Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008: Discussion with the Ombudsman
For the sake of the broadcasting and recording services, I request that members ensure their mobile telephones are turned off completely. Apologies have been received from Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
The first part of today's meeting is to discuss with the Ombudsman the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008 in the committee's capacity as the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions. The second part of the meeting will consider the Office of the Ombudsman Annual Report 2011 in the committee's capacity as the Joint Sub-Committee on the Ombudsman.
I welcome the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, and her team, Ms Bernie McNally, director, Office of the Ombudsman, and Mr. Tom Morgan, senior investigator, Office of the Ombudsman. The committee appreciates them taking time out again to discuss these issues.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If witnesses are directed by this committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled, thereafter, only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name, or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Finally, members are reminded of the long-standing ruling of the Chair to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Ms Emily O'Reilly:
I thank the committee for giving me this further opportunity to discuss the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill and my 2011 annual report.
I would like to begin by impressing upon the committee how important I consider it that this Bill is passed as soon as possible. I wish further to impress upon the committee the extent to which the people of this State have been badly served by the extraordinary, if not unprecedented, delay in extending the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman to public bodies that are central to their lives and well-being.
It is now 27 years and five months since a proposal emanated from the then Department of the Public Service inviting the Office of the Ombudsman to submit proposals for an extension of remit, following a suggestion from the first Ombudsman, the late Mr. Michael Mills. It is now 25 years and nine months since the office, delayed by a legal wrangle over remit, submitted a comprehensive set of proposals for the amendment of the 1980 Ombudsman Act.
Earlier this year, in a letter to the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, I described what transpired over the next quarter of a century as a farce which must end. I was pleased the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and his Department agreed with my views and their subsequent actions, plus a high level of engagement by my office with them, has now led to this day and, hopefully, to the enactment of this amended Act before the end of this month.
It is not perfect, but if I share with the committee some brief part of that 27 year history, I hope it will agree that the public interest will best be served through the passage of this Bill now. It will then be a matter for the Oireachtas, particularly for the members of this critical committee, to ensure the legislation's imperfections are remedied as speedily as possible whether through further regulation or through the passage of other legislation from other Departments which may bring independent oversight to bodies not currently under remit or not envisaged to be within remit through this amended Act.
The expectations raised in 1987 when the office issued comprehensive proposals to Government quickly disappeared. A meeting called by the Department in February 1987 was cancelled and nothing more was heard about the Bill until a full seven years later, in 1994, when it appeared on the programme for Government of the incoming coalition. In January 1995, the Department of Finance again wrote to the office citing the Government's policy statement, which declared: "A Government of Renewal envisages an extension of the powers and remit of the Office and discussions on the proposed extension are on-going." In its letter, the Department stated it was, "anxious to undertake the necessary work". What followed was a considerable amount of interaction between the office and the Department, rounds of consultation with Departments and offices and the drafting of a memorandum for Government.
In June 1996 when the then Ombudsman, the late Mr. Kevin Murphy, published his 1995 annual report, he noted that "good progress was made during the year and preparation of a draft Bill is now underway". One year later, in April 1997, when Mr. Murphy launched his 1996 annual report, a now rather exasperated Ombudsman highlighted the delays in getting the amendment Bill passed and called for the schedules to be amended in the immediate term.
Another year and another annual report later in April 1998, when Mr. Murphy launched his 1997 annual report, the Ombudsman, with hope restored, noted positively that the preparation of the Bill was reactivated in 1997. This positive trajectory ran into January 1999 when a press release by the then Minister of State indicated the Government had accepted proposals to introduce an Ombudsman amendment Bill. The press release went so far as to list the additional public bodies which would be coming under the Ombudsman.
As the winter of 1999 approached, the Minister for State responded to a letter from a very frustrated Ombudsman stating rather cryptically that he was "not without hope" that the Bill would be published by the end of the year. Alas, by the time Mr. Murphy published his final annual report in April 2003, he could say nothing positive about a possible amendment Bill being enacted and he made clear his disappointment at the lack of real progress throughout his tenure.
