Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Decisions on Public Petitions Received
We are in public session. The first petition for consideration is P00027/12 entitled Employment Appeals Tribunal from Mr. John O'Sullivan. The petition concerns what the petitioner sees as an abuse of the Employment Appeals Tribunal process as follows: the cost of bringing complaints to the tribunal has to be paid by the complainants; the employer is under no obligation to pay the award and the claimant then must pursue the employer through the courts for payments; the need for the engagement of a legal team; and the tribunal's lack of power to enforce its judgment. The petitioner suggests that an employer should be required to lodge a bond as security. The petitioner also raised concerns regarding the appointment of liquidators and their qualifications.
Members will recall that the petitioner, along with a number of other organisations such as Mandate, ICTU, IBEC and departmental officials, attended the committee before. The recommendation proposed is as follows: the committee forward a copy of its letter of 26 July 2013, together with the response received from the office of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to the petitioner for information; the petitioner be informed that the petition is now closed and the committee has concluded its deliberations on the matter; and to refer a copy of the transcript of the meeting of 18 July 2013, together with a copy of the committee's letter of 26 July 2013 and the response received from the office of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation for consideration and appropriate action in the context of that committee's scrutiny of the workplace relations Bill and the Companies Bill. That is the agreed recommendation regarding the petition.
The second petition is P00045/12 entitled Issue relating to the Office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces and the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004 from Mr. Niall Donohoe. The petitioner was a commandant in the Defence Forces and in 2006-07 he was involved in highlighting cases of bullying in the Air Corps. As a result of his involvement he claims to have been treated badly by the organisation. He submitted 195 official complaints to the military authorities and claims that none of his complaints was investigated properly. As a result, he raised 141 of these complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. He is aware that the individual complaints raised with the ombudsman can form no part of this petition.
The petitioner has lodged a petition on the basis of his previous interaction with the Office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. The petitioner lists the following failures, as he perceives them: the failure of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces to provide access to its service; the lack of any legislative element within the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004 to make provision for the appeal of any decision of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces to refuse access or otherwise, a legislative lacuna brought about by the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004; and other matters relating to the manner in which the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces goes about its day-to-day operations.
The committee has deliberated on the issue. We agreed that we would forward the Department of Defence's response to the petitioner for his information. We also agreed to forward a copy of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces' letter for his information. I wish to make him aware that we are also referring the petition to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for its deliberation. When it reports back to us we will revert back to the petitioner. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next petition for consideration is P00047/12 entitled Policy Issues within the Defence (Amendment) Act 2007 from Mr. Niall Donohoe. The petitioner claims that the Defence (Amendment) Act 2007, DFR A7 paragraph 76/A.1, as amended in 2008, states that officers and non-commissioned officers are authorised to prefer charges against persons subject to military law of equal or lesser rank.
The petitioner is of the opinion that because of this restriction, officers and non-commissioned officers are authorised to prefer charges against persons subject to military law of equal or lesser rank. He states that non-commissioned officers are barred from preferring any kind of charge, there is no provision for lower ranked members to prefer a charge against a superior ranked officer and the director of military prosecutions is appointed by the Government and holds the rank of colonel, and therefore he cannot prefer a charge against those of a superior rank.
The committee has had a chance to deliberate on this particular petition, and our recommendation is as follows. We have recommended that the response from the Department of Defence and the response from the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, be sent to the petitioner, and that this particular petition also be referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for its deliberation. That committee will then report back to us and we will revert back to the petitioner at that time. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next petition for consideration is P00075/12 from Melissa Halpin, entitled The Process in Awarding Foreshore Licences. The petitioners were seeking the revocation of a foreshore licence granted to Providence Resources to drill in Dublin Bay and were also seeking a public inquiry into the granting of the foreshore licence to Providence Resources plc by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, on the basis that the public consultation process was inadequate. For the record, Deputy Kirk has brought to the attention of the committee that he has a potential conflict of interest as he is a shareholder in Providence Resources. Therefore, Deputy Kirk exempted himself from the discussion and took no part in the deliberation on this petition.
The committee has recommended the following. We asked the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to notify the committee upon the conclusion of the review of the EIA legislation, and following the finalisation of any new regulations that may be required, to forward a copy of the committee's correspondence and the latest response from the Department to the petitioner for information. The Department should point out to the petitioner that it will be conducting a public consultation process in respect of the proposed European Union Environmental Impact Assessment (Planning and Development Act 2000) Regulations 2013, which is due to commence shortly and will be publicised by way of an advertisement in a national newspaper, and suggest that the petitioner may wish to participate in this process. Finally, the committee recommends the referral of this petition to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht in the context of that committee's consideration of the upcoming new legislation to incorporate the foreshore consent system into the planning process. This will provide an appropriate opportunity for that committee to deal with the general issue of public consultation in the planning process as it pertains to the foreshore. Is that agreed? Agreed.
P00077/12 is from Ms Patricia O’Leary, entitled Foreign Driving Licence Swap for Irish Driving Licence for all Applicants. The petitioner stated that foreign people coming to Ireland can only transfer their driving licence for an Irish one if they come from countries which drive on the left hand side of the road. Other drivers have to sit a theory test and a driving test. The petitioner feels this is discriminatory. She also states that if this issue were addressed during the year of The Gathering, it could make Ireland more welcoming to all. The committee recommends that a recent detailed response from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to a parliamentary question from Deputy Ciarán Lynch be forwarded on to the petitioner. We also wish to correspond with the Department in respect of any plans it may have to harmonise the driving the test process across the EU. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will keep that petition open subject to that response.
P00003/13 is from Mr. Austin Kenny, entitled Provision of Good Samaritan Clause in State Contributory Pension Legislation. The petitioner is seeking an amendment to the Social Welfare Acts to provide for the exclusion of short periods of PRSI contributions - up to four weeks - in respect of casual employment entered into prior to a person taking up full-time employment. The Department of Social Protection has confirmed that there are currently no plans to amend the legislation in line with the petitioner's wishes. The Department has also confirmed that even if the legislation were to be amended, it would not apply retrospectively. Therefore, the petitioner's issues would still be unresolved. It is recommended to forward this information to the petitioner and close the petition. We have also agreed to make the petitioner aware that when the Minister for Social Protection is before us in the near future, we will raise the policy issue that has been brought to our attention. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The final petition for consideration is P00006/13 from Mr. Francis O’Rourke and it concerns local planning authority regulations. The petition relates to the apparent ability of a local authority to ignore with impunity the statutory requirements to control unauthorised development. The petitioner wants a robust system of controls with sanctions for non-compliance by local authorities put in place when it is clear that they have not met their obligations in respect of the enforcement requirements of planning laws. The recommendation is to forward from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government correspondence of 11 April 2013 to the petitioner for information and to close the petition on the basis that the Department is already endeavouring to address defects in the planning system. It appears that the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning is committed to improving the current practices and procedures in this area on an ongoing basis, so there is no need at the moment for this committee to examine gaps in the current legislation. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The committee will next meet on 26 September to discuss the annual report 2012 with the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly.