Ombudsman blames TDs for economic downturn

The Ombudsman has launched an attack on Ireland's politicians, saying "poor governance in key institutions" is at the heart of our economic downturn.

Ombudsman blames TDs for economic downturn

The Ombudsman has launched an attack on Ireland's politicians, saying "poor governance in key institutions" is at the heart of our economic downturn.

The withering attack on the political class also claimed that they have abandoned the republican ideals of the Constitution.

Angered over the Government’s refusal to sanction compensation for a family whose father and son died at sea, Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said Dáil powers have been sidelined in favour of a rubber-stamping parliament.

“Unfortunately, the model of government set out in the Irish Constitution has become more of a fiction than a reality,” she said.

“In practice the Dáil, and to a slightly lesser extent the Seanad, is controlled very firmly by the Government parties through the operation of the whip system.

“For all practical purposes, and I very much regret having to say this so bluntly, parliament in Ireland has been sidelined and is no longer in a position to hold the executive to account.

“With the exception of the election of a Taoiseach, almost all decisions of importance are taken by the executive and are rubber-stamped by parliament.”

Ms O’Reilly, Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, launched the fierce attack as she addressed senior public and civil servants at a conference in Dublin.

She had ordered €245,570 compensation be paid to the family of Francis Byrne after he died along with his 16-year-old son Jimmy and three other crew when the family’s fishing boat the Skifjord sank in a storm off Donegal in 1981.

The family applied for replacement tonnage under the Government’s controversial Lost at Sea scheme to assist fishermen who lost fishing boats between 1980 and 1989.

The Byrnes’ application was rejected by the Department of Agriculture and it is believed senior civil servants were concerned about the level of claims the scheme would lead to.

The Ombudsman sided with the family and laid her report before the Oireachtas. It is only the second time in the 26-year history of the office a ruling has been ignored by the Government.

A Dáil vote to have it referred to a committee was defeated before Taoiseach Brian Cowen said a committee should decide whether a review was needed.

Finally, the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture rejected calls for an investigation into the report as the Government used its majority to win another vote.

Mr Fahey has consistently claimed he is happy with how the scheme was set up.

It is understood only six of the 67 people who applied for compensation for replacement tonnage under the scheme were successful.

Ms O’Reilly said she had sympathy for TDs forced to vote in a pre-determined fashion.

But she warned: “On the other hand, some members of the Oireachtas would seem no longer conscious that parliament is intended to call the executive to account.”

She went on: “While few will acknowledge this openly, senior civil servants working with ministers and sitting in on Oireachtas debates must, in very many instances, become profoundly cynical; either that, or they too have lost the sense that a properly functioning parliament is fundamental to a properly functioning democracy.”

Ms O’Reilly said she believes many elected representatives would agree with her assessment.

“I do think, and again I say this with genuine deference to all the members of the Dáil and Seanad, that the situation is now so serious that it cannot continue to be ignored,” she said.

“It seems to me that a properly functioning parliament is even more necessary at times like these when, in effect, we have a national emergency on our hands.”

Fine Gael agriculture spokesman Michael Creed said Fianna Fáil has something to fear from an investigation into the Lost at Sea scheme.

“The Ombudsman’s criticism is damning,” he said.

“Fine Gael has been calling for this committee investigation since December 15, 2009 and it is our position that such an investigation is the best way forward when there is an impasse between the Ombudsman’s office and the Government.

“Instead we have had bland Dáil statements and the Government has circled the wagons at every turn, most recently when Fianna Fail voted down a motion calling for a committee investigation.”

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