Dr Eoin Daly is a lecturer in the School of Law at University College Dublin.
He has written a piece on the Human Rights in Ireland blog, in the wake of the Anglo Tapes. His piece is in relation to recent calls for a referendum which would bestow greater powers on the Oireachtas to hold a banking inquiry.
He explains that an inquiry under current legislation would be bound by the Supreme Court’s 2001 Abbeylara judgement, which decided the Constitution gave no power to the Oireachtas to hold inquiries in which the findings could adversely affect private individuals.
“The prohibition of inquiries pertaining to the conduct of “private” individuals seems odd given the enormous power such individuals can wield in our society, as has now so painfully been established.”
“Given the broad consensus that our political system provides insufficient mechanisms for accountability and public scrutiny, the Abbeylara judgment now seems peculiarly inapt and misplaced. Therefore, in light of recent events there is a strong argument that a referendum should be held to reverse the judgment.
“This would create an explicit power for the Oireachtas to hold inquiries in accordance with legislation – including, crucially, the power to hold inquiries whose findings adversely affect the reputations of private individuals, albeit subject to certain protections.
“The 2011 referendum on Oireachtas inquiries would have had this effect had it passed. However, it was rejected partly because in addition to granting the Oireachtas an explicit inquiry jurisdiction – effectively reversing “Abbeylara” – it went further by implying that the inquiries could limit individuals’ ability to defend their rights of procedural fairness through access to judicial review proceedings.
“However there is no reason why a fresh, differently-worded amendment could address the narrower jurisdiction point yet while fully respecting the right of those adversely affected by inquiries to access the courts if necessary, as is currently the case in relation to all inquiry types. Although that may lead to further delays and costs, such is the inevitable price for protecting individuals’ constitutional rights.”
Dr Daly suggested the limits of a future inquiry could be removed by adding the following to Article 15 of the Constitution:
“The Houses of the Oireachtas may conduct public inquiries on matters of public interest in a manner regulated by law. Such inquiries may produce adverse findings concerning the conduct of individuals, whether in public employment or otherwise, subject to established rights of natural justice being respected.”
What say ye?
New focus needed In Oireachtas inquiries amendment (Dr Eoin Daly, Human Rights In Ireland)