My first annual report as Ombudsman, which was published in April 2004, chimed yet another positive note as I referred to yet another commitment from Government to publish an amendment Bill by the end of 2004 and to have it speedily enacted. On my very first week in office, I was told by the then Minister for Finance that "the amendment Bill will be through in the next three months". I followed up my annual report remarks with a letter to the Minister for Finance, in November 2004, setting out the history of delays and calling for urgent action. The Minister wrote back and said he was "hopeful", which I read as being slightly more encouraging than the response of the Minister of State in 1999 who characterised himself as being "not without hope", that the Bill would be published by the following Easter. What, of course, was extraordinary about this was that the respective Ministers had virtually the absolute power to get the Bill through if the will and interest existed to so do. The years 2005, 2006 and 2007 saw hopes being raised and dashed. Throughout all of this time, I was attempting to manage my own office, readying it for the extension of remit and dealing with the understandable confusion and uncertainty of staff when, year after year, absolutely nothing happened.
I made a direct personal intervention with a new Minister for Finance, yet again urging action. My intervention seemed to get something rolling and in September 2007, the then Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, wrote to me to say that the Department of Finance was "actively working" on an amendment Bill. In July 2008, the First Stage of the amendment Bill finally came before the Dail but progress after this was painfully slow. By 2010, it had reached Report and Final Stages but was not enacted by the time the Government fell. The tone set in my 2010 annual report, which I published in June 2011, was a mixture of total frustration at past failures which I felt justified in describing as "at the very least an embarrassment to all concerned", and cautious optimism at the current Government's commitment in its new programme for a national government to extend my office's remit to all publicly funded bodies. Then earlier this year, I wrote to the Department about the appalling torpor and lack of real political will around the extension of the Act in the manner I described at the start of these remarks.
I hope members will forgive me for dwelling so much on the past but I do so to underline that at this stage the passing of the amendment Bill as soon as possible is the number one priority for my office. I must also put on record my personal appreciation and that of the office for the recent hard work, commitment and energy of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and his officials in bringing the Bill to the brink of enactment.
In terms of the most recent progress towards enactment of the amendment Bill, I understand that the hope and intent is to complete Committee and Report Stages in the Seanad on 17 October and I very much hope that the Final Stage of the Bill will be taken in the Dáil as soon as possible thereafter. The Bill, as drafted at present, provides that the additional public bodies being brought under my office's remit, of which there will be approximately 140, will fall within remit within six months of the Bill being enacted at the latest. From a practical point of view, my office will need this lead-in time to engage with the new bodies to explain the role of my office, set up formal liaison arrangements and sort out other operational matters.
The programme for Government included a commitment to extend the remit of my office to all publicly funded bodies. My office has been in close consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the drafting of the Bill and the scope of the extension of remit. The 1980 Act listed in Schedule 1 those public bodies subject to my remit and, in Schedule 2, those public bodies not subject to my remit. The current Bill contains a generic provision to identify in Schedule 1 those additional public bodies now coming under my jurisdiction, and this provision is broadly in line with the programme for Government commitment. The new Schedule 2 lists those bodies which will remain outside my remit. There has been some debate in the Seanad about the contents of the new Schedule 2 and I would like to clarify the rationale behind the continued exclusion of certain public bodies which, as I understand it, are publicly funded.
Both my office and the Department are of the view that the primary purpose of extending our remit is to include bodies not in Schedule 1 at present which have a high level of interface with the public and whose decisions, if taken improperly, have the capacity to affect adversely significant numbers of members of the public. This rationale would, for instance, with some exceptions, exclude certain specialist advisory bodies. We also agree that commercial semi-State bodies or highly specialised regulatory bodies are not an appropriate fit for oversight by my office. They operate in a commercial environment and are in competition with companies in the private sector. Furthermore, it would not make sense to have a further complaint appeals process to my office on decisions made by other independent complaint-handling bodies. Thus, bodies listed in the new Schedule 2 include, for example, Aer Lingus, the Commission for Aviation Regulation, ESB, Horse Racing Ireland, the National Concert Hall, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, and the Office of the Information Commissioner.
