure would be of greater concern to the Minister of State, but I will not discuss it again. I hope he will not insult the intelligence of the House by providing a reheated speech. My memory might not be great, but I can remember most of what was said on 18 February. Some good points were raised and I hope the Minister of State has read the contributions which were made only a few short weeks ago. The Minister of State's response should supply straightforward answers. Otherwise, he will develop a habit of returning to the House to answer questions on the report.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:
the high esteem in which the Office of the Ombudsman and the work it does is held;
the publication by the Ombudsman of a Special Report on the Lost at Sea Scheme;
the forensic and painstaking manner in which the report was compiled;
the Ombudsman's request that the Houses of the Oireachtas consider her report and take whatever action they deem appropriate;
the Ombudsman's acknowledgement that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is free in law to reject the Ombudsman's recommendation;
that the report has been debated by both Dáil and Seanad Éireann.
that it is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas and their respective committees to order their own business, and
that the further consideration of the Ombudsman's Special Report by any Oireachtas committee is a matter for that Committee.".
This is my first opportunity to speak to the new Minister of State and I wish him the best of luck in his new role. I made my first speech as Government spokesman on fisheries while the then Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, was in attendance. In that speech I told him I was looking forward to working with him until June 2012. That will now be in his defence role. I look forward to working with the new Minister of State until——
Do not put any date on it this time.
I will not put a date on it, but I hope the Minister of State will stay in his role. He will enjoy it, although it will be a great challenge for him.
Gabhaim buíochas as ucht an deis labhairt ar an rún seo sa Seanad. Ta áthas an domhain orm seans a bheith agam ráiteas a dhéanamh ar thuarascáil an Ombudsman. I do not want to rehash my speech of 18 February for which Senator Twomey was present, but some salient facts need to be laid before the House. Initially, Fine Gael opposed the report going before a committee and instead wanted it to be fully debated in the Houses. When it went to the committee, the feeling was that Fine Gael did not want it there. However, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food decided this morning to bring the report before it.
That is a bit convoluted.
Senator Carroll should be careful.
Senator Carroll to continue, without interruption.
The matter was voted down by the Government parties.
The chronology of the situation——
We could make this very political for the Senator if he wants to start making accusations.
Please do not do it while I am in the Chair. Senator Carroll to continue, without interruption.
I will cite some facts, although I am sure the Minister of State will reiterate them. The lost at sea scheme was a limited scheme introduced in June 2001 with a closing date for applications of 31 December. It must be remembered that the scheme was specifically targeted at people who had been fishing and wanted to continue fishing. It is also important to remember it was a time-limited scheme intended to assist families in obtaining a replacement for a lost vessel owned and skippered by the applicant or an immediate relation. The objective was to allow fishermen or their immediate families, including women, involved in fishing to return to fishing and not, as some inside the Houses have been led to believe, to award any monetary benefit. The then Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, made this point numerous times when he spoke in the Seanad.
Any person or group of people wishing to return to a career in fishing would need to buy a replacement vessel with the necessary capacity that, in time, would have become a valuable commodity, since the overall capacity of the Irish fleet was capped under EU management rules. The scheme, when introduced, was both opposed and supported within the industry. Opinion was divided because some considered it would be unfair to award free tonnage to some, while others had to pay a high price for theirs. I reiterate the point made previously that it was important to ensure the scheme could be strictly limited to those who met the necessary criteria. Once the decision to have a scheme was made, the terms and conditions that emerged had to reflect the views of all stakeholders, national legislation and any appropriate EU rules. The conditions were objective and difficult to meet. They were intended to ensure that only those who met the criteria in full would be successful, that only the immediate family could benefit from any capacity awarded, that the benefit of capacity for the scheme was to allow the family to return to finishing and that the capacity awarded could not be sold or turned into a monetary amount, as can happen in other schemes.
The scheme was focused on those who had been in the fishing industry and wanted to continue a family tradition of fishing and where the grant of capacity would enable the applicant or an immediate relation to return to fishing. The advertising was successful and the scheme, despite its tight restrictions, was well responded to. Some 68 applications were made, of which six were successful. The scheme was widely advertised in the major fishing manuals, includingThe Marine Times, Irish Skipper and Fishing News. The 62 unsuccessful applications failed to meet one or more of the qualifying conditions. I reiterate the point that the scheme did not provide for the purchase of a replacement fishing vessel.
I noted when re-reading the report during the past few days, in order that I would be fully briefed for this debate, that in November 2004 the son of the owner who had been lost at sea with his vessel had complained to the Ombudsman on two grounds. His family had not been made aware of the scheme's existence and their circumstances were such that they ought to have qualified under the scheme in the first instance. It is a fundamental legal rule that ignorance of the law is no defence. Sadly, this same principle applies to the scheme. Following exhaustive examination and correspondence between the various parties, the Ombudsman found in her first report for the complainant. This appears to be at odds with the view of the Department of Agricultur, Fisheries and Food. The Ombudsman concluded that the particular family did not meet at least two of the conditions of the scheme and that advertisement of the scheme was not adequate, despite it having been advertised in the three major fishing publications in Ireland, which seems odd. Also, the fishermen's representative organisations were notified of its existence and had communicated the information to the 16 known cases, which appears to be the most appropriate approach in the circumstances.
As public representatives — I am a new public representative — we are aware of the considerations which must be met when we examine various schemes. The Ombudsman has expressly acknowledged that she as found no evidence to suggest the scheme, once launched, was not applied fairly and equally. The compensation figure of almost €250,000 recommended by the Ombudsman was, as pointed out by the Minister of State, arrived at using the rates used in the 2008 decommissioning scheme, which is a totally different and separate scheme. It seems odd that such a scheme would be used to calculate this figure.
Deadlines are a fundamental feature of most schemes and need to be strictly enforced and adhered to. Transparency is the key. That is what we all want to see. No one wants to see schemes used as political footballs. When criteria and deadlines are put in place, they must be adhered to and applied.
I commend the amendment to the House.
I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well in his Ministry. I have no doubt he will make a significant input to it.
I have been involved with this legislation since it was presented as a Bill and have seen it changed time and again. My interest in the issue is not driven by the actual events as much as by the way we are processing the matter. The Government amendment is the most ridiculous I have seen in a long time. Every week in this and the other House we refer matters to committees. It is part of what we do. Instead of having a matter dealt with in plenary session of the Houses it is more efficient to have it dealt with by a committee. We are now acknowledging that the further consideration of the Ombudsman's special report by an Oireachtas committee is a matter for that committee. It may well be, but that is no reason we cannot refer it to a committee.
I acknowledge that it is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas and their committees to order their business, but we send them stuff every week. Nothing has more of a precedent than what is being proposed.
I will not get involved in the politics of the matter. When it was last debated in the Chamber, there was, equally, no mention of politics. It is not an issue for me whether someone did right or wrong. For me, the issue is that a process has been put in place to solve these issues. In this case, the process finished with the Ombudsman. It is interesting to look at how these things happen. Someone who runs into a difficulty with a Department appeals the Department's decision and when the person fails to receive satisfaction, the matter may be referred to the Ombudsman. In the case we are dealing with the Ombudsman came to a conclusion and made a recommendation to a Department. The Department concerned decided not to implement the Ombudsman's recommendation.
