The State's current model of holding statutory inquiries needed to be "revisited", due to the length of time ongoing commissions of investigation were taking, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Commissions of investigation, introduced to replace costly and lengthy tribunals, were “taking too long” to provide answers, the Fianna Fáil leader told an Oireachtas committee. Mr Martin said it was time to consider different models for how the State could investigate matters of public concern.
Referencing calls for a statutory inquiry into allegations of abuse and harassment of women in the Defence Forces, Mr Martin said a commission of investigation into the matter would likely take several years.
Instead the proposed independent judge-led review into the concerns would tackle the issue and help “safeguard” current members of the military without undue delay. “A statutory commission of inquiry isn’t going to give early closure or early resolution of the issues,” he said.
“Within every organisation, there should be robust systems, if someone whistleblows, has an issue, serious complaints, they should be dealt with properly . . . but that doesn’t seem to be happening in the country,” he said.
Mr Martin was taking questions on his department’s budget before the Oireachtas finance committee on Wednesday.
There was "merit" in the salary of Robert Watt, general secretary of the Department of Health, being higher than the heads of other departments, due to the challenges facing the health service, he said.
The department was “enormous” and needed “fundamental reform and change”, he said. When the decision was made to increase the secretary general salary the country was in “the middle of a global pandemic”, and facing other problems such as the spiralling cost of the National Children’s Hospital, he said.
Separately, the Government intends to set up a Citizens’ Assembly on drug use later this year, he told the committee.
Responding to a query from Sinn Féin TD Mairéad Farrell, Mr Martin said he was "not convinced" about how useful a Citizens' Assembly would be on the constitutional future of the island of Ireland.
There was “some distance to go” on the question, and he said he did not feel a Citizens’ Assembly was the best “mechanism” to debate the issue.
The Taoiseach said he was “deeply concerned” about recent political developments in Northern Ireland, with the resignation of the First Minister Paul Givan. “I have consistently said that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement should not be undermined and that politicians from all sides should respect this,” he told the committee.
Mr Martin urged the Democratic Unionist Party to return “to full engagement with all the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement”, and avoid actions that could damage peace and stability.
He said the current British government “seems to be taking a more union stance”, adding the joint approach to Northern Ireland from the British and Irish governments needed to be restored.
The British government had recently been acting unilaterally when it came to the protocol and legacy issues in Northern Ireland, he said.