Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 22 June 2011

Venue: Room 30

The meeting opened in closed session at 2.14 p.m.

1. Apologies

As above.

2. Proposals to Update and Reform the Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman

The Committee discussed a number of policy issues in relation to proposals to reform and update the Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.

Mr Lyttle joined the meeting at 2.17 p.m.

Mr Molloy joined the meeting at 2.26 p.m.

Mr Humphrey left the meeting at 3.29 p.m.

The meeting moved into public session at 3.37 p.m.

Practical Arrangements and Accountability

1. Would the people of Northern Ireland be more effectively served in the future if a single Ombudsman’s office is established, with powers to investigate complaints about government departments and public bodies in Northern Ireland?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle to the merger of the current roles occupied by the NI Ombudsman.

2. If a merged office was created, should it be called the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman OR the Public Services Ombudsman for Northern Ireland?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that the new office should be the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman (NIPSO).

28. What do you think about the proposed appointment process? Are there any other conditions you would like to see?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that the Ombudsman would be appointed by the Assembly and would therefore become an Officer of the Assembly. Members also agreed in principle to investigate the idea of a public hearing with respect to the appointment. The Committee agreed that, in principle, the recruitment of the Ombudsman would be carried out by the Assembly Commission with an Assembly vote to confirm. The appointment would remain subject to Royal Assent.

29. Should the Ombudsman be appointed for a single fixed term of seven years or what length of term should it be?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that the Ombudsman would serve a fixed term of seven years.

30. Should the Ombudsman be able to employ staff directly to his Office and also to provide for secondment in his/her Human Resources Strategy?

Agreed: The Committee agreed to defer this decision until further discussion with the NI Ombudsman at the next Committee meeting.

31. Should the current link with the judicial salary scale be maintained?

Agreed: The Committee agreed to request further research to be undertaken on this issue.

32. Should there be arrangements for the Ombudsman to appear before a Committee of the Assembly to give an account in relation to his performance, resources and salary?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that the OFMDFM Committee would act in this role.

Mr Eastwood left the meeting at 3.40 p.m.

Acquisition of Cases

11. Should the legislation ensure that complaints to the Ombudsman would not need to be referred by a MLA but would allow for complainants, if they wish, to ask their MLA to refer a complaint on their behalf and to be involved?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle to this suggestion.

12. Do you think that the person making the complaint should be able to choose to submit their complaints either orally or in writing and what means of submission should be available?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that this should be the case, but with the caveat that the Ombudsman should set down his understanding of the complaint in writing for the consideration and agreement of the complainant. This should be received by the complainant within 10 working days and would allow a complaint to be agreed by both Ombudsman and complainant.

13. Should a definition be written in the legislation to specify that electronic submissions by email and website form and text messages may be used to submit a complaint?

Agreed: The Committee agreed to discuss this with the Ombudsman at the next Committee meeting.

14. Should the definition of a person’s aggrieved representative be amended to match that in the Scottish and Welsh legislation?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that this should be the case.

15. Should bodies within jurisdiction be able to refer a complaint to the Ombudsman and if so under what circumstances?

Agreed: The Committee agreed to discuss this issue further with the Ombudsman and seek further detail.

16. In Scotland the Ombudsman legislation allows for a listed authority to refer a case to the Ombudsman where there had been a public allegation that injustice had been caused by maladministration on the listed authority’s part to one or more individuals and that the listed authority had unsuccessfully sought to resolve the matter. In Scotland if the Ombudsman was not satisfied that both of those conditions were met, the case would not be accepted. Should a similar provision be included in the new Northern Ireland legislation?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that this issue should fall within the discretion of the Ombudsman.

Reporting, Sharing of Information

21. Do you think the proposals on the arrangements for the making of and publicising of reports are sufficient?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that the Ombudsman would lay an annual report before the Assembly and would brief the Committee on its contents. That the Ombudsman would have the power to make special reports and these again would be laid before the Assembly and the Committee would be briefed. In addition, the Committee should have the discretion to seek briefing from the Ombudsman as and when it sees fit.

22. Do you have any views on the proposals for the alternative arrangements in which there would be no (published) report as in the Welsh model?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle not to pursue this issue any further.

23. Should the Ombudsman be able to make annual reports and other reports on the discharge of functions in such manner and in such frequency as he/she thinks fit?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle not to pursue this issue any further.

26. Should the Ombudsman make and publicise a special report to deal with the situation where the Ombudsman is not satisfied with a body’s response to his recommendations on redress following a finding of maladministration that has caused injustice?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that this should be the case.

