Tag Archives: Emily O’Reilly

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European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One earlier today about the fallout of Brexit.

Unlike some of her colleagues, she was expecting the Leave side to win.

During the interview, she explained:

A lot of people here in Brussels were completely shocked and surprised by the result. I wasn’t that surprised. I was in the UK a few weeks ago and the atmosphere, to me, was much more Brexit-y if I could put it that way, rather than Remain. And I thought the narrative seemed to be going in a particular direction.

Those people that I spoke to, who might have been sort of on the sidelines or on the fence if you like, weren’t finding the arguments of the Remain people very convincing and I think they felt that, after years of the EU being blamed for virtually every ill that the UK was suffering that the people who are now urging them to Remain, they lacked credibility.

But also, mind you, closer to the actual day of the referendum and certainly in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox, I thought that that might change things and perhaps it changed the margin for the result but, obviously, ultimately it didn’t change things.

On the day of the referendum itself, putting my old political correspondent’s hat on, I noticed the turnout was very high and that generally means that people who are more excited or more involved, or more engaged on one particular side of the debate are more likely to vote and I judged that that would be people who wanted to leave the EU.

And also the weather was bad and, again people who aren’t that bothered to vote are likely to be swayed by that so, on that basis, I wasn’t really too surprised.

I think if you’re in Brussels for too long, I think a sense of dislocation happens and most people here, who work in the EU institutions obviously have skin in the game. And they’re not always looking completely rationally at the reasons why people vote in a particular way.

I know I’ve often said to my colleagues and I based it on our experience when the financial crash happened, and things changed so much and particularly I suppose for people who mightn’t have been expecting the outcome in terms of their incomes and so on and that would be the public servants and civil servants in Ireland and the degree to which their living standards plummeted and so on.

I said to my colleagues on a number of occasions, ‘don’t take anything for granted’, you know, ‘explore what’s happening in the UK, there is a possibility that the vote could go a particular way.

But I think because, when you come to Brussels, people get so wrapped up in the project, and some of them fall so much in love with the project that they find it incomprehensible that people, outside, the bubble might not be as in love with it either.

I think also there is a lack of awareness of the degree to which inequality still remains as a big issue, increasingly in many countries, including in the UK.

Of course the mistake is to blame the EU or what the EU does because very often it’s member state’s policies themselves, or globalisation generally that has created that.

But I think there is a lack of understanding and very often a lack of empathy for people who are on their uppers and who feel, certainly in some places in the UK, that they are competing for reduced public services with migrants – be they migrants from other EU countries or immigrants, people who are seeking asylum or refugee status in the UK.”

When I came here, people would talk about the second narrative. The first narrative sort of started in Auschwitz and ended with the creation of the EU if you like.

But that was a narrative for an older generation and I often make the point that young Irish women, like myself as I was in the 1970s, for my generation of young people but particularly young women, that the EU was a liberation for us because they brought in certain laws that made us more equal in the workplace and got rid of the ban on women, married women working in the workplace and so on and so forth.

So my experience and the experience of our generation, shall I say, was generally very positive. But that experience, if it isn’t being replicated among the young generations in eastern Europe, central Europe, even in the UK, then they’re going to become disillusioned with it.

But I thought it was interesting that one of the first meetings, in the flurry of meetings that have taken place all over Europe since last Thursday was one of the foreign ministers of the six founding countries of the EU and I think that was sort of sending out a signal perhaps, hinting at what you’re suggesting there that maybe the whole project has become a little bit strained that something has to happen, something has to give, a more modest union, a smaller union, whatever.

But that Brexit has been the key, perhaps, looking at it in the positive way, to reform that and is going to be positive and, you see, I’ve thought it so difficult now, when anybody mentions a Treaty change, a possible Treaty change, even over something trivial, everybody shivers because the idea that you would get 28 member states to agree on anything seems impossible. So you wonder how you can continue give that sort of strain on a process.

There’s always been a tussle here between the ever closer union people, the federalists and those who say, ‘look, let’s have a much narrower and less ambitious sort of, trading and humans rights and all of that, but let’s not try and strain this too far’ and that will continue.

