FF attacked over Lost at Sea move

THE Ombudsman has said the move by Fianna Fáil members on the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee to favour party allegiance over the plight of a Donegal family has done damage to the citizens of the country.

Emily O’Reilly, the Ombudsman, said the decision to allow the Government impose a whip in the committee undermined its inquiry into the controversial Lost at Sea scheme.

She said Winifred Byrne, who lost her husband and son in the 1981 sinking of the Skifjord, was not treated fairly and should be eligible for more than €245,570 in compensation.

However, the Fianna Fáil majority on the committee sided with their parliamentary party colleague, Frank Fahey, who championed the under-the-radar Lost at Sea package when he was marine minister in 2001.

Ms O’Reilly said this approach would have a deep impact.

“The implication of the committee’s decision is that the Government is allowed to be the judge in its own case. Under the party whip system, the Government has effective control of the Dáil and Seanad; where it insists on using the whip in relation to an Ombudsman recommendation made, in part, against a former member of the Government, it is acting as the judge in its own case,” he said.

The committee’s report said it did not wish to compromise the integrity of the Ombudsman.

It said there were problems with the advertising of the Lost at Sea package, but this did not justify the Ombudsman’s belief that it ran contrary to “fair and sound administration”.

“Having considered all the evidence presented, the committee is of the view that the manner in which the scheme was advertised was not optimum, but not to the extent that it could be considered contrary to fair and sound administration.

“Furthermore the committee is not persuaded by the Ombudsman’s views in relation to the design of the scheme,” its report said.

The Oireachtas committee inquired into the scheme during the course of five meetings before the summer break.

It considered a special report of Ms O’Reilly, produced after the Department of Agriculture refused to accept her recommendation that the Byrne family were not treated fairly.

The committee’s report, which was forced through against the wishes of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, said it regretted that the Ombudsman and the department could not reach a resolution.

Sean Sherlock of the Labour Party said the actions of his Fianna Fáil colleagues served as an attack on the independence of the Ombudsman.

“It is deeply worrying that Fianna Fáil and the Government parties have now undermined the very office of the Ombudsman and any citizens who from now on make a complaint to that office,” he said.

Fine Gael’s Tom Sheahan said Fianna Fáil had “circled the wagons” to protect Mr Fahey.

He said if Ms O’Reilly felt she had to resign because of this he would step down from the committee in support of her.

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