Certain issues then arose and they involve a former Minister, with whom I have discussed the matter on a number of occasions. If it is found that a mistake was made in a Department, that is not, necessarily, a reflection on anyone. Mistakes can be made. The points made by Senators on the Government side are not an issue for me. I know there are deadlines and that they must be kept. If I were managing a scheme, I would be very strict in that regard and slow to extend a deadline. Someone else might take a different view and that someone might be the Ombudsman.
Closure is not possible in this regard. What happens when a Department refuses to implement an Ombudsman's recommendation? Having considered the reasons for its refusal and not accepted them, the Ombudsman can refer the matter to the Dáil or Seanad. That is included in the legislation and very clear. However, what happens next? The answer is nothing. There is a vacuum in the legislation. There is a legislative error, for which we must take responsibility. We may insist that an Ombudsman's report must always be implemented but I would not be keen on that course. My own view is that we should have a system under which the Dáil, the Seanad or a joint committee would have the power to bring a matter to finality and closure.
The Government amendment is an attempt to stop debate on the issue. That cannot be right. I am happy to have cited the letter from Deputy Sargent who has written to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to say he considers it would be useful to invite the Ombudsman to make a presentation to the joint committee. That is a significant step forward. I ask the Government to listen to this suggestion. Rather than put the matter to a vote tonight and create widespread embarrassment, let the matter go before the joint committee to be dealt with in a non-partisan way. If people play political football with the matter, it is as clear as day what the result will be. I do not want this to be used to have a go at the former Minister. He may be right or he may be wrong. He may or may not have made a mistake. This is above and beyond that. The issue is how we deal with the matter.
This is not the first time such a thing has happened. To my limited knowledge, it happened at least twice before because I was involved on two occasions. One case was dealt with by the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. That case was dealt with twice. The previous Ombudsman outlined his views on the case. Therefore, what is proposed in this respect has happened previously. A precedent is not being established in terms of what is sought. The last time what is sought happened was at the invitation of the committee concerned. There is no reason that could not happen in this case.
The last time what is proposed happened, the committee concerned examined the matter. The matter in question is not important in this context. It related to a person in an area close to the Minister of State's constituency across the border in south Kilkenny. The person had an issue with the Revenue Commissioners. Having examined the case, the committee, unanimously as I recall, came to the conclusion that the then Ombudsman's recommendations should be implemented. The committee called in officials of the Revenue Commissioners and told them that they wanted them to implement the recommendations. They listened to the committee but they did not do that. It is daft that this could happen. I am not saying that we as public representatives should be able to call the shots in all situations. That type of thing happens but we should have a way to bring closure to a situation such as this. It is not a matter of blocking something. We are not creating a precedent. We have the view of the Green Party member of the committee, we understand the legislation concerned and, effectively, what is being attempted here is to stop this issue proceeding at this point. Why should that be done? If this is an issue that needs to be brought to a conclusion, we should bring it to whatever is the appropriate conclusion and let that be the end of the matter.
Even if this matter is passed to the joint committee and it decides to implement the Ombudsman's recommendation, the matters will be sent back to the Department. The joint committee does not have power to insist that the Department implements the committee's recommendation. If the result were to be the same in this case, that would be the third time that committees of Parliament would have dealt with matters, come to the same conclusion on them as the Ombudsman and the recommendations in the cases were not implemented, or if the committee were to come to the conclusion that the Ombudsman's recommendation was not to be implemented and it disagreed with the Ombudsman, the situation would still be unfinished. We need to examine this area. I ask those on the Government side to recognise that a former Leader of the Green Party, Deputy Trevor Sargent, indicated clearly that it is his view that it would be helpful and useful for the Ombudsman to appear before the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Why can the Government not accept that proposal and let that be the end of the matter? It should accept this motion and bring this matter to a conclusion.
The Minister of State will note that I have not gone into the detail of the issue as I do not want to get involved in the case. I have read about it and have views on it. However, I specifically want to point out a weakness in the procedure in the legislation and to highlight that we have unfinished business. A citizen can go through all the hoops required under legislation and we can still not bring the matter concerned to finality.
People will never be completely happy with the outcome of matters that are dealt with. I am not trying to talk somebody into agreeing or disagreeing with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is well able to look after her own argumentation and she will put her case to the joint committee and give both sides of the argument, as she would always do, and then the committee can come to a conclusion. All I ask my colleagues on both sides of the House is note that this not about putting a Minister in the dock. That is not what this should be about as far as we are concerned. This motion is about examining a procedure and the Ombudsman's views on the matter, how she weighed it up and for a committee to come to the conclusion to agree or disagree with that. It does not mean she is right nor does it mean she is wrong. It does not necessarily mean the Minister is guilty of some appalling crime if the Ombudsman finds differently. We should take the Minister out of the process, deal with the matter and bring it to a conclusion. I would prefer if it were dealt with in a committee than in either of the Houses.
I thank those Senators who have spoken so far for their contributions and I understand more Senators will contribute. I thank the Senators who gave me their best wishes on what is my first occasion to address the Seanad. I look forward to a long working relationship with Members on all sides of the House.
On 14 December last the Ombudsman submitted a special report to the Dáil and the Seanad in accordance with section 6(5) and 6(7) of the Ombudsman Act 1980. The Ombudsman took this action because the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food disagreed with the findings and recommendations she made arising from her investigation of a complaint from an unsuccessful applicant under the lost at sea scheme of 2001. The 1980 Act does not set out a procedure to be adopted by the Oireachtas in dealing with this matter and therefore we are all in uncharted territory in that regard. The one previous instance in which an Ombudsman made a special report to the Oireachtas was a completely different type of case which affected a particular group of taxpayers.
I echo my predecessor, now the Minister for Defence, Deputy Tony Killeen, in placing on record my respect for the Ombudsman and the work done by her office. It is clear that she and her team have carried out a detailed and forensic examination of the complaint in question and although I disagree with her findings, I compliment her and her team on the time and effort that has been put into compiling this report. I also place on record my deepest sympathy for the family in question and the very many families bereaved in this way, some of them among the other applicants under the scheme. My own county of Wexford, which also has a strong fishing tradition, has seen many such sad events, even in recent years.
The background to the lost at sea scheme has been set out already in this House in some detail by my predecessor and therefore I will refer only briefly to the conditions of the scheme, the context in which it was promulgated and the outcomes of the applications received. I will then explain the reason the Department does not agree with the Ombudsman's findings and her recommendation that monetary compensation be paid in this case. The scheme was initiated within the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. Responsibility subsequently moved to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in 2002. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food only assumed responsibility for sea fisheries related matters in October 2007.
The lost at sea scheme was a limited scheme introduced in June 2001, with a closing date of 31 December 2001, whose objective was to enable qualifying applicants who were otherwise unable to do so for financial or related reasons to continue a family tradition of sea fishing. This scheme was targeted at people who had been and wanted to continue fishing. It was a bounded, time-limited scheme under which replacement capacity, that is, gross tonnes and kilowatts, that would otherwise have had to be bought on the tonnage market was provided free of charge to qualifying applicants. The eligible applicants were those who had lost a fishing vessel between 1980 and the establishment of the fishing boat register in 1990 but who had been unable to replace the fishing vessel for verified financial reasons. The scheme was intended to assist families in introducing a replacement for the lost vessel that would be owned and skippered by the applicant or by an immediate relation of the applicant. The objective of the scheme was to allow fishermen or their immediate family to get back fishing. It was not introduced to provide a means whereby a family who tragically lost family members at sea could obtain payment from the State for this loss.