In terms of the new bodies now coming within my remit, these will include all third level institutions, including the universities, and the vocational education committees, FÁS, the Legal Aid Board, the Equality Authority, the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the State Examinations Commission, the Central Applications Office, the Student Grant Appeals Board, the National Transport Authority, the Family Support Agency, Sustainable Energy Ireland and a range of other public bodies not included in Schedule 2.
Members are aware that section 5(1)(e)(i) of the Ombudsman Act 1980 provides that the Ombudsman shall not investigate actions taken in the "administration of the law relating to aliens or naturalisation". The current amendment Bill does not remove this restriction. My views on this restriction are well known and, indeed, in my previous appearance before the committee on 20 July 2011, I argued strongly that it should be removed. I also note that in the recent debate in the Seanad on the amendment Bill, a number of Members, including Senator Ó Clochartaigh from this committee, made strong interventions calling for my remit to be extended to these areas.
I very much appreciate the support expressed for my position on this issue. In his response, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, said he had consulted the Minister for Justice and Equality about the matter and said that a new complaints system was being introduced for prisoners which, he said, will be open, transparent and independent and will provide an immediate mechanism to deal with such complaints on the ground.
In regard to the areas of immigration, residency and asylum, the Minister indicated that a new statutory appeals system will be established through the enactment of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010. Until we see the final shape and substance of these new complaint processes it would be premature of me to judge how effective they will be. However these processes must be robust and truly independent if they are to provide a genuine alternative to Ombudsman oversight. They should also be introduced as soon as possible. I will be watching developments in this regard and it will be interesting to see how complainants using the new systems judge their effectiveness.
I accept that my jurisdiction in this area will not expand in the immediate term and my main priority is to see the current Bill enacted as soon as possible. I do not believe it is the public interest to continue to deprive the people of this State of independent oversight in critical areas of their lives. I understand that the Minister has indicated a willingness to revisit the Ombudsman legislation if it requires fine tuning at a later stage, and prisons and asylum matters may be the subject of further consideration in that context at some time in the future. It is, however, fundamentally the business of the Oireachtas to ensure that the people of this State, including those who come to live here for whatever reason, are given the means to have independent reviews conducted on decisions made about them by the State. This committee, which has a potentially powerful and pivotal role to play in this regard, will continue to ensure that the Administration lives up to its commitments in these difficult and sensitive areas.
The Chairman indicated that he would prefer to confine the discussion to the Bill. I have some comments to make about the 2011 annual report but I am happy to stop now.
I would prefer to hold a discussion on the Bill before dealing with the annual report. I thank Ms O’Reilly for her forthright and interesting presentation. As a new Deputy, it is shocking to see how long it has taken to prepare this Bill. I understand the frustration that must exist inside the Ombudsman’s office at this delay.
I thank Ms O’Reilly for clarifying her position. As usual, the Seanad is a step ahead because we have had an opportunity to consider the Bill. We welcome the increase in the number of agencies that will be under the remit of the Ombudsman but I wish to focus my comments on the areas over which jurisdiction is not being given. I was forthright in the Seanad in arguing that people in direct provision and those who come under the auspices of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, the Reception and Integration Agency and the Prison Service should be included under the Ombudsman’s remit.
The Minister has indicated that he will establish a redress agency under the Department of Justice and Equality but the Ombudsman’s role is one of final adjudication and issues could also arise with the proposed new body. The Ombudsman should be given jurisdiction over these agencies even at this stage because even if the new body is established the need for redress could arise if voices are not heard.
For the past several weeks I have been campaigning on behalf of Lisbrook direct provision centre. Today we received a letter from the Minister stating that the centre is to be closed with immediate effect and that a review is ongoing. The voices of the residents of that centre were not taken into consideration. There was no meeting with Oireachtas Members from Galway even though we had sought one. That does not bode well for the proposed new redress system for people in direct provision.
This is why the Ombudsman’s office needs to cover these areas and I imagine it is also the reason why Ms O’Reilly has called for such powers. I would yet not give up the cause. As the Whip system is not supposed to apply to this committee, I will be calling on members to ask that her recommendations in this area be fully included in the Bill. I commend her on her strong statement on these issues.
