Spokesperson on Defence Seán Ó Fearghaíl has said the Minister for Defence has failed to adequately explain his decision to downgrade the office of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces following a dramatic reduction in the number of complaints being referred to the office for one year.

Deputy Ó Fearghaíl said: “The Minister seems to have taken the decision to turn this independent office into a part-time office in light of a reduction in the number of cases for one year only with no recognition of the fact this could easily increase again, leaving the office unable to cope.  There are many who are of the view that the Defence Forces already has a part-time Minister given that Minister Shatter also has responsibility for Justice and Equality.  Now the independent office for dealing with grievances has been significantly reduced.

“Between 2008 and 2010 there was an average of about 112 cases considered by the ombudsman but that dropped quite dramatically from 116 in 2010 to 32 in 2011.  While this reduction is welcome I feel the Minister has not adequately explained it or taken account of the fact that this may increase again which would cause significant pressure on the new Ombudsman who will now only operate three days a week.

“I want pay tribute to the former Ombudsman Ms Paulyn Marrinan Quinn who undertook extremely important work during her time in office.  I am extremely disappointed that Minister Shatter is not taking the concerns of members of the Defence Forces seriously.  For instance the Minister simply dismissed criticism made at PDFORRA’s recent conference, commenting that the organisation seemed “compelled to make wild complaints about all sorts of issues.”

“A serious issue that needs to be addressed is the role and functions of the office of the Ombudsman itself.  The previous Ombudsman wrote to the Minister indicating the time was right to consider how the whole system was working and if the oversight system was fulfilling its original purpose.  I understand Ms Marrinan Quinn raised the question of the powers enshrined in the Act being further extended as they have been in other jurisdictions.  She reported that the Minister responded positively to that approach.  One wonders how that positive response to a request for additional powers and a review of the system gave rise to a situation in which the working hours of the ombudsman will fall from 40 to 25 hours per week and we are to have a part-time ombudsman.”

Deputy Ó Fearghaíl concluded: “The fact that the previous Ombudsman sought more power and scope with the Minister apparently responding positively but then proceeding to downgrade the office entirely is very surprising.  This is not the open, transparent and reforming government the people voted for and I urge the Minister to seriously reconsider his approach to the office of the Ombudsman.”