Watchdog on attack as Lost at Sea report 'ignored'
Future of her office 'is now at stake'
Published 13/03/2010 | 05:00
OMBUDSMAN Emily O'Reilly says the future of her office is at stake after the Government ignored her report into a controversial fishing compensation scheme.
Ms O'Reilly said she had no option but to publicly challenge the Government, which had refused to follow her recommendations on the Lost At Sea scheme.
Ms O'Reilly summed up her feelings by stating that the Government had "decommissioned my nuclear weapon, in a sense".
Ms O'Reilly mounted a four-year investigation into a complaint made by the grieving family of two fishermen who were lost at sea.
The family failed to obtain a grant under the scheme and Ms O'Reilly later criticised its design.
But she said that government TDs had been whipped into rejecting an opportunity to debate her report, and that this was "wrong".
"I'm very unhappy about that, but this has huge ramifications potentially for the work that my office does," she said.
"It's high-wire stuff and I don't believe I should have been put into a position where I had to shout that loudly in order to make the point because I'm defending my office."
She spoke to RTE radio yesterday, after earlier this week criticising the model of government here as a "fiction" because the Dail and Seanad were controlled firmly by a whip system, which forced politicians to vote in line with their parties.
In her report, Ms O'Reilly criticised the Lost At Sea scheme, which was set up by former Marine Minister Frank Fahey, saying its design and the way it was advertised were "contrary to fair and sound administration".
The report was sparked by the case of Francis Byrne, a fishing-boat owner who lost his life, along with his 16-year-old son Jimmy and three other crew, off the coast of Donegal in 1981.
His widow was left with a young family of five boys and three girls.
The family was denied a grant under the 2001 'Lost at Sea' scheme, which was set up to help fishing families who had lost boats at sea to get back into the industry.
And the Department of Agriculture later refused to pay €245,000 in compensation to the Byrne family.
Fine Gael agriculture spokesman Michael Creed claimed yesterday that Taoiseach Brian Cowen's friendship with former Fianna Fail marine minister Frank Fahey -- the man responsible for the much criticised 'Lost at Sea' scheme -- was the reason the Government was blocking Ms O'Reilly.
"The Cowen-Fahey axis was strengthened further this week by the Taoiseach's continued refusal to allow the (Dail's agriculture committee) investigate the Ombudsman's Lost at Sea report and its findings," he said.
Mr Fahey said last night that he would need to listen to Ms O'Reilly's radio interview before commenting.