But I think what we’re going to have over the next few months: a lot of politics has to happen on all sorts of levels before we can see what’s actually going to emerge at the end and no one can tell you definitively what that is.

You have the politics in the United Kingdom, the politics in Northern Ireland, in Scotland, we have our own skin in the game, very obviously and at the moment, Ireland is sort of like in a ‘torn between two lovers’ situation between the UK situation and membership of the European Union.

You also have the French presidential election next year, as you say, what’s happening in Germany, and all of that and then you have the general, ideological struggles or squabbles or whatever, political debate that goes on in relation to how Europe should develop.

But I had felt, personally, over the last while, since coming here, when you have the migration crisis and the financial crisis, you had Greece, you had this, you thought at some point, something had to give in order to rebuild, recast perhaps in a different way.

I made the point recently that, when people don’t understand, they feel stupid and when people feel stupid, the feel hostile towards those people who, inadvertently or otherwise, have made them feel stupid and so they resile and so they become much more isolated and I think the EU has an awful lot of work to do in relation to its transparency, its accountability, how it communicates with the 500 million citizens

Listen back to the interview in full here

Previously: Everything Must Change

Rollingnews

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 European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly

The European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, has opened an investigation into whether the EU administration is living up to its obligation to introduce internal whistleblowing rules. She has asked nine EU institutions, including the European Commission, Parliament, and Council, to inform her by 31 October 2014 about the rules they have in place, or intend to introduce.

She explained: “The Commission’s EU Anti-Corruption Report warns that corruption can seriously harm the economy and undermine the trust of citizens in democratic institutions. Whistleblowers play a key role in uncovering serious irregularities. I want to ensure that the EU institutions have in place the necessary rules to protect whistleblowers and to deal with complaints they submit about how they have been treated.”

Ombudsman: What are EU institutions doing to protect whistleblowers? (European Ombudsman)

Previously: Blessed Are The Whistleblowers

The Chilling Effect

Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

 

EmilyOReillyEmily O’Reilly at the Equality Rights Alliance conference in the Westbury Hotel, Dublin yesterday

“When O’Reilly was appointed in 2003 (despite opposition from two ministers, she has been told), the Fianna Fáil-led government of the day had just decided to curtail severely the Freedom of Information Act.

She believes the act came as “a huge shock to the system” for the Civil Service, and that while overall the culture has changed enormously over the past decade, “pockets of secrecy” remain.”

“Certainly the Department of Justice, for its own cultural and historical reasons, remains very secretive, very closed. If there is one thing I regret, it is that asylum, immigration and prisons are still outside any independent complaint-handling watchdog.”

 

Outgoing Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, above, speaking to the Irish Times ahead of taking up her new position as European Ombudsman in Strasbourg next week.

Emily O’Reilly interview: ‘I wasn’t going to park 20 years of my life’s experience at the door of the office’ (Irish Times)

Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

EmilyyOmbudsman Emily O’Reilly, above, at the MacGill Summer School in the Glenties, Co. Donegal last night:

The Sutherland is mysteriously strong in this but…

“It is a great privilege, as I’ve just said, to have been asked to deliver this year’s lecture in honour of John Hume. While his life’s work is normally viewed through the prism of politics, north and south, I think, more rightly, his contribution should be seen through the prism of human rights. As he, to me, is the pre-eminent human rights defender of his generation. His struggle was a struggle for the assertion of basic humanity, of basic human dignity and we will betray that great legacy if we do not ground our own lives, our own politics through that same, clear-sighted vision. My remarks this evening will reflect on how we fail at times to do so. If they are critical of a country, that has achieved so much for its people and which continues to assert itself proudly in the world, they also reflect a belief that this still gifted and privileged place that we inhabit could do so much more for its own people with those gifts and with those privileges, and bring the human rights standards, championed by John Hume, to bear much more forcibly on a world that still struggles to meet the most minimal of those standards, for so many people.”