Ms Emily O'Reilly:
I fully agree. Over the years I have met individuals from many of the organisations to which the Deputy referred and I have pointed out at various conferences and seminars that I am virtually alone among ombudsmen in Europe in lacking jurisdiction in this area. We like to say that the Ombudsman balances out the power equation between the individual and the State. Few people are more vulnerable than those who come to this country seeking asylum. One organisation which attempts to look after the needs of people who are in direct provision showed me a complaint form which residents of a particular centre were given. Printed at the end of the form was a warning to the effect that an asylum seeker’s chances could be damaged if his or her complaint was found to be vexatious. I was absolutely horrified by this.
In previous years, when we attempted to have immigration, asylum and naturalisation included in our remit the Department refused to even entertain the idea. There is only so much that I can do. At present I am trying to balance the needs of all the other bodies. In some ways the frustration is personal but mainly my frustration is because it is absolutely wrong to be waiting 27 years for this amended Bill reach this stage. If it is further delayed because of attempts to put these areas under the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman in advance of the Minister’s Bill, I fear it will fall back into that black hole and the good that was served by including all the other bodies would come to naught. That is the dilemma we face.
I was going to ask if the Bill could be amended on Committee Stage but I think I already heard Ms O’Reilly’s answer. Her advice is that we should try to avoid delaying its passage in case it falls into same black hole as the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010.
Ms Emily O'Reilly:
I absolutely respect the right of the Oireachtas to do what it considers proper. I acknowledge that many people would prefer the areas of immigration and asylum and prisons to be included in my remit. I spoke extensively about the history of the Bill in order to impress on members the torpor that descends when things do not happen. This Bill was ready to go 25 years ago but it never happened. Much of the delay was caused by bodies which fought to be excluded - I do not refer solely to bodies under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality - with the result that long conversations and arguments took place, people lost the political will to keep up the campaign and then something else popped up. It has been very difficult even to get the Bill to this stage but I am confident that we might have it by the end of the month. It is entirely open to this committee and to individual members to do what they want but my view is that on balance it is best to proceed with it than to delay it further in the hope that whatever the Department of Justice and Equality proposes will fit the requirement for an independent and transparent appeals process. It is not a turf war. I personally do not care who is responsible for the process as long as it is done.
The Office of the Ombudsman has always been very helpful to me when I have kept it busy with referrals on issues that I regarded it as being best equipped to address. A range of new bodies will now be coming under the Ombudsman’s remit but has a commitment been given on adequately resourcing the office given that it has insufficient resources at present? Has there been any discussion with the Minister to date?
Ms Emily O'Reilly:
In recent years, or decades even, when we have been readying ourselves for this, every three years we make a strategic plan and every strategic plan has a piece in it about how we cope with new bodies coming under remit, and that includes the Office of the Information Commissioner as well. A few years ago, partly as a result of the decentralisation policy decision and when our remit expanded in the health area, we got 25 new staff. We also did a major piece of change management. I am not sure if that is the right term. I am never quite up to speed on these terms. Basically, we took our processes apart, examined them and put them back together again with the result that we greatly increased our efficiency and productivity and we are now able to deal with 30% more cases than we had been. In six months, assuming the Bill goes through and people come to us with complaints, obviously they can only complain about things that have happened following the adoption of the legislation and, therefore, there will be a lag time. We have the capacity to deal with a reasonably significant number of additional complaints but, no more than any other Ombudsman's office, when it starts or when it take on additional bodies, we cannot say how many new complaints we will have to address. At the moment, we are saying to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that we can cope with the staffing we have but in the fullness of time we may look for additional staff.
