A PUBLIC inquiry into the controversial Lost at Sea Scheme has been stalled to allow the warring factions in the Department of Agriculture and the Ombudsman’s office time to reconsider the stand-off.
The Oireachtas committee on agriculture decided it would write to both parties before finalising its conclusions after a series of heated meetings. This correspondence was agreed on this week.
Up to now the department has flatly rejected the recommendation of Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly that it should compensate a Donegal family for the flawed operation of the Lost at Sea scheme.
However, there have been a series of accusations and allegations made during the committee’s four public hearings held at Leinster House since April.
The committee had not scheduled any additional public meetings. Nevertheless, it decided, before it made its own recommendations, it would give both parties another chance to find a middle ground.
They will have to reply before July 21 at which time the committee will decide its next action.
Since April the Committee has interviewed the Ombudsman, former junior minister Frank Fahey who devised the scheme, and past and present agriculture officials.
Mr Fahey’s role has been strongly criticised along with the decision of the department to limit and downplay the compensation scheme.
However, both he and officials strongly defended their roles when they gave evidence.
The Labour Party’s agriculture spokesman, Sean Sherlock, said he supported the hiatus.
“This will give the department and the Ombudsman an opportunity to try hammer out some sort of compromise,” he said.
The Oireachtas committee is restricted in what it can do with the information and evidence it has been given at public hearings.
Legal impediments do not allow it to imply any wrongdoing on the part of any individual.
However, it can make a recommendation on what should be done to resolve the confrontation or what is the best course of action.
The Committee only took on the Lost at Sea scheme after a contentious and highly partisan battle between opposition deputies and the Government.
Ms O’Reilly took the unprecedented step of laying her report on the issue before the Oireachtas after the department ignored her recommendations.
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