For the information of the House, "capacity" is a term used to describe the gross tonnes, GT, a measure of volume, and kilowatts, kWs, of power of a fishing vessel. The total capacity of the Irish fishing fleet is limited to 88,700 gross tonnes and 244,834 kilowatts under EU Regulation 1438/2003.
When the new sea fishing boat register was introduced in 1990, all vessels registered at the time were awarded the capacity of their vessels effectively free of charge. However, any vessel that had previously sunk or had otherwise been destroyed clearly could not be registered. Any such owner seeking to return to fishing would have had to buy a replacement vessel and the necessary capacity, which over time became a valuable commodity because the overall capacity of the Irish fleet was capped under EU fleet management rules to which I have already referred. While the Department had no role in the tonnage market that had developed, there were indications that capacity was changing hands for up to £4,000 per gross tonne at the time the scheme was introduced.
Records in the Department and made available to the Ombudsman show a range of contacts, meetings and correspondence going back to March 1999 between interested parties on this issue. These contacts included public representatives, individual vessel owners, fishermen's representatives and producer organisations. It was being argued that there were a number of cases where the cost of purchasing replacement capacity was a factor in preventing families from getting back into fishing after losing a vessel. The records also show that there was both support for and opposition to such a scheme from within the industry and that officials from the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources advised on the merits or otherwise of such a scheme and some of its conditions. Opinion was divided within the fishing industry. From the administrative perspective it was important to ensure any such scheme could be strictly limited to those who met the criteria of the scheme. Once the decision to have a scheme was made, the terms and conditions of the scheme that emerged from this process would necessarily have reflected the views of all the stakeholders as well as public policy considerations and EU and national legal requirements at the time.
The scheme, as published, included among its conditions that:
The boat in question is shown, by reference to log sheet returns or other appropriate records, to have been in active and continuous use for a considerable period of years by the person concerned for sea fishing of a category now covered by the replacement policy rules, until its loss at sea. Applications under the scheme must be received by 31 December 2001.
These conditions were intended to ensure only those who met the criteria in full were successful, that only the immediate family could benefit from any capacity awarded and that the benefit of capacity for the scheme was to allow the family to return to fishing and that the capacity awarded could not be sold or turned into a monetary amount.
The scheme was launched in June 2001 with a closing date of 31 December 2001. The Department had knowledge of 16 cases at the time where fishing vessels had been lost at sea during the relevant period and the owners of those vessels received written notifications of the new scheme and were invited to apply. Two of these cases were ultimately successful. The scheme was intended for those who had been in the fishing industry, wanted to continue a family tradition of fishing and where the grant of replacement capacity for their lost vessel would enable the applicant or an immediate relation to return to fishing.
The advertising was quite successful and the scheme, despite its tight restrictions, was well responded to. There were 68 applications by the closing date, of which six were successful in meeting all of the conditions of the scheme and were awarded replacement capacity.
The scheme was aimed at people and families who had a tradition in fishing, had been actively fishing and wanted, through the scheme, to return to fishing. Given the objective of the scheme, it was advertised widely in the major fishing trade papers in Ireland, including the Marine Times, The Irish Skipper and the Fishing News, and the various fishing representative groups, including all of the producer organisations, were asked to assist in publicising the scheme.
The scheme was launched in June 2001, ran for six months and closed on 31 December 2001. A number of the 62 unsuccessful applications failed to meet more than one of the qualifying conditions. I emphasise that the scheme did not provide for the purchase of a replacement fishing vessel itself. The replacement capacity awarded under the strict terms of the scheme could not be sold on or otherwise traded or realised as a financial asset in the tonnage market.
The complaint that is the subject of the Ombudsman's special report was made by one additional applicant whose application under the scheme was received in January 2003, more than a year after the closing date. The application, received on 7 January 2003, was refused on the basis of being more than a year outside the closing date of 31 December 2001 and also that the lost vessel was not in active continuous service prior to its loss. For the purpose of the administration of the scheme, this was deemed to be two years minimum.
In November 2004 the son of the owner, who had been lost with the vessel, made a complaint to the Ombudsman that the decision to refuse his family's application was unfair on the grounds that his family had not been made aware that the scheme was in place and that their circumstances were such that they should have qualified under the scheme in the first instance.
After extensive examination and correspondence between the various parties, the Ombudsman found for the complainant in her first draft report and decided to award substantial monetary compensation to the family. The Ombudsman concluded that the particular family did not meet at least two of the conditions of the scheme and that it had been adversely affected by the failure of their application. The Ombudsman found that the advertising of the scheme was not adequate and was a factor in the lateness of the application from the complainants. The Department was of the view at the time that given the close knit nature of the fishing community, placing an advertisement in the three major fishing publications in Ireland, notifying the fishermen's representative organisations and writing to 16 known individual cases was appropriate in the circumstances. The scheme was targeted at people who wanted to continue a family tradition of fishing and would continue that tradition themselves or through an immediate relative if successful under the scheme. There is no certainty that an advertisement in the national newspapers, which would have been much less targeted than publicity in the fishing communities, would have been a better way of reaching the target audience.
The scheme was aimed at people with a family tradition in fishing, who had been active in fishing and who expressly wanted to return to fishing. Targeted advertising and communication channels most commonly used by the fishing industry and fishing communities were, therefore, the most appropriate way to publicise the scheme.
I am convinced, as is the Department, that this scheme, once decided on, was properly and fairly administered by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which had responsibility for the scheme at the time. The Ombudsman has expressly acknowledged that she found no evidence to suggest that, once the scheme was launched, that it was not applied equitably.
In this case, monetary compensation is not warranted. In the first instance, the lost at sea scheme did not envisage any monetary awards. The replacement capacity awarded to the successful applicants could not be traded, sold on or otherwise disposed of for financial gain. On the contrary, the successful applicants had to provide a replacement vessel from their own resources as well as pay for its running costs in order to be able to make use of the capacity awarded. In the case of the family in question, no replacement vessel had been purchased and no immediate family member had continued in fishing in the 20-year period between the accident and the inception of the scheme.
Given that the scheme was intended to allow families to continue a family tradition of sea fishing, it is difficult to see how it can be sustained that the family was disadvantaged by the failure of their application 20 years later. Indeed, after the sinking the family were seen, perhaps understandably, to have left the fishing industry for the subsequent 20 years. In the exchange of correspondence, the Ombudsman contends that while the family had received a substantial insurance payout this was not relevant to her investigation or to the scheme.
The compensation figure of €245,570 recommended by the Ombudsman was arrived at by using the methodology and rates used in the 2008 decommissioning scheme, a completely separate and unrelated scheme. At the Ombudsman's request, the Department provided calculations on the basis of those rates and the tonnage of the lost vessel on the understanding that this was a starting point in her consideration of an appropriate amount of compensation. The Ombudsman cites the average payments to the successful applicants under that scheme as being comparable. It seems to me that the situations are in no way comparable. In the case of the decommissioning scheme, the vessel owners had the expense of purchasing a vessel and maintaining it over a period of years. Successful applicants under the decommissioning scheme were paid to voluntarily give up a working active vessel and its capacity, to pay to have it dismantled and, indeed, to lose its future stream of income and the rates payable were intended to incentivise this. Under the lost at sea scheme successful applicants had to provide a replacement vessel from their own resources but would not have also had to purchase replacement tonnage for it.
The Department remains concerned that the recommendation in regard to this specific case could give rise to major financial liabilities arising from claims from others who were unsuccessful applicants under the scheme. The Ombudsman's special report asserts that the recommendation relates to this case only, that her analysis, conclusions and findings flow from the particular circumstances of this case alone and, therefore, have no implications for other unsuccessful applicants. This assertion appears neither logical nor consistent on the consideration of the full facts of the case and the legal advice available to me.