I acknowledge the strongly worded comments of the Ombudsman to the committee regarding the Bill before the Seanad. I am not sure of the date it was published but, notwithstanding her strong words, progress is at last being reported and that should also be acknowledged notwithstanding the frustration, both personal and professional, of various Ombudsmen over the past 27 years. It is imperative that the amending legislation be passed at the earliest opportunity and I take on board her comment that having regard to the shortcomings, nevertheless the priority appears to be to enact what we have and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has acknowledged that if there are shortcomings, they will be dealt with, if not in the immediate term, then in the medium term. I am subject to contradiction by my Seanad colleagues but it is expected that a debate will be completed in the House perhaps the week after next, which means it will be ready to be brought before the Dáil prior to the end of October. If the committee deems it appropriate and helpful, I will arrange a meeting this evening with the Government Chief Whip and convey to him the Ombudsman's sentiment. There is every reason the Bill should have concluded its Second Reading in the Dáil prior to the Christmas recess, notwithstanding the busy schedule and, in particular, the budget. It should be ready for Committee Stage in early January. Having regard to the time involved, it should be the objective of the Houses of the Oireachtas - this committee is well placed to monitor progress - that with the six months lapse, the new Act could well be in force by 1 September next.
The Bill is on the A list of the legislative programme and, therefore, assuming it can be tabled for debate before Christmas, there is every reason it can be enacted in full during February and be ready for commencement by 1 September. We can revisit the issues mentioned by the Ombudsman. Some issues are not within the Minister's remit, particularly those relating to the Department of Justice and Equality. It will not prove feasible in the context of the current Bill, notwithstanding Committee Stage, to provide for the appropriate extensions into the areas under the remit of that Department but the priority must be an early enactment. Following my meeting with the Government Chief Whip later, I will convey the outcome to the Chairman tomorrow.
I thank the Ombudsman for the presentation. Why has there been a delay in bringing forward an extension of the remit of the office? Is there political resistance to extending her remit to the bodies or agencies we hope will be included? It seems extraordinary that it has taken 27 years to do something eminently sensible and reasonable.
On the issue of extending the office's remit to include offices dealing with asylum seekers, immigrants and those in the direct provision system, why is there resistance to this? My explanation is it is just institutional racism and the State does not want to highlight the appalling treatment of people in the direct provision system. I do not know whether the Ombudsman would feel free to agree publicly. Is it not telling that asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution are exempted from the treatment every other citizen expects when they should have a right of resources or appeal against the way they are being treated by the State by being lumped in with prosecuted criminals? While people in prison should also have rights, is it not telling that asylum seekers and so on are lumped in with them, which indicates the attitude the State has towards them, and that the normal process of justice, where people are innocent until proven guilty, is turned on its head and the State assumes asylum seekers are guilty until proven innocent and all rights are suspended until they work their way through the long and onerous asylum process? What explanations have the Department of Justice and Equality and the Government given to the Ombudsman for their refusal to extend the office's remit to cover these areas? Does she think if there was political will to do this, it would be such a complicated process that it could not be addressed on Committee Stage of the current Bill? I take her point that she does not want the legislation held up because she wants it enacted but if there was political will-----
Ms Emily O'Reilly:
There was a general torpor regarding the Ombudsman Act. It was a series of stops and starts. A head of steam would build up around it and then they might come into conflict with a particular Department or public body or agency that did not want to be included and everything would grind to a halt again or they would say it was a busy schedule or this or that was happening. It never seemed important enough to keep it at the top of the pile. I am not a journalist anymore and, therefore, I cannot comment in as free a way as I might have done ten years ago regarding some of the other matters, and it would be wrong of me to do so.
It would probably be fair to say that there is a culture in regard to certain matters that are sensitive in Irish society around prisons, asylum and immigration. That culture is around not trusting anybody not intimately involved within the system to make or review decisions. There is a sense in which unless people are inside the Department and intimate with everything that goes on, that in a sense one cannot trust them to know enough to make the right decisions. I remember several years ago meeting someone in the Garda Síochána. We were talking about freedom of information and the extension of it to the Garda. That was another area where one was not going to go, although it has been proposed that freedom of information would be extended to the Garda. The conversation was along the lines of "over my dead body" will freedom of information ever be extended to the Garda. I said I am a reasonable individual and my office is a moderate and mature public service-minded body. We are not all going to go mad. This individual garda said to me that he trusted me but the concern was who might come after me. It is this idea of not allowing that sort of external scrutiny on things that the members of the Garda Síochána feel, rightly or wrongly, are very important to the security of the State or whatever, and not wanting a lay person to make decisions.
