In a bid to increase the openness, transparency and accountability of the Irish administrative and political system, the Government has introduced the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012, which took effect from 1 May 2013.
This Act increases the remit and powers of the Ombudsman, which is currently held by Emily O’Reilly. Among other things, it will allow the Ombudsman to initiate investigations of her own accord. The Office of the Ombudsman examines complaints from members of the public who feel they have been unfairly treated by certain public bodies.
The Ombudsman’s Office may now investigate an additional 140 public bodies. A list of these bodies may be found at the following link.
The Act applies to the administrative function only of some of these bodies.
The Ombudsman now has power to:
- Initiate her own investigations;
- Apply to the Circuit Court for an Order directing compliance if a body fails to comply with a request for information or documentation;
- Refer a question of law arising out of an investigation to the High Court;
- Make recommendations to bodies as to how to conduct themselves.
While the Ombudsman cannot take any action for failure to comply, she may report the failure to the Oireachtas, resulting in possible adverse publicity for the body.
With more strategic investigations being a key priority in the Ombudsman’s Statement of Strategy 2013 to 2015, it is important for bodies to be aware of their obligations in this area.