The Ombudsman's finding was that the design of the scheme itself and the manner in which it was advertised were "contrary to fair and sound administration" and that this family had been treated unfairly as a consequence. This assertion is not supported by the facts. The scheme as applied in this case was the same scheme as that applied equitably, as the Ombudsman has acknowledged, to all the other applications received. The considered legal advice obtained by the Department contends that it is inevitable that the Ombudsman's recommendation in regard to monetary payment may result in other unsuccessful applications for this scheme looking for the same consideration.
Furthermore, some of the successful applicants for the scheme, who could not take up the capacity awarded because of the strict conditions, might seek to use the precedent created by any change in the conditions of the scheme, which would happen if the Ombudsman's recommendations were acceded to. In addition, those who contacted the Department in the year after the scheme had closed or who might have thought of applying in that period, but did not do so for whatever reason, would also seek to build a case on the basis of the Ombudsman's recommendation.
At this stage, it is impossible to estimate precisely the financial outlay or potential liability that might be involved but there is no doubt that it is likely to be substantial and have a serious financial impact at this time. There are also, perhaps more importantly, implications for the operation of other administrative schemes across Government that have application deadlines. Deadlines are a fundamental feature of most schemes across the public service and are strictly enforced and adhered to generally in accepting or rejecting applications. Totally discounting the deadline in this scheme and accepting the validity of an application that was more than a year late, as the Ombudsman recommends, could have very wide and probably incalculable financial and other implications for public administration in Ireland.
Since the conclusion of the Ombudsman's investigation in November 2008, the Department has been engaged in correspondence with the Ombudsman in regard to her findings in this case and her proposal to award financial compensation. The Ombudsman has acknowledged that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is free in law to disagree with her findings and to refuse to implement her recommendations. Notwithstanding this, she decided to submit a special report to the Oireachtas on 14 December last. In submitting her special report, the Ombudsman has requested that the Houses consider her report and take whatever action they deem appropriate. The Ombudsman Acts are silent on a next step or a specific role for the Oireachtas in such cases.
Senators will be aware that the special report was debated in the Dáil on 3 February last and in this House on 18 February and that no recommendations were made for further action by the Oireachtas in the matter. It was suggested in the Seanad that the Ombudsman Acts should be revisited with a view to addressing the apparent lacuna in respect of the resolution of disagreements between the Ombudsman and any other party. Senators will also be aware that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today decided to invite the Ombudsman to appear before it to discuss her special report. The Department and I fully respect that it is a matter for Oireachtas committees to order their business and decide what issues they examine and how and when they do so.
I reiterate that the complainants in this case did not apply for the scheme within the timeframe and were more than one year late in submitting an application. The family did not meet some of the criteria of the scheme. The Department maintains its position that the scheme was administered with scrupulous fairness in that each applicant was treated fairly under the scheme within specific terms, rules and conditions. The Ombudsman acknowledges there is no evidence that the scheme was not applied equitably. It was advertised in a targeted way to the target audience, namely, those with a family tradition of fishing who would return to fishing if successful under the scheme.
I have the highest regard for the Ombudsman, her office and team. The issue investigated and reported on by the Ombudsman is difficult and has taken considerable time and effort by her office and the Department. There are far-reaching implications for this scheme and other such administrative schemes. I am convinced the Department's position is reasonable having regard to all the circumstances of this case.
I wish to share time with Senator Norris. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, and congratulate him again on his appointment as Minister of State with the responsibility for the marine. Last Wednesday, when he and I appeared on "The Late Debate" with Rachael English, I told him his brief is significant and offers considerable potential to re-boot the rural economy if we review the manner in which we do our business in marine matters. The Minister of State and I both come from marine constituencies and I look forward to interacting with him and his Department. One of the first issues on his agenda will be imports but that is a topic for another debate. I wish him well in his new role.
I propose to focus on the mechanics and politics of the issue raised in the motion rather than examining it in forensic detail. I welcome the decision by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to issue an invitation to the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly — the titles are a contradiction in terms — to attend a meeting of the joint committee to discuss her special report. The invitation is important from the point of a view of parliamentary democracy and the relevance of the work of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The joint committee must have a full and frank discussion with an exchange of views and a question and answer session. It would also be a worthwhile exercise if the meeting discussed the Ombudsman's recent comments on how the Oireachtas conducts its business and the relevance of both Houses. While the decision to extend the invitation to the Ombudsman is timely, some of the grandstanding we have had on this issue could have been avoided if it had been issued sooner.
The manner in which the Oireachtas conducts its business and the need to reform Dáil and Seanad Éireann have been the subject of much recent debate. The Private Members' motion tabled by the Independent Members on the case of Mr. Dónal de Róiste recently was a fine example of the good work done by this House. The motion resulted in a some movement on the case after many years. This demonstrated that the Seanad can achieve results, although I accept the matter has not reached a conclusion.
I note the former Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Frank Fahey, joins us in the Visitors Gallery. Clearly, he has a strong interest in the matter. Much has been said about the issue before the House and I do not propose to dwell on the politics involved. Irrespective of the Ombudsman's views on the manner in which the scheme in question was initiated and operated and its rights and wrongs, it is imperative she come to the House to discuss her report on the scheme in question. It says a great deal about the parliamentary system that the Ombudsman has intervened only twice in 25 years and the only other issue on which she intervened, a revenue matter, was kicked to touch in a committee.
It is important that the House discuss the role of external agencies in Oireachtas business. For instance, I recently called on the Attorney General to come to the House to provide information to which the Taoiseach referred when an issue was raised with him in the other House. On other occasions, I have asked that we repeat the worthwhile exercise of having various MEPs come to the House. We can avail of the expertise of other organs of the State in the context of reform of the Houses. We could, for instance, invite officeholders such as the Ombudsman to appear before the Seanad on a frequent basis to engage in full and frank exchanges of views on various issues.
This is a worthwhile motion, although this morning's decision by the joint committee to issue an invitation to the Ombudsman probably takes some of the heat out of it. I look forward to interaction with the Ombudsman when we discuss this matter in the joint committee.
I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Connick. He is a splendid man, as I know only too well from our membership of the Operation Transformation team of fat politicians which wiped the floor with the fat housewives and taxi drivers. That was one of the few good, positive political stories to emerge in the past decade. I compliment the Minister of State on his clear and disciplined approach to the entire project. Of course, he had the expert and, I am sure, invaluable advice of his spouse, although I do not imagine he required her expert advice to produce his speech, the delivery of which was clear and nicely analytical. I also appreciated the respect with which the Minister of State treated the House.
This is an interesting development and I took the trouble, unusually, of placing my name on the Order Paper in support of the Fine Gael Party motion. I did so for a variety of reasons and not, as Senator O'Toole stated, to pre-judge the case because that would be inappropriate. The Senator made a fair judgment and assessment of the entire issue. The primary reason I lent my support to the motion was that I am concerned we should establish a body such as the Office of the Ombudsman and then turn our face against the advice that emerges from it, which appears to have been the case.
Despite the pleasant language and effusive comments paid in the motion and by the Minister of State to the Office of the Ombudsman and this particular manifestation or incarnation of the Ombudsman, it is clear the implication of everything the Minister of State said is that a patently absurd decision was reached by the Ombudsman. Clear grounds are laid out that the scheme was deliberately limited in terms of time, the type of application required, tonnage and the requirement to produce records and the vessel's log to show it had been continuously active for a period of at least two years.
The Minister of State noted that the compensation figure of €245,570 recommended by the Ombudsman "was arrived at by using the methodology and rates used in the 2008 decommissioning scheme, a completely separate and unrelated scheme". It appears something is not quite spelled out in this sentence, namely, that this is an attempt to get around the problem and make an application which is a parallel of the 2008 decommissioning scheme, in other words, of trying to operate a method that would trigger exactly the same thing.
The implication seems to be that they are using a late application for lost at sea scheme compensation as a way of getting into the decommissioning scheme. I am not in a position to judge, but I can say it is very tragic that five people, two of them members of the same family, were lost at sea 20 years ago. It is a deeply distressing case.
The Minister of State has made it clear, presumably on the basis of advice from the Department of Finance, that there is a concern the floodgates might open and compensation might raise its ugly head all over the country. That suggestion was underlined when it was mentioned — the Minister of State neatly slipped it into the script — that insurance compensation of a significant nature had already been arrived at. We can put all these things to one side and focus on the need to make a balanced judgment. I am concerned with the Ombudsman's judgment which made significant findings with regard to the Department's notification and publication of the arrangements for the scheme.
I ask the Senator to conclude.
I will end by noting the Minister of State's concern about the matter and wishing that his party colleague, the former Minister, Deputy Woods, had been as careful about the public purse when the subject of compensation was opened up in respect of cases of institutional abuse. I wish there had been such prudence in that instance. Many are concerned not only because we do not have any control over this recommendation of the Ombudsman and cannot enforce it, but also because there was a similar case previously regarding the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.
The Senator has gone way over time.
This is my last sentence.
It seems more like the Senator's last paragraph.
The Seanad could have annulled the report on the BCI. That was recommended by an all-party committee, but it was defeated by the Government when it was voted on, thereby bringing the whole democratic process into question.
I wish to share time with Senator Ó Brolcháin.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
A few weeks ago I entered into a debate on this matter outside the House for a number of reasons. When I was a Member of the other House and an Opposition spokesman on this area, I warmly welcomed the previous Government's decision to appoint Ms Emily O'Reilly to the position of Ombudsman. I was pleased when her term in office was extended. It needs to be acknowledged that she has done excellent work in the Office of the Ombudsman. However, I suggest a gap in the legislation continues to prevent her from being as effective as she could be. I would like the promised legislation to strengthen the office to be introduced as quickly as possible. Perhaps such a Bill could deal with some of the issues that have arisen in this case.
While the lost at sea issue needs to be examined in greater detail, I would like to focus less on that issue and more on the manner in which the Ombudsman, as an officer of the State, interacts with the Houses of the Oireachtas. We have had a useful debate on that aspect of the matter. It has been noted that this is just the second time the Office of the Ombudsman has tabled a report for special consideration by the Oireachtas. We need to put in place particular procedures and protocols for dealing with such reports.
I do not agree with Senator Twomey that an attempt has been made to obscure or deny debate. The matter has been discussed in this House and in the Dáil. When the Ombudsman tables a report in this specific way, as she is entitled to do under the legislation, there should be a means of enabling her to interact with the debates on it in the Oireachtas. It would seem ideal to allow such a debate to take place at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which is responsible for marine matters. I am glad that consideration is being given to such an approach. We should allow such interaction to occur. The Ombudsman should make a contribution in response to the debates that have take place in the two Houses. The appointed members of the joint committee of both Houses should then react to her thoughts. To agree the motion proposed by Senator Bradford would be to prejudge the response of the joint committee.
Although there is more logic and sense in the Government amendment than in the Fine Gael motion, I am not without sympathy for the Byrne family whose specific case deserves to be examined. The vessel on which the father of the complainant to the Ombudsman lost his life went down in a stretch of water between Burtonport and Arranmore Island. As I have family connections with the island — my father came from there — I have travelled that stretch of water many times. I understand the harsh realities of the lives of fishermen in that part of the world. I accept that we lack mechanisms to recognise their difficulties and make sure they are compensated properly at times such as this. We need to discuss this wider issue.
I am satisfied that the best approach is for the Ombudsman to appear at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the short term. That would enable her to respond to the Dáil and Seanad debates. We could then see how the issue can be progressed from there. Such an approach should have been taken before now and I am confident it would result in a proper re-examination of the issue. The demand in the Fine Gael motion for a "thorough investigation" to be arranged is superfluous. I am confident the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can sufficiently exercise its role in that regard. We should not second-guess the roles of our appointed committees in this way.
The Ombudsman should be given specific powers when the House gets a chance to consider the amending legislation that has been promised. As an important independent officer of the State, the Ombudsman should have the right to ask to attend Oireachtas committee meetings to discuss issues of relevance to her office. The Ombudsman's role is as a representative of citizens in the operation of administration.
I accept what the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, has said about the flaws in the lost at sea scheme and I should have joined other Senators in welcoming him to the House. I know from my first-hand experience that his family, community and constituents have taken pride in his appointment as Minister of State. I have a great deal of confidence in his ability to rise to his task.
The Minister of State has commented on the manner in which this affair has been responded to so far. Even if the application was late, there was an inconsistency of approach. Not only were advertisements placed in the marine press, but direct contact was also made with a number of people who were known to be affected by the issue. When the Ombudsman makes her presentation to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I would like her to address this aspect of the matter. I do not consider the scheme to have been organised in a particular way. This administrative inconsistency deserves to be explored further by the committee. In giving way to my party colleague, I welcome the fact that the committee decided today to examine the issue in a wider sense and to allow the Ombudsman to contribute to that process.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, who is a proud New Ross man. He is very welcome.
I concur with Senator Boyle's assessment of the matter. The relationship between the Ombudsman and the Houses of the Oireachtas is the key issue. The section of the relevant Act setting out how the Oireachtas should deal with the Ombudsman's reports seems to be slightly vague. Ms O'Reilly has described the option of sending reports to the Oireachtas as a "nuclear" one. The manner in which such reports should be dealt with when they are sent to the Oireachtas appears to be somewhat unclear. It is clear that the Ombudsman — the same person will not have that role all the time — should have an opportunity to bring his or her own views to the Houses of the Oireachtas, for example, at committee level. When matters of this nature are debated in the Seanad, it would be welcome if the Ombudsman had an opportunity to put his or her case before us. That would have been extremely helpful, particularly if we had an opportunity to put questions and receive answers.
The role of the Ombudsman is very important. I have used the Office of the Ombudsman on a number of occasions as a public representative and I am sure many public representatives have suggested to constituents to refer matters to the Ombudsman, particularly Opposition Members. I would like the Minister of State to consider making the Ombudsman a constitutional officer because that would help underpin the integrity of the office. This could be done at a time when other referenda are happening, but it should certainly be considered.
I welcome the opportunity granted to the Ombudsman to address the Houses through the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I hope that happens as quickly as possible and for the sake of the Byrne family, this matter needs to be brought to a resolution at that stage.
I congratulate the Minister of State on his new appointment and wish him success.
The Ombudsman states the following at the beginning of her report:
The Office of the Ombudsman relies on the authority which comes from its independence, impartiality and confidence to gain fair play for people who have been wronged by public bodies. As Ombudsman, I do not make binding decisions. The Department is free in law to reject my recommendations. My only recourse, when I consider that a public body's response to a recommendation is unsatisfactory, is to make a special report to each House of the Oireachtas under the Ombudsman Act. This is such a report.