It is also a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Ombudsman does. I will not make a new decision but I will ensure that the processes that are in place in regard to asylum or naturalisation cases or prison complaints are done correctly, that nobody is cutting corners and that natural justice is being applied. If somebody decides that somebody should not come into the country that is fine, as long as the process involved has been done by the book. That is the issue. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of that. There must also be a questioning of the people who do have difficulties. It may be the case that a lot of their difficulties are sound and rational but they need to be articulated. Whatever about back in 1985 or 1987, the public now has a much greater expectation that if something is or is not being done, people would be told precisely the reason.
I will bank the questions from the next two speakers because we have such a workload today. We have a number of petitions which we will discuss later. Members will be aware that one of them discusses the possibility of freedom of information being extended to two bodies in future, namely, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Central Bank. To help us in our examination of the petition we would welcome the Ombudsman’s view on the request. I will go to Deputy Healy-Rae and Deputy Conaghan. We will take the three questions together and then Ms O’Reilly can answer them.
I welcome the witnesses and thank them for being present for a second time. Like a long engagement nobody could accuse the committee of rushing this in any way. I know a couple that went out for 22 years and when they eventually decided to tie the knot I told them they were not rushing into it. It is the same in this case. On a serious note, it is better to get the Bill passed and then afterwards to seek to further extend the role. I would be supportive of that at another time but it would be wrong to muddy the water now. It would be preferable to proceed as we are proceeding. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
I would not be doing my job properly if I did not raise one final matter with the Ombudsman. Every office of the State will receive complaints at different times, whether valid or not. My question relates to how complaints against the Ombudsman's office are investigated and handled. That is of concern to me not in reference to any particular case but in terms of the general process. It is an important issue to consider in respect of any public body.
At an earlier stage in her term as Ombudsman, Ms O'Reilly examined the Lost at Sea case, her decision being that financial compensation should be made to the Byrne family in Donegal. The Government did not, however, act on her recommendation. Is there anything further she can do in this matter? Does she envisage that something might be done by this committee to rectify the situation?
Ms Emily O'Reilly:
I was asked whether the freedom of information provisions will apply to my office and to the Central Bank. The administration of my office comes within the remit of freedom of information but not its investigations per se. They are protected, as are other ombudsman office investigations.
In regard to complaints against my office, I once attended a meeting of ombudsmen where the question was raised as to whether there should be an ombudsman for ombudsmen. In other words, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? We constantly review our own internal complaints procedures in order to ensure they are as transparent and robust as possible. I accept that people sometimes will not be satisfied with the outcome of their engagement with the office. There is the possibility of judicial review in such cases but that can be an expensive process. I cannot give an easy answer to the Deputy's question and will not give a glib one, other than to say that we take every complaint seriously. When a complaint is submitted, an investigator other than the person who received it is assigned to deal with it. It then goes up the line, usually ending up with me, unless I am the subject of the complaint in which case the director general would deal with it.
We have a great deal of personal interaction with complainants and will go back to them again and again. There are people we continue to have dialogue with for years. I am not saying we always act perfectly - that is absolutely not the case. Sometimes people who feel they have been wronged either do not understand that I cannot do anything about it or it is something that so troubles them that they cannot let it go. We take complaints very seriously, mainly because of the nature of our own office. Nobody likes being criticised and we are no exception. As I said, there is always the option of judicial review. I may be creating a stick to beat my own back in pointing out that in the United Kingdom office, it is not uncommon for decisions to be “JRed”, as it is called. I understand this has not happened in the history of our office, but that particular remedy is there.
As it happens, I discussed the Lost at Sea case with my colleagues earlier this morning. Members are no doubt aware of the history of that matter. It was a very unhappy episode for my office, for the family involved and for the Oireachtas in terms of how it was handled. I have exhausted all of my particular powers in this regard. I put it before the committee at the time that the Government did not wish to answer to it in terms of its decision, but it did eventually relent. The committee subsequently split along party lines and the recommendation was rejected. I can do no more in this matter. It is up to the committee or the Oireachtas to take it up with the Government. I did what I could do and was legally empowered to do on that case.