“The question posed in this year’s summer school is: How Stands The Republic? The answer to that, perhaps, like the apocryphal tale of Zhou Enlai in the French Revolution is that it’s too early to tell. Have we ever actually lived in a real one. In 1916, Padraig Pearse and his colleagues declared that the Republic they imagined, they were now ushering in, would guarantee religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all, and would pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation. When we did eventually achieve our independence, the successors of Mr Pearse and others of that vintage, promptly franchised the State to a private organisation called the Catholic Church, shedding in particular its responsibility for the education and health systems and thereby allowing little actual space for the elected leaders of this Republic to play their role in pursing the happiness and prosperity of the nation.”

“As recently as last week, the State and the Catholic Church were still squabbling over who should pick up the tab for the distinct non-cherishing of the nation’s children, that endured for much of the lifetime of this Republic. Meanwhile, our current Education Minister continues gamely to pursue his attempt to reclaim the State education system from the control of that organisation.”

“The Republic that was created from the ashes of the Rising was a perversion of the human rights ideals of 1916. To this day, we, as a people, are not yet fully cognisant of what a real, civic republic actually looks and feels like. Professor Gerard Quinn of NUIG, and another member of the Council of State, speaking at an Amnesty International event, in the wake of the publication of the reports and institutional abuse, stated:

‘The sheer weight of history would surely justify one in questioning whether there ever was a coherent, moral and political vision behind the origins of the State. Indeed it might be argued, with some plausibility, that the State had an explicit ethnic rather than an ethical base’

“He further argued that:

‘The failures of the fledging and adult state were not simply failures to vindicate rights to adhere to the rule of law, and to ensure democratic processes worked. Rather they undermined the very idea of the Republic.’

“I will base my comments tonight primarily on my experience as Ombudsman over the past 10 years and how I have observed the interplay as between citizen, administration, executive, parliament and judiciary in this country. As a general observation, I would say that it can be difficult at times for many people who live in this…inaudible… described, but not constitutionally named as a Republic, to remind ourselves that, theoretically, we are the ones in charge. It is even at times hard for parliament to realise what its actual constitutional role is. And, at times, the executive itself and the judiciary even struggle.”

“This latter point was made quite starkly by former Attorney General Peter Sutherland in a lecture delivered earlier this year when he publically fretted about the courts being forced, in his view, to involved themselves in the kind of fundamental decision making that the constitution never intended for them. He said:

‘The respect among branches of Government is undermined, for example, where measures are adopted by the legislature, where the Oireachtas knows or ought to know, will, through their ambiguity or lack of clarity, require the judiciary to determine what they actually mean. Effectively delegating to the courts, decisions which legislators would rather not address themselves, particularly when the issue is one which is controversial, politically or morally, is quite wrong. It may bring the judiciary into the centre of debates which they have neither the competence nor the democratic legitimacy to determine and it is a denial of respect for the separation of powers.’

Sutherland added:

“On difficult, moral and ethical issues in particular, where attitudes are changing, the superior courts may be drawn into making decisions that may not merely have profound consequences but on which the courts are not particularly well qualified to make judgements. Where are judges to seek the essence of the values to be upheld in the determinations, related for example to the commencement of life or the right to terminate one’s own life. Is the Christian and democratic nature of the State to be the benchmark and to be defined by the courts or by the legislature also. We are also living, he added, in a time of fundamental values, of the dignity of man, and the equality of man are defined in widely different ways. And the courts should not be left alone to make these determinations, particularly at a time of profound change and debate about moral issues. In the end of the day, one is left with the impression that the courts simply find and define these rights on the basis of broad concepts of justice and fairness and which differences may exist, even between the judiciary themselves.’

“Sutherland’s core assertion is that the courts are inappropriately forced to decide not alone what our values in this Republic are, or should be, but also in the absence frequently of any clues to divine what the elected representatives of the people think about those values and what their intentions are when they cobble together, not just deliberately ambiguous laws but, at times, deliberately ambiguous constitutional amendments.”

“I would submit that while the courts, in Sutherland’s view, feel that they have too much unwanted power, parliament itself spends much of its time ducking and diving and pretending that it has no power whatsoever.

Meanwhile, the executive, when its not ducking and diving itself in relation to weighty matters of the sort noted by Sutherland, is planting its boot far too firmly on the neck of the parliament and wielding power in a manner never envisaged by the Constitution.

