Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions

Decisions on Public Petitions Received

4:00 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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The joint committee has received a total of 152 petitions to date since the launch of the petitions system. The secretariat has been examining them to establish their admissibility and decide how best to make progress with a petition for consideration by the joint sub-committee. Some 133 of the 152 petitions received have been brought before the committee on at least one occasion. Of the 152 petitions received, 71 were considered, on which a decision was agreed, and are now closed; 41 were deemed inadmissible; while 40 are awaiting decision or still under consideration.

There are five petitions before us today. Following discussion, the decisions of the joint sub-committee can be recorded in public session. Members will again be given an opportunity to make points about the petitions.

We will begin with petition No. P00021/14 which relates to motor tax reform and has been submitted by Mr. John Breslin. The petitioner is seeking the introduction of a pay-as-you-use type of motor taxation system for haulage drivers, as opposed to the current system under which vehicles are taxed for a minimum of three months, with the annual cost coming to as much as €3,500. The petitioner has written to the Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Environment, Community and Local Government to make this suggestion. Since the matter came before the joint committee in November last year, the secretariat has corresponded with the relevant Departments. Consequentially, measures announced in the recent budget have gone a long way towards addressing the petitioner’s concerns. The decision of the committee is to close the petition and write to the petitioner informing him that this issue was addressed in the recent budget and that the petition is now closed. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next petition is No. P00004/15 in the name of Lt. Col. Dermot Hickey which seeks to have complaints with the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces adjudicated on by a different ombudsman. The petitioner is seeking to have us recommend that his complaints which he lodged with the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces be investigated by another ombudsman. He says he did not receive acknowledgements and that he was informed that the Ombudsman had discretion over his complaints. The secretariat has engaged with the Office of the Ombudsman which has provided a detailed response to the petitioner. After investigating his claims, it appears that all efforts have been made by the relevant stakeholders to resolve his issues, including meeting the officer who investigated his complaints. The petitioner should be aware that it is not within the remit of this committee to second-guess the decision of an ombudsman or to investigate issues which are cbeing or have been investigated by the Ombudsman. My colleague, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, is going to record the decision of the committee on this petition.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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We had an extensive discussion on this petition. We have decided that it is inadmissible on a couple of grounds, as outlined by the Chairman. However, we are recommending that the petition be referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality which will be asked to examine how the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004 is working in relation to serving members of the Defence Forces. We will also ask whether that committee has any intention of examining the 2004 Act as part of its 2016 work programme. We are asking it to look at the issue raised by the petitioner, even though we cannot adjudicate on his individual case owing to our Standing Orders. In addition, we are keen not to cross over into the remit of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

We will move on to petition No. P00015/15 which relates to cearta vótála - voting rights - and is in the name of Mr. Norman Wilson. The petitioner who is an Irish citizen residing in Australia is requesting that citizens of Ireland who live abroad have voting rights in Oireachtas and European Parliament elections. In its fifth report which was published in November 2013 the Constitutional Convention recommended that Irish citizens living outside the State be allowed to vote in presidential elections. However, this recommendation did not include general elections, European elections, local elections or referendums. The Government is required to report to the House on all recommendations made by the Constitutional Convention, it but has yet to do so in this instance. On 23 October the Dáil debated a report entitled, Voting Rights for Irish Citizens Abroad, which had been published by the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs in November 2014. The committee has discussed this matter and deliberated on it. We have agreed to forward a copy of the response received from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to the petitioner, with a copy of the transcript of the Dáil debate on 23 October. When matters before this committee as petitions have been substantially dealt with by the Oireachtas, there is a precedent that we do not duplicate that work. As this matter has been dealt with, it is proposed to close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We will move on to petition No. P00022/15 which seeks a referendum on whether the Republic of Ireland should rejoin the United Kingdom. It has been submitted by Mr. Michael O'Neill on behalf of Mr. Orin Mhando. The petitioner is calling on the joint committee to recommend to the Government the holding of a referendum to agree to the Republic of Ireland rejoining the United Kingdom in order to give Unionists living in the Republic of Ireland a voice and the opportunity to gain seats in Seanad Éireann. The petitioner did not take his suggestion to any Department or public representative in advance of submitting the petition which could be deemed to be of a questionable nature as it was submitted in the name of one person on behalf of another. This is highly unusual and would normally happen only in circumstances where there are multiple petitioners or where an individual is unable to submit the petition personally. We asked the principal petitioner to prove that he had the permission of Mr. Michael O’Neill to submit a petition in his name. In his response by e-mail he forwarded a link to a Twitter account claiming that this was proof of permission to use the name. In addition, he did not tick the box to indicate that he would appear before the committee if it asked him to do so. The committee has looked at the petition and deemed it to be inadmissible under Standing Order 165(2) which relates to admissible petitions. The Standing Order states that, where a petition deals with "local or regional matters" or "matters which are more appropriate to a regulatory public body or a body established for the purpose of redress", the committee shall "establish that all available avenues of appeal or redress have been utilised by the petitioner prior to the Committee considering the matter". The petition is inadmissible on these grounds. It is also an unusually presented petition. Is it agreed that it is inadmissible? Agreed.

The final petition is petition No. P00023/15 which is entitled "unlawful discrimination and violation of European law" and has been submitted by Mr. Luis Manuel Muegues Acosta. The petitioner is a Colombian national and his wife is Spanish. He states that when he arrived at Cork Airport on 19 July, an official stamped his passport with a work restriction notice and entered him into the immigration system.

If the petitioner is correct in the information he provided within his petition then under EU Directive 2004/38/EC - on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of member states - he should have been processed on the basis of his wife being a European citizen and allowed the same access and rights to work as her.

As a rule this joint committee does not get involved in individual cases, however, it was decided to seek an explanation from the stakeholders involved in this case to establish if there is a systemic problem when processing European nationals and their spouses when entering Ireland through passport control.

The petitioner has made contact with the secretariat and he was advised that as he had not allowed sufficient time to resolve his issue in advance of submitting the petition and also as this was an individual case, the joint committee could decide that his petition is inadmissible. We have decided, following deliberation, that it is an individual case. Unfortunately, we have to deem it inadmissible to be consistent. However, an effort by our secretariat has been made, in good faith, to establish some of the issues that arise from the petition. We understand that the stakeholders are currently working with the petitioner to resolve and investigate the issue. On that basis, we are going to close the petition and we wish the petitioner well. We have tried to assist as best we can within the very tight remit that we have. I take it that is agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.52 p.m. sine die.