Tuesday 24 October 2017

Greens up the ante in row over O'Reilly's sea probe

Aine Kerr

THE Green Party last night piled pressure on the Taoiseach to let the Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly appear at an Oireachtas committee and state her case over a controversial compensation scheme.

The Government has blocked moves to have Ms O'Reilly's 'Lost at Sea' report go before an Oireachtas committee for debate, with Taoiseach Brian Cowen refusing opposition demands for a hearing.

The Government's rejection of the report was only the second time in the 25-year history of the Ombudsman that a recommendation of the state watchdog had been rebuffed.

That rejection prompted Ms O'Reilly to launch a scathing attack on the political system last week, in which she claimed politicians were simply voting along party lines, regardless of the issue.

The Green Party's chairman Dan Boyle upped the ante on his Fianna Fail colleagues by claiming that Ms O'Reilly should get the chance to appear before a committee.

"If there are issues that she thinks are pertinent, if there are reports that need to be responded to, that's the whole point of having a committee system in the Oireachtas," Mr Boyle said.

Under the 2001 'Lost at Sea' scheme, owners of fishing boats lost at sea between 1980 and 1990 could apply for compensation in the form of tonnage quota.

In her report, Ms O'Reilly criticised the scheme, initiated by then minister and now sitting Fianna Fail TD 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 Department of Agriculture later refused to pay €245,000 in compensation to the Byrne family.

But Mr Fahey insisted the Dail had dealt with the report. He claimed Ms O'Reilly and her office "got it wrong" in their investigation and misunderstood the nature of the scheme.

As the saga over the report drags on, Ms O'Reilly told RTE's 'The Week in Politics' she would not be resigning on a point of principle.


However, she said the affair represented a "critical moment" in the history of the Ombudsman's office. Her conscience was clear, she added.

"Now it is for others to do as they see fit to do. I had a choice to make. I could have just kept quiet about this, accepted perhaps that it was an aberration and not done anything about it," she said.

She further ruled out any resignation amid the continued fallout. "Resigning because you have done your job well is not really the way it should work. Of all of my predecessors, Michael Mills faced a particular crisis in relation to resources, Kevin Murphy had his crisis in relation to his case, and this is my issue. But all of us battled on," she said.

Irish Independent

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