The Republican concerns of Michael D. Higgins, as a Dáil deputy are best known from what was his valedictory Dáil contribution on the 26th of January, 2011. Now that he is President, his views carry more weight considerably than previously. And I hope it is not disrespectful to comment that, as a TD, his contribution on this issue were sometimes regarded by colleagues, on all sides, as academic or esoteric or perhaps both. Leinster House at the time may not have been quite ready for Jurgen Habermas and his theories on communicative rationality and the public sphere. But there is an important point to be made here. And it is one Michael D.Higgins continues to make as President and that is that there is a deep-seated anti-intellectualism prevalent in Irish public life. He did not quote Isaac Asimov on that subject, as it relates to the United States. But let me do so instead:

“Anti-intellectualism, said Asimov, has been in a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”

“And it is undoubtedly true that, despite our supposed love of learning and the historic echo of the island of scholars, ignorance or at least the absence of any visible high intelligence has been a much more prized virtue at times. The late Brian Lenihan was warned never to play Chopin at a party function. Garrett Fitzgerald was sneered at for being an intellectual. For many decades our thinking was also franchised out to the Catholic Church without the need for the sort of heavy lifting, engaged in by others who have struggled without the aid of an off-the-shelf bag of beliefs and absolute certainties. At least the aftermath of our economic collapse has allowed us to release our inner Jurgen Habermas as we struggle to make sense of what has happened and why.”

“In his January, 2011, Dáil speech, Michael D. Higgins concluded that we have failed to create a kind of society that could justifiably call itself a Republic. He said:

‘I was conscious in 1969 (that’s when he entered politics) of the great failure of a country that then called itself a Republic. I believe no real Republic has been created in Ireland. The failure has been of three kinds. There has been a failure in making political power republican, a failure in making republican any kind of administrative power and a failure with regard to communicative power. Without being technical about each of these, he said, I think those that wanted Ireland to be independent would have envisaged a country in which there would be far greater distribution of power, that it would not be confined solely to the exercise of parliamentary democracy.’

“But if we are, as the President suggested, stuck with the exercise of power in parliamentary democracy alone, how well does even that measure up. I propose now to offer my own assessment using a number of events that occurred during my tenure as Ombudsman, to illustrate my points. Some of these issues may seem relatively minor as compared with sort of weighty matters that Peter Sutherland talks about: the courts and happily having to wrestle with. But I think they can also serve to highlight, none the less, the fault lines in our Republic: the failure of parliament to assert itself; our poor grasp of the concept of the public good; and a sort of public indifference to matters of human rights until the latest Bill for the latest litany of abuse pops through our national letter box.”

“Speaking at a conference in March, 2010, I said some rather critical things about how our parliament works, or rather does not work. I asked of parliament, as I then observed it operating, was anything more than a charade. Whether its members have lost all sense of parliament being an independent entity, acting in the public interest. I suggested that parliament had been demonstrably sidelined by the executive and had become no more than a rubber stamp, agreeing to decisions already made elsewhere. These criticisms of parliament are now commonplace and feature in our current affairs media virtually every week. The views of some commentators, on the effects of impotence on our constitutionally-mandated legislatives, or recently-endorsed in a study of first-time TDs in the current Dáil undertaken by Dr Mary Murphy, of University College Cork, and published by the Hansard Society and I would like to thank Noel Whelan for bringing this to public attention in his Irish Times column.”

“From their own mouths, (Dr Murphy) noticed TDs’ frustration at government, unresponsiveness to Opposition amendments, their perception of a poor degree of accountability and openness, the spectacle of Question Time spent “taking lumps out of each other”. The TDs’ ability to contribute to influence, to oversee and to promote or inform is, she stated, ‘checked by the operational parameters of the institution, the dominance of the executive and the power of political parties’.

Yet, rather incredibly, given the apparent horror of their lives as they themselves described it, 84% of the new TDs see politics as a long-time career while 82%, touchingly, want to become a minister at some stage. On the latter point, Murphy noted, the desire to become a minister, despite the small number, whoever reaches that point, is symptomatic of a culture that places little value in a career as an ordinary parliamentarian, a legislator. And I would suggest that the swift exit of George Lee from the Dáil was not the act of a deluded, out-of-his-depth celebrity, as it was steeringly characterised at the time. But rather a perfectly rational response to what he encountered once the heavy joy of being elected wore off.”

“In some respects, the very fact of having these criticisms, of the actual workings of parliament reiterated week in and week out, has dulled our sense of discomfort and unease. The fact is that our parliament is functioning in a manner which, in all likelihood, subverts the Constitution. Article 28.4.1. says: ‘The Government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann’.

And the Taoiseach alluded to that earlier. Quite clearly, this is not the case. Successive governments have generally taken the Dáil, and Seanad, for granted. As our parliament, as a matter of general practice, is not a forum which decisions are taken, there is no reason why Government should take it seriously. The nub of the problem perhaps is that parliament does not take itself seriously.”

And that’s just the first 15 minutes.

Watch here.

Ombudsman Remit Extended to 180 Public Bodies.Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, featured in the divorce referendum post earlier, with Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, Padraig Mac Lochlainn TD with leaflets explaining that…

 

…From 1 May 2013 over 180 additional publicly funded organisations will be subject to independent oversight by the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly   This means that the Ombudsman will be able to examine complaints from members of the public about the administrative actions of public organisations including Universities, Vocational Education Committees, the Student Grant Appeals Board, FÁS, the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), and the Family Support Agency, among many others.

[Emily O’Reilly said] “Today is a landmark day for accountability in Ireland.  Almost 25 years since it was first proposed the remit of the Ombudsman has been extended so as to include almost all publicly funded organisations that deal with the public.

Ombudsman can now examine complaints against 180 additional public organisations (Ombudsman.gov.ie)

Pic:Ombudsman

A monthly allowance of around €208 to people with a severe disability, who are unable to walk or who would benefit from trips away from home, has been unlawfully withheld from people over the age of 66.

A new report, entitled Too Old to be Equal’,’ from the Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has revealed the Department of Health has been maintaining an illegal upper age limit of 66 in regards to the payment.

The department has known it has been operating illegally since 2008 and agreed to do away with the age limit last April, but has failed to do so.

RTE reported this morning: “The report details five cases of refusal, including a case where a complainant was aged 81 and who died last March.”

Department illegally Operating Mobility Allowance Scheme – Ombudsman (RTE)

Ombudsdudess Emily O’Reilly on freedom of information for all, Nama and Sir Humphrey. On Saturday’s Marian Finucane show on RTE R1.

Finucane: “Are you campaigning to have the FOI, Freedom of Information, returned to where it was, so to speak?”

O’Reilly: “Yes. And I think it will be. Actually it’s very interesting to see what will happen there. There has been a lot of..certainly the Government is moving ahead in the legislation. There’s been a lot of tick-tacking between my office and the relevant department. And now I think what’s happened that is observations on the various changes are going around the various departments. For me, the litmus test will be A) whether the gardai are brought in under FOI. The police have been under FOI in the UK since it came in 2005. The world heavens haven’t fallen. And also whether organisations that are frequently dealt with on your programme – NAMA, NTMA, all the financial institutions – whether they will be brought under FOI. I sense reluctance, not necessarily..well, I don’t know where the reluctance is coming from but I certainly, I certainly sense it. And to my mind NAMA, in particular, holds our livelihoods, a great deal of our livelihoods and our futures in their hands. And I think they should be open to as much scrutiny as possible.

Finucane: “And there is no information whatsoever?”

O’Reilly: “No, there’s no information…I mean, you know they talk about…Actually it was quite funny because Frank Daly, he was being interviewed. I don’t know whether you were interviewing him or Sean O’Rourke, or some programme there recently..And he said, in relation to NAMA…And Frank, I hope I’m quoting you correctly, he said ‘You can have commercial viability or you can have transparency but you can’t have both’…something like that. But it was almost as if he was deliberately parodying Yes, Minister, and particularly the episode called Open Government in which Sir Humphrey says to Prime Minister Hacker, who’s all on for open Government says ‘Prime Minister, you can have openness, you can have Government. But you can’t have both.’ You know? So, commercial sensitivity, of course. But I think we the people deserve to know what this organisation that is dealing with billions is doing.”

Listen here

Pic Via Office of The Ombudsman