Saturday 20 January 2018

O'Reilly vows to restore 'democratic legitimacy' if elected EU Ombudsman

Ireland’s Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who is seeking to become the EU Ombudsman
Ireland’s Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who is seeking to become the EU Ombudsman

Martin Banks

THE Irish nominee for the post of European Ombudsman says she would strive to restore the EU's "democratic legitimacy" if she was elected.

Emily O'Reilly, currently Ireland's Ombudsman, said her goal would be to re-establish "public trust" in the EU and its institutions.

Appearing at a nomination hearing in the European Parliament, she said "this is all the more important" at a time of austerity.

"As a citizen of a country under the financial supervision of the troika, I am acutely aware of the pressures on individuals and families brought on by austerity. I have daily professional experience of how an administration attempts to cope."

Ms O'Reilly added: "Never more so than at a time of recession does the public administration have a duty to treat its citizens with the utmost openness, fairness, respect and sensitivity."

She aims to succeed the current, Greek-born Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, who has dealt with more than 30,000 complaints during his time in office. He will retire on October 1.

Six eligible candidates have appeared before the parliament's petitions committee and the successful candidate will be selected during the July plenary session in Strasbourg.

Ms O'Reilly was appointed Ombudsman in 2003. Her nomination to become the first female EU Ombudsman has the support of 80 MEPs, compared with more than 100 for three other nominees.

Even so, with the backing of parliament's Greens and ECR political groups, she is still seen as the frontrunner.

In her hour-long hearing, in which she was quizzed by MEPs, she admitted the Ombudsman post had once been seen as an "ornament on top of the EU bureaucracy", but now had a "critical" role in enhancing public trust in the EU.

She told the committee she would aim to "replicate" the "highly effective engagement" she has had with the Irish parliament, adding: "Under my leadership, the office of Irish Ombudsman has greatly increased its role and I have implemented a major reform programme."

Skill

A mother of five who speaks French, Irish and Spanish, the former journalist said she believes she has the "skill, character, sensibility and humanity" for the job. If elected, her first task would be to start a "major initiative" to raise public awareness of the "little-known" post.

After the hearing, British Socialist MEP Michael Cashman, a committee member, praised her "amazing performance", adding: "Anyone who cannot see that she's the best candidate must be mad, dead or desperate."

Independent MEP Marian Harkin said: "She can count on my support because I've been impressed by her independence and tenacity as national Ombudsman. I also don't believe an MEP is right for the job."

Irish Independent

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