Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Decisions on Public Petitions Received: P00029/12, P00033/12, P00038/12 and P00053/12
We are here to discuss the decisions made on the petitions that have been formulated and sent to the committee. There have been 33 petitions sent. A great deal of work has been done in bringing the petitions to the necessary level that the committee can investigate them and the members of the committee have spent time deliberating and reading up on the petitions.
The first petition for discussion is P00029/12 from Dr. Ciarán Mc Mahon concerning open access to public-funded research. Would anybody care to comment? Personally, I believe it is an interesting petition. With the development of knowledge within society, it offers those who do not have the resources a great opportunity to access that knowledge which can only help further growth.
I echo the Chairman's sentiments. Given it is the first petition we have dealt with, it is entirely appropriate that it relates to information that the petitioner is attempting to release into the public domain. That, in itself, is significant. If it is successful, I think it would be welcomed, not only in academia but also in the general public, in terms of the dissemination of publicly-sourced information.
Ba mhaith liom mé féin a dhearbhú agus aitheantas a thabhairt gurb é seo an chéad aighneacht atáimid ag glacadh leis. Tá sé feiliúnach go dtabharfaimís aitheantas don fhoireann atá ag obair leis an gcoiste, a bhfuil go leor obair déanta acu chun an córas seo a chur le chéile le gur féidir linn teacht go dtí an pointe seo. Ins na haighneachtai atáimid ag feiceáil anseo tá ábhair an-spéisiúil go deo agus táim ag súil go leanfaidh sé sin.
I thank the staff of the committee secretariat. It is a historic day that we are getting to discuss these petitions. I thank them for all the work they put in. It will be a positive move for the future. The debate we have had to date on the petitions that have come in so far has been interesting.
Most of us would agree with the principle of this specific petition, namely, if the public purse is used to conduct research, such research should be made available to the general public. In the spirit of that principle, my party would be interested in moving that forward.
This petition is on an interesting area, the idea of open access to publicly-funded research. Perhaps in the first instance it would be useful to establish which Minister is responsible for this matter and consult him or her on the position in the European Union on the Pathways to Irish Research project mentioned by the petitioner before the committee has any role to play in it because it is not clear from the petition how much work has already been done.
Is the proposal by Senator O'Keeffe agreed? Agreed.
The second petition is P00033/12 from Cearbhaill Ó Dalaigh concerning the transparency of the Central Bank. Mr. Ó Dalaigh is seeking to extend the powers of the Ombudsman and the Freedom of Information Acts to the Central Bank, and he also wants the committee to examine whether the co-operation agreement between the National Consumer Agency and the Central Bank is in the public interest. Are there any comments?
Arís, ardaíonn sé seo ceist an-suimiúil ó thaobh eolas atá ar fáil don phobal. This raises an important issue about transparency and openness, especially in the current atmosphere. It calls for the powers of the Ombudsman and Freedom of Information Acts to be extended to the Central Bank.
There has been much debate in the Seanad in the past couple of weeks on the powers of the Ombudsman. I think the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008 is coming to this committee as well. It might be appropriate to discuss this issue here to see if it is possible and suitable to extend the powers of the Ombudsman to the Central Bank, and also to look at the development of the Freedom of Information Acts and to speak to the Minister about that to ascertain whether there is any reason the Central Bank should be exempt from either of those two pieces of legislation. It is an interesting concept in principle that the Central Bank should have such openness and transparency included in its works and one my party would be open to discuss here.
Aontaím leat, a Sheanadóra. Ba cheart go mbéadh an chuid is mó den chóras poiblí trédhearcach, chomh fada agus a bhéadh sin oiriúnach don Stát. We should try to create a system within the State that is as transparent as possible. However, there would be a couple of issues. It is important for us to gain further information from the perspective of both the Central Bank and the National Consumer Agency to get their background to and understanding of the petition in hand.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has stated that it is his intention to extend the Ombudsman's remit to all public bodies. The Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008 was before the Seanad today and it will come to this committee. Perhaps it would be appropriate to have that discussion in this committee as it applies specifically to this petition. It is something that would have been raised anyway. It is good that a member of the public has brought that matter to our attention. In the first instance, perhaps the way to deal with this petition is to keep it open but discuss it when the legislation comes here.
On the specific issue of the Central Bank coming under the remit of the Ombudsman, I propose that we request that we carry out an investigation on that and that we write to the Central Bank and the National Consumer Agency to ascertain their perspectives on how this should proceed, and write to the petitioner seeking further evidence with which to proceed.
The Bill that has come before the Seanad lists the Central Bank as an exempted body under the Bill. It is therefore exempt from the Ombudsman’s remit. It would be appropriate to ask why it is exempt when the Bill comes before the committee. There may be commercial or other reasons but we need to tease that out instead of going back to the Central Bank at this stage.
The comments made are apt and to the point. As a matter of public policy the new legislation should consider including the operations and internal transparencies of the Central Bank in the Ombudsman's remit. Issues may arise in respect of the Central Bank's work that expand beyond consumer protection, for example, investment clients of banks are in a grey area between consumer and commercial customer. Some agency should be able to do the root canal work under public policy to understand what has happened in a given case.