The Ombudsman has asked us to consider the report. Since she gave the report to the Department, she has obviously made a number of comments on how the report is being dealt with. That is the focus of the Fine Gael motion. It has been a tortuous process to get to the point where Deputy Sargent has written to the committee today and the committee, probably prompted by this motion, has decided to invite the Ombudsman to appear before it.
The Ombudsman also said:
by preventing the Oireachtas from dealing with the report, the Government parties have brought about a situation in which the Government has been able to act as a judge in its own case. The saga began with maladministration and has ended, to date at least, with poor governance.
She states this may be about loyalty and goes on to make some comments about this. She also asks how the role of the Ombudsman fits into the wider arrangements for the Government and how the Government should act in supporting her in fulfilling her statutory role. She states it is a bit odd to be raising those questions 30 years after the passing of the Ombudsman Act 1980 and 26 years after the setting up of the Office of the Ombudsman. She points out that this type of situation has only arisen once before; we made reference to this and the fact that a solution was found in that case. She states no solution has been found to how she believes the report should be dealt with.
The Ombudsman goes on to state that one of the big criticisms about governance has been the lack of regulation. She quotes the Financial Regulator and the work that was not done, of which we are all very conscious now. She points out that she is trying to do her work and be accountable, yet the way the report has been dealt with goes against what everyone has been saying about the need for oversight, governance and respect for the independent monitoring of the Ombudsman.
Whatever about the detail or the recommendations of the report, the way it has been dealt with by the Government and the way the Ombudsman has been treated is not good enough in a modern democracy. While the Minister of State may defend the detail of the report and the Department's current view, that is not really the point. The point of the motion is to examine how the report has been dealt with by the Government since it was published, as well as the reluctance to put it before the committee for investigation by that committee. I would welcome the Minister of State outlining before the committee what he outlined today. Equally, the Ombudsman should have the opportunity to present her findings in the way she has done in the report, following which there should be a discussion on it. That is the key point of our motion. We have not had that to date, and I hope we get an opportunity for it now.
I ask the Government to support the motion. The committee has indicated it will have this hearing; therefore, what we are saying looks like being accepted and the decent thing to do would be to accept the motion, rather than oppose it on spurious grounds.
This is one of the most serious issues that the Oireachtas has had to deal with. We have a scheme which was designed in a flawed manner by a former Minister, Deputy Fahey. The finding of the Ombudsman was that the lost at sea scheme was designed in a way that was contrary to fair and sound administration. It is quite a damning report, but she does not make a political finding. She deals with the compliant that was made by the Byrne family, but the matter was not politicised in her report. That is why I do not understand why the Government has been so reluctant to deal with this specific case and the specific issue addressed by the Ombudsman.
There has been a determination to avoid discussion of this matter even at an Oireachtas committee and to have the Ombudsman present her report. That is the purpose of the motion. The matter has to be examined in detail by an Oireachtas committee. There are fundamental questions that need to be answered, and the former Minister has serious questions to answer. Bertie Ahern's autobiography refers specifically to the then Minister, Deputy Fahey, and the lost at sea scheme. It was flawed and it was foisted on a Department that was very reluctant to introduce the scheme, but it was invariably brought into line. The scheme was introduced to facilitate specific people and criteria were adopted to suit specific people. The Ombudsman produced documentary evidence which showed personal writing such as "I want to licence these boats if we can do this". There are references to ring-fencing the scheme and confining it to certain individuals.
The finding of the Ombudsman was that this was maladministration. The Ombudsman Act 1980 states that the appointment of a person to be the Ombudsman shall be made by the President upon resolution passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann recommending the appointment of the person. The very legislation shows the importance of this office and we should recognise the independence of the office. This matter should be discussed by the committee, and I hope the recommendations of the Ombudsman will be followed and that the modicum of compensation which she has recommended to the Byrne family is adhered to.
The importance of these Houses to show respect for the Office of the Ombudsman has been highlighted recently in the national media by a former Senator, Maurice Hayes. Having set up that office, he said that the least we can do is to respect it and the integrity of the office holder. To date, we have shown disrespect to that office. It is an important office to ensure there are safeguards in our democracy. Just like a free press and independent courts, we have an Ombudsman and this is best practice in Europe. The Oireachtas and the Government will be judged on how they deal with the recommendations of an excellent report by an excellent Ombudsman.
I would like to share time with Senator O'Sullivan.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, on his first visit to the Seanad since his appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries and forestry issues. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well in his term of office. He has certainly hit the ground running since his appointment one week ago. I particularly welcome his undertaking, when meeting the new European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, that his objective in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy would be "to protect the national fish quotas as a public resource to be used for the benefit of our family-owned fleet and to support our coastal communities."
I also congratulate Deputy Killeen on his appointment as Minister for Defence. He was always very effective as a Minister of State, in which capacity he attended the House on many occasions. He was always courteous and constructive and I am sure he will soon return to the House in his new capacity.
The Office of the Ombudsman is an important statutory office which since its establishment has contributed significantly to our system of public administration. In the vast majority of cases the Ombudsman's recommendations are accepted by the relevant public bodies, which is as it should be. That, in itself, is a measure of the esteem in which the office is held and the support for it, contrary to what the previous speaker said.
As the two Ministers of State, Deputies Killeen and Connick, said, it is clear that the Ombudsman has undertaken a detailed, forensic examination of the complaint made by Mr. Byrne. She is to be commended for the time and effort put into compiling the report. I extend my sympathy to the Byrne family on their great personal loss. I did so also when the issue was discussed previously in the House.
As the Ombudsman acknowledged in her special report, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is free in law to reject her recommendation. The Department which assumed responsibility for fisheries in October 2007 believes there is no basis for proceeding to pay, as the scheme's conditions were not met. It is also concerned that such a payment would create a precedent for its schemes and those of other Departments and Offices. That is its right and its right to take that position is accepted by the Ombudsman.
Notwithstanding the particularly tragic circumstances surrounding the case, as public representatives, we cannot ignore the legitimate concerns of the Department, as expressed by the two Ministers, that the Ombudsman's recommendation in this case could give rise to major financial liabilities arising from claims from other unsuccessful applicants under the lost at sea scheme. Not only can we not ignore such concerns, but it would also be irresponsible of us to do so. I share the Minister's concern that it is difficult to accept the Ombudsman's contention that her recommendation in this case has no implications for other unsuccessful candidates.
It is clear that neither the Minister nor the Department has taken lightly the Ombudsman's recommendation in this case. There was considerable engagement between the Ombudsman's office and the Department before the latter took the position it did. Clearly and properly, the Department took considered legal advice which, as the Minister of State has pointed out, contends that "it is inevitable that the Ombudsman's recommendation in relation to monetary payment may result in other unsuccessful applications for this scheme looking for the same consideration". We are all only too aware of the pressure on the public finances and there are areas of public policy for which we would all like to see additional funding.
It has been said here that the Government blocked this, but the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the matter could be debated in both Houses and also go before the relevant committee. However, it is up to us to decide and take that into consideration. As Senator Bradford outlined in his recommendations, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of which I am also a member, has agreed to reconsider the matter and an invitation has been issued to the Ombudsman to attend the committee to discuss it.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connick. I know him from our time as urban councillors and recognise the service he gave to our organisation, the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, as its president. While his elevation to ministerial office is important to him, his family and constituency, it is also a great fillip for town councillors everywhere to see one of their own rising steadily up the ladder.
