Comreg had less a quarter of required staff in recent years

State’s communications regulator has oversight of telephone and broadband market

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show chronic understaffing in some of the regulator’s most key functions.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show chronic understaffing in some of the regulator’s most key functions.

 

The State communications regulator was operating with less than a quarter of the staff it needed to do some of its most important work over recent years, internal records have revealed.

ComReg made a series of pleas to the Department of Communications for extra staff so that it could tackle a workload that was constantly increasing.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act however show chronic understaffing in some of the regulator’s key functions on market analysis.

Comreg has regulatory oversight of an increasingly complex telephone and broadband market here.

It has a number of major projects on the agenda, including a mapping of mobile phone coverage in the Republic; another multiband spectrum auction; and several market reviews, including the wholesale broadband market.

The staffing issues were flagged as far back as three years ago in correspondence with the Department of Communications.

In a briefing note for the Department from 2015, ComReg said it had been “significantly impacted” in preparing what were supposed to be regular market analysis reports.

“The three year review timeframe … is not being achieved in Ireland, largely because of the inadequacy of resources allocated to market analysis activities,” it said.

“These resourcing inadequacies arise largely as a consequence of the impact of the public sector recruitment moratorium, the employment control framework, and the resulting inability of ComReg to recruit and retain suitably qualified staff.”

It explained how they had just five staff working on “market analysis” and that this was way below what would be expected.

In other European Union states, the average number of people working in the area was between 16 and 24 full-time employees.

The number of full-time staff in the entire organisation had also been dropping and decreased from 124 to just 105 at one stage with sanction to recruit new people “only being approved in exceptional circumstances”.

The briefing said: “ComReg’s ability to deliver on its requirements is severely restricted … despite significant increases to our workload.”

In a statement, ComReg said they had prioritised parts of their work programme to address their staffing shortfall.

They said: “[We have] also taken measures to increase productivity and [have] redeployed staff in an effort to meet existing and new work commitments.

“ComReg is hopeful that it will get necessary sanction for more resources in order to carry out [our] important national functions.”

Asked about the staffing issues, the Department of Communications said: “It is vital that the regulator is appropriately resourced and equipped to meet current and future challenges in delivering on its statutory and regulatory remit.”

They said they were in discussions with ComReg and the Department of Public Expenditure about staffing needs. “Accordingly, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”