To summarise, the proposal is that, in relation to the Freedom of Information Act as it pertains to the Central Bank we should refer this aspect of the petition to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, which is currently dealing with the Freedom of Information Act, to inform its ongoing research in this area and ask that committee to revert to us at the earliest opportunity with its views on how we might proceed.
With regard to the Ombudsman's jurisdiction over the Central Bank, we will send a letter to each of the parties involved requesting their perspective on how the committee might proceed. It is important that we first hear the Central Bank's views on the Ombudsman's purview over it. We do not want to take people out of their jobs for half a day unless we know exactly why we are doing so. If we can get information from the Central Bank we can then chose to invite officials from the bank to discuss the issues arising. In regard to the consumer protection element, we will write in the first instance to the Central Bank to ask for an update on its perspective. Is that agreed?
In the first instance, it is important that we stick to the remit of the petition. It should be part of our discussion on other Ombudsmen. I ask members to submit their input on the development of the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill at the earliest opportunity so that we can draft a proper submission.
The next petition for consideration is P00038/12 in the name of Mr. Patrick Cuddihy concerning diminishing dignity of aged citizens of Ireland. Do members wish to comment on this petition? Mr. Cuddihy is bringing an important issue to our attention and, as public representatives, we probably witness examples of it on a daily basis. It comes under the remit of this committee as a policy issue. It is a broad issue and it may be worthwhile for the petitioner to communicate with the Minister for Social Protection in the first instance to ask her to come to the same view on this case.
Perhaps the petitioner should discuss it with his own local representatives and the various bodies involved. This committee recognises the importance of the issue but our remit makes it difficult to approach it given that it affects a wide range of policy levels. Mr. Cuddihy might pursue the matter through the other avenues available to him.
I concur what has been said. We ought to communicate to Mr. Cuddihy that we regard this as an important petition but the committee may not be the vehicle to deal with the issues arising because of the nature of the petition. Perhaps a discussion with his local representatives and the Minister may be useful. In our reply to Mr. Cuddihy we need to thank him for his petition. It is important that petitions of this nature are brought forward so that we can study them and ascertain whether public policy issues can be addressed. We should convey to him that we take on board the sentiment of what he wrote but believe the issues would be better addressed through another vehicle.
Is that agreed? Agreed. The next petition is P00053/12 in the name of Mrs. Catherine Doran concerning eligibility criteria for the contributory State pension. This is an interesting petition in that it affects a significant number of older people in Ireland, and women in particular. This individual is clearly having difficulties and is not allowed under the current legislative arrangement to collect the full amount of the pension. It is important that opportunities are provided to debate policy issues of this nature. However, one of the criteria of the committee is that we ask petitioners to attempt to resolve their issues through as many avenues as possible.
The petition offers something very interesting to the committee in terms of recognising the importance of work in the home. It is somewhat similar to the previous petition in that the appropriate Minister or local Oireachtas representative might be contacted with a view to addressing it. Given the significant retrospection that would be required from the Department of Social Protection and the number of individuals affected, the Minister should be made aware of it. Beyond that, however, it is probably best addressed through the individual’s local representatives and, perhaps, raised as a topical issue or during the budgetary process.
The petition highlights the existence of the framework of rules that apply to people in this situation. It articulates the problem clearly and asks us as public representatives and policy makers in a society that is developing whether we should investigate it as a matter of policy and alter that framework rule to include and to reflect a better fairness in the working lives of people who have worked outside the home for a wage and worked within the home to raise a family as unpaid work.
This would highlight in a clear and articulate way that this is a problem which affects a large number of people and not just a few.
If the committee can resolve this issue by first shining a light on it and giving an opportunity to these people to articulate their view, perhaps we can in the future effect policy change. We should, first, write a letter to the Minister for Social Protection to ascertain whether she has a desire or a plan to resolve this issue. If she does, it is a bonus. If not, we may then decide to hold an investigation into it.
Aontaím leis an Cathaoirleach. On the face of it, this looks like a relatively simple petition but it could be much more complex than we realise. The petitioner is not asking for anything personal in this scenario. The required action is a review by the social welfare services of the method of assessing pension and the right to include credits for years spent in the home as a mother or a carer. We have come across this in our constituencies time and time again. That could raise questions about equality and about European legislation. I am not certain but the proposal to refer the petition to the Minister for Social Protection for her opinion is an interesting one, before it is returned to the committee. In the meantime, we can think about what other legislation might be brought to bear to address such an issue to ensure due recognition is given to the rights of all citizens.
I also support the proposal to refer the petition to the Minister for Social Protection to ask about her intention regarding this matter. In a way it almost harks back to the idea that women were expected to be tied to the kitchen sink and, thus, credit was never given for the work done. The dates listed by the petitioner are 1980 to 1993, which is shocking, as that means we are not going back into the mists of time. This is in our own lifetime. It was wrong in the first instance and it is wrong now. There is a broader issue about the way we value that work. We have the capacity to make this retrospective and it is the correct approach to first ask the Minister whether there are plans to address matters such as this. We can then see where we take the petition or whether we can close it if there is a satisfactory result from the Minister.