There is anAlice in Wonderland aspect to this debate. We had a full discussion on this issue about two weeks ago and there were also statements made in the Lower House. On that occasion the Government offered to deal with it in committee but the Opposition rejected this. It is rather ironic that that is what the Opposition motion before us is seeking. The joint committee has now taken the initiative to invite the Ombudsman to meet it, which renders the motion somewhat foolish.
The scheme was a positive attempt to deal with a situation in which bereaved fishing families found themselves. I commend the Minister who introduced the scheme, Deputy Fahey, who was the subject of a snide remark by an Opposition Senator. It is easy to take a shot and then run out the door, but I do not like this in any walk of life. The former Minister did the right thing and there is absolutely no evidence or proof of any wrongdoing or departure from normal procedures in the way the scheme was handled. Innuendo and hints to the contrary are absolute rubbish. We had better talk plainly.
I am sorry to say the first person to cast a slur on the scheme was a Kerryman, Mr. Joe Higgins, who is now an MEP. He made outrageous remarks at the time in the Dáil and has not had the courage or decency to withdraw them since.
Who will be served by this debate? My heart goes out to the Byrne family and any other bereaved family. I know about the tremendous risks and dangers involved in sea fishing, but this debate will not turn back the clock.
When introduced, the scheme was subject to conditions, like all other Government schemes. The conditions included a deadline, as well as other elements. In addition, the scheme was advertised. I am not satisfied with the argument that it was not advertised properly because there was targeted advertising in trade journals. Anyone who knows anything about farmers and fishermen will know that that is the right way to reach them because they quickly pick up on what is going on. If there are grants going, they are the first to know about them, even before we know ourselves. If people did not tick all the boxes, however, they did not qualify.
The Ombudsman is highly respected and criticising her is like criticising Mother Teresa of Calcutta or the Pope.
A lot of people criticise the Pope.
Unlike the Pope, however, the Ombudsman is not infallible. I am delighted she is to appear before the joint committee because I will be there to ask questions.
Did the Office of the Ombudsman really understand what it was doing in this case? Did it differentiate between the lost at sea scheme and the decommissioning scheme? The lost at sea scheme had nothing to do with money, even though Joe Higgins, MEP, tried to give the impression that it did. No one was getting any money under that scheme, the aim of which was to replace lost tonnage.
Did the Ombudsman interface properly and adequately with the Department when she was preparing the report? There is evidence to suggest she did not. I would like to hear that issue being teased out also.
I have the height of respect for the Ombudsman, but was she right to sensationalise the matter by making a speech to the media? To a certain extent, she has is on dangerous ground in creating a possible rift between her role and that of the Oireachtas. We are both trying to do our best for the country. Her role is vital and respected, but so is ours. That is where the real debate lies.
I wish to share time with Senator John Paul Phelan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, and congratulate and wish him well with his new portfolio.
I view this motion as non-political. The speech I most enjoyed was Senator O'Toole's, not that many good points have not been made on both sides of the House. In fact, I must admit I do not see a difference between the motion and the amendment. I am also delighted that it has been decided today that the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will carry out its own investigation and report on the matter. I look forward to the appearances of the Minister and the Ombudsman before that committee.
I do not intend to attach blame to anyone, but a question is raised by all of this: how stands the Ombudsman? We must be concerned about this because, as has been pointed out, the Office of the Ombudsman was set up and the Ombudsman appointed with the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. We are obliged, therefore, to have much regard to the independence and integrity of the office. I do not think anyone on either side would disagree with this.
Like most other speakers, I have much sympathy for the Byrne family. Their referral of the matter to the Office of the Ombudsman was their right, as the office is an essential part of our democratic system. They did not do anything wrong. The Ombudsman's office examined the case in the proper manner and made findings and we know what has happened since. As has been pointed out, Deputy Sargent wrote an important letter in the meantime. We must be careful in proceeding because of the implications for our political and democratic system. As I said, the matter was properly referred and examined and recommendations were made. What is at stake now is the integrity of the office. The Ombudsman was concerned that the Byrne family had been treated unfairly and made such a finding in her special report.
The major point is that the Office of the Ombudsman was constitutionally provided for and set up and the Ombudsman was appointed by both Houses to provide an independent, objective assessment. That was done and I hope we will respect the office. I also have considerable regard for the recent comments of the first ombudsman in the North, Dr. Maurice Hayes, who served with us as a Senator for two terms. I will finish on that point because he laid it out well. I hope the committee will deal properly with the matter and I have no doubt it will do so.
I thank Senator Coghlan for sharing his time with me and welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, to the Seanad. His recent elevation to ministerial office is a matter of great pride for many in my area and his. I was proud to be the first man from Rosbercon in the Oireachtas, but Deputy Connick beat me to the Dáil and the position of Minister of State. There is only one position to which I could hope to beat him at this stage. However, I wish him success in his position. I note that he mentioned his own county of Wexford, but I presume he meant his own constituency, since he lives in Kilkenny.
It is my neighbour.
We learn something new every day.
We are glad to have a new Minister of State in County Kilkenny.
I lend my support to the Fine Gael motion which serves as an indicator of the value of Seanad Éireann because I do not believe the committee would have accepted the proposal that it discuss the lost at sea report if this motion had not been put before the Seanad this evening. I do not see the purpose of the amendment; the objective of the motion was to have the report discussed by an Oireachtas committee and now it will be. The amendment leaves open the option for the issue to be discussed in committee.
The Office of the Ombudsman is an important one. Senators on all sides have said they have recommended to those in their areas that they make use of it, as I have done in the past. The Ombudsman has made a serious criticism of the way in which we do our business in the Houses of the Oireachtas and there is a degree of truth in what she says. This issue fell down purely on party political grounds in the debate in the other House. It is right and proper that the Ombudsman and the public who have such faith in her position would expect consideration of her report by an Oireachtas committee. As that has now been decided upon, I do not see the purpose in our having a division on the issue. The objective will be fulfilled in any case.
I was struck by the mention of the Byrne family by a number of contributors. They are the people at the heart of the report. I will not get involved in a discussion on the merits of the conclusions made by the Ombudsman in her report. That will be decided by the committee. However, for that family, it is a matter of life and death and they are entitled to every process that can be carried out on their behalf. They went to the Ombudsman in good faith and she decided that they had a case. She pursued the only avenue she could which was to lay the report which I have read before the Houses of the Oireachtas. She considered, as do the family, that the report had not been given due consideration by the Oireachtas. That is the purpose of the motion before the House. The desired result has already, in effect, been achieved, in that the committee has agreed to discuss the report. Therefore, we should not have a division on the matter at this stage. Let us leave aside, for once, petty party political squabbling and agree that the report will be examined by the committee in order that this family who have suffered enough will receive a fair hearing of their understandable grievances.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus déanaim comhghairdeas leis as an ardú céime a fuair sé ar na mallaibh.
I welcome the fact that the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food agreed this morning to invite the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, to a meeting to discuss the report on the lost at sea scheme. I hope this will be the start of an overall investigation of the scheme, as is called for in the motion before the House. I support the motion which is different from the amendment tabled by the Government in that it calls for a full investigation of the findings made in the report. I am glad to be one of the signatories to the motion, with my Fine Gael colleagues and Senators Norris and O'Toole.
