Ombudsman should get constitutional status, says Tyndall

The Ombudsman should become a constitutional office, similar to the Comptroller and Auditor General, the State's new Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has said.

“Public confidence in oversight institutions is enhanced when they are clearly independent of the bodies in their jurisdiction,” Mr Tyndall said at NUI Galway’s school of law last night.

While not referring specifically to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission controversy, Mr Tyndall said "recent events" had "highlighted the importance of Ombudsman institutions being accountable to the Oireachtas, and not to the administration".

"Constitutional status would serve to reinforce the independence and offer a further reassurance to members of the public that their complaint will be dealt with properly on its merits, and that the people making disputed decisions will not themselves be able to dictate or influence the outcome," he said.

"At the moment, the Ombudsman is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Oireachtas and has access to the Public Service Oversight and Petitions Committee, " he noted.

Referring to support expressed by NUIG professor of law Donncha O’Connell for a change to constitutional status, Mr Tyndall expressed the hope that “it will be possible to move forward on that basis in the future”.

'Single portal'
The extension of the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to include public services provided by private bodies, and the development of a "single portal" for complaints are other areas where there is potential for "improvement", he said.

A new European directive on alternative dispute resolution adopted in April 2013 offered opportunities to ensure networked services – including post, electricity, gas, public transport and telecoms – would have to come under a jurisdiction which offers redress, he noted.

Some companies, such as Eircom, are no longer in the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman, he said. He believed all networked services should come within his remit.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times