The Ombudsman's report describes the lost at sea scheme as "seriously deficient and flawed". It is clearly an accurate summary of what took place. The Ombudsman has found that the Byrne family who are from my own county were treated unfairly in their claim for compensation following the loss of two members of the family and three crewmen when their boat sank in 1981. The family were excluded from the scheme because they applied one year after the period for the submission of applications had closed, but they argued that the scheme should have been publicised more widely, as we have heard, and that they were unaware of it, as were others who might have been eligible. The reason given for the failure of the Department to notify the family was that the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources claimed to have no record of the tragic incident that led to the loss of the vessel and those on board. It seems strange the Department responsible for overseeing the fishing sector which is so meticulous in other areas related to fishing vessels and fishing regulations was not aware of it and had not officially recorded it.
Although it failed to advertise the scheme more widely and inform the Byrne family, the Department had written to others who had applied in order to inform them of its existence. We know it was the former Minister who has now left the Chamber who did this. On what basis was it decided to contact these individuals and not others? There are also serious issues to be addressed regarding those who were deemed eligible, the criteria employed and the level of compensation awarded to some but not others.
The Ombudsman agreed with the Byrne family in its complaints regarding all of these issues and also concluded that, because of the way in which it had been designed, it had been applied inequitably. On that basis, she recommended that the family be compensated and a figure of just under €250,000 was calculated as an appropriate amount. However, this was rejected by the Department, even though it was officials within it who had arrived at the compensation figure. The attitude of departmental officials probably reflected their own scepticism about the lost at sea scheme. When the scheme was proposed, there was opposition to it from within the Department on the basis of concerns about allocating quota, but the then Minister, Deputy Fahey, overruled these objections. The manner in which the scheme was operated only heightened that concern.
The Ombudsman also referred to the fact that two constituents of the former Minister, Deputy Fahey, had originally suggested the establishment of the scheme. The two people in question were granted compensatory tonnage worth €2 million under the scheme, out of a total of just €2.8 million awarded to the six successful applicants. There is also evidence that the two people concerned were accepted, despite the fact that the Department had ruled that they were ineligible because their vessels had been registered before 1990. The Minister made much of the fact that the Byrnes did not suit the criteria in that regard, but it is clear that neither did the two constituents of the former Minister. Others in the same position were rejected. The criteria were then altered, apparently, to facilitate the former Minister's two constituents. That alone substantiates the Ombudsman's conclusion that the scheme had not been administered equitably.
Of the 67 applicants who applied between June 2001 and the closing date for the scheme of December 31, only six were accepted. Some €2.8 million was paid out to the six successful applicants and the two people to whom I have referred, the then Minister's constituents, received 75% or €2.1 million of the total value of the replacement tonnage. It was later discovered that, although the scheme did not close until 31 December 2001, the then Minister, Deputy Fahey, had written to his two constituents in October congratulating them on being successful. They were among the six, of the 67 applicants, who were successful. However, it was found that one of the persons to whom the Minister had written did not actually qualify, according to the original criteria, but he appealed and was accepted in 2003, with one of the reasons cited for the award being the fact that the then Minister's letter of congratulations had created a reasonable expectation that he would receive compensation. This constituent was notified of the scheme, ineligible under the criteria and refused an award but then appealed and was granted an award because of the then Minister's letter in 2003. This application, appeal and award were all made after the date the Byrne family had applied. In the context of the Ombudsman's report on the Byrne family's application, it should be noted that it was being processed before the decision in the aforementioned case, yet it was still turned down. Even on that basis, the Byrnes were treated unfairly.
These issues have raised serious concerns which have been referred to in a number of press reports. They were also mentioned in the Lower House by Deputy Sargent in June 2006. I was, therefore, interested to hear what the Green Party Senators had to say. During the course of an extensive survey of Deputy Fahey's property holdings, Deputy Sargent specifically mentioned the fact that two of the then Minister's constituents had received such a large share of the compensation paid under the lost at sea scheme and went on to call on the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to sack Deputy Fahey. How things have changed. The claim regarding the two individuals was reported in a piece inIreland on Sunday two weeks later in which it was also claimed that the two people concerned had suggested setting up the scheme in the first place and that the criteria governing applications were changed in order to facilitate one of them. All of this has been confirmed in an investigation of the documents relating to the scheme and the processing of applications.
It is clear from the Ombudsman's report and all the other reports surrounding the scheme, including those to which I have referred, that a full investigation needs to be carried out into all aspects of the way in which the lost at sea scheme was operated. That is why it is necessary that it be referred to and fully discussed by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I welcome this morning's decision by the committee to invite the Ombudsman and hope it will be the start of a more intensive investigation. The whole issue must be investigated. The investigation should focus on the issue as it relates to the Byrne family, a family which suffered a tragedy at sea and which was unfairly treated by the Government. They deserve, as suggested in the Ombudsman's report, to be compensated for the way in which the Government treated their application. I hope the report and subsequent debate will lead to the family finally being treated in the way the Ombudsman ruled.
There is no doubt the Ombudsman's report is damning, not only with regard to how the lost at sea scheme was operated, but also with regard to the former Minister, Deputy Fahey. One item that jumped out at me when reading it was the handwritten note the former Minister sent to his departmental officials with regard to the parameters on which the scheme would be drafted which stated: "I want to see how we can ringfence the six to eight genuine cases." As we know, awards were granted in six cases and 75% of the amount granted went to two of the then Minister's constituents. How the hell did the then Minister know at the time, before the scheme was even drafted, that there would be six to eight cases when many more people had lost their lives and boats at sea? If the Byrne family were not in my constituency but in that of the former Minister and they had the same access other individuals had, there is no doubt the scheme would have been drafted to ensure they received compensation. It was drafted to suit a certain number of people.
I thank all those who contributed to the debate, including the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, whom I wish well following his appointment.
It is important to reflect on the wording of the motion which has been designed to ensure the report would be fully and thoroughly investigated by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Most of what we have heard in the debate is, in a sense, a throwback to the debate held on 18 February when we had a series of statements outlining our views on what was contained in the report. What Fine Gael and the co-signatories to the motion want to ensure is that the Ombudsman, all those affected and implicated — policymakers, politicians and affected families — will have an opportunity to come before the joint committee to present their case, take questions and respond to queries. That is the least that is required.
I welcome the fact that the Government appears to have conceded that the Ombudsman should come before the joint committee, but we need to go further and ensure the committee will investigate the report, ask questions and advance the process. We in this House are not judges or jurors. However, there are questions yet to be asked, angles to be pursued and issues to be teased out. The report must be examined in an open and transparent fashion by the committee. We require a thorough investigation. There has been some progress. Political pressure applied by the Opposition parties and more recently the Green Party has obviously triggered a Government response. The white flag has been raised and, at a minimum, the Ombudsman will now be allowed to come before the committee. That meeting must be more than a vehicle for a hearing with the Ombudsman. The committee must be allowed to investigate the matter fully, question all those involved and hear their submissions and advance the case.
I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. The backdrop to the report is tragic. All those involved require closure and, most of all, justice which the affected families consider they have not received and which they demand. We have a role to play in that regard. The next step is a full, open and thorough investigation by the joint committee. I look forward to it being allowed. Again, I thank my colleagues for allowing this debate to be held today.
I should have welcomed the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, to the House earlier. I do so now, congratulate him on his promotion and wish him well for the future.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Dearey, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- O'Malley, Fiona.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carroll, James.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Dearey, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Brolcháin, Niall.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- O'Malley, Fiona.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Ag 10.30 maidin amárach.