27. Should the mechanism for allowing a complainant to seek compensation in the County Court where a body had failed to implement a recommendation of the Ombudsman be (a) removed completely or (b) retained only in relation to local government bodies?

Agreed: The Committee agreed to defer a decision on this issue until further information had been sought.

Mr Eastwood re-joined the meeting at 3.43 p.m.

Powers

3. Do you think that the Ombudsman should not only have the power to resolve complaints but should also seek to improve public administration as part of his/her work?

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Ombudsman’s priority must be the caseload of complaints before him. The Committee considers that this function should be intrinsic to the recommendations made by the Ombudsman regarding each complaint that he considers. Members agreed to seek more detail on how this might work before coming to a decision.

4. Should the Ombudsman have a power to conduct an investigation or systemic review on his/her own initiative given the overlap with other bodies ?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that the Ombudsman should have this power, but with the caveat of Members considering further how this would work in practice.

5. Do you want the Ombudsman to have the power to provide guidance on good administrative practice that public bodies would be required/expected to take into account?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that the Ombudsman’s recommendations contained in his adjudication of complaints should serve this function.

6. Do you think that the Ombudsman should play a ‘design authority’ role in public sector complaints processes?


Agreed: The Committee agreed not to pursue this issue further.

7. Should the broad principle of ‘following the public pound’ be the basis on which bodies will be included within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction?

Agreed: The Committee discussed this issue at length and agreed to hear from the Ombudsman at the next Committee meeting.

8. Is it necessary to list the bodies within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction on the face of the legislation or could the list be made elsewhere? Should the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister have responsibility of maintaining an up to date list? If it is necessary to list the bodies within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction in the legislation should the bodies listed at paragraph 4.6 be added to the list?

Agreed: The Committee will consider the list separately and Members have linked this question with Q7.

9. Do you think that public sector employment issues should be excluded from the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that these issues should be excluded.

10. Do you believe that professional judgement in social care should be included in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle that this issue should be excluded.

17. Should the existing powers in relation to the conduct of an investigation by an Ombudsman be continued? Should additional power enabling the Ombudsman to require the provision of any facility from a person who may be able to provide information or produce a document be included in the legislation?

Agreed: The Committee agreed to this suggestion in principle, but with the caveat that the detail needs to be worked out and considered.

18. Should a person about whom an adverse comment might be made in an Ombudsman’s report have the opportunity to make representations on the proposed comments and if such an adverse comment remains in the Report, that the person’s representations are fairly included?

Agreed: The Committee agreed to consider the Welsh model regarding this issue.

19. Do you want the Ombudsman to have the power to take any action needed to resolve a complaint in addition to, or instead of conducting an investigation?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle to this power being incorporated in the legislation.

20. Do you think that the Ombudsman should be authorised to co-operate with other Ombudsmen in the UK and Ireland in matters which overlap their jurisdictions?

Agreed: The Committee agreed this in principle, but Members wish to consider the detail of how this would be presented in legislation.

24. Should the Ombudsman be able to share information with other Ombudsman in the UK and ROI and also that the equivalent Welsh provisions relating to cases involving health or safety be adopted?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle, but the detail must be considered further.

25. Should the Ombudsman have a power to share information for health and safety and that it should be broadened as indicated at 7.8 above?

Agreed: The Committee agreed in principle.

3. Chairperson’s Business

EU Panel Roundtable Event

The Chairperson thanked Members for their attendance at the Committee’s EU Panel Roundtable Event on Monday 20 June 2011. The Chairperson advised Members that the next Panel meeting will take place in the autumn and be based on one of the Executive’s Priorities for European Engagement.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the other Statutory Committees indicating the next steps to be taken with regard to this issue.

4. Draft minutes of the meeting held on 15 June 2011

Agreed: The draft minutes of proceedings of 15 June 2011 were agreed by the Committee.

5. Matters Arising

Review of Arm’s Length Bodies

The Committee noted a response from the Department providing clarification of the Executive’s Review of Arm’s Length Bodies.

Outstanding Issues

The Committee considered the list of outstanding issues and correspondence.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write again to the Department to request urgently copies of the responses to and analyses of the Department’s consultation on the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration

Mr Molloy left the meeting at 3.49 p.m.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to request a briefing on the former military sites transferred following the Hillsborough Agreement.

6. Correspondence

Sustainable Development Implementation Plan

The Committee noted a copy of the Sustainable Development Implementation Plan.

Mr Molloy re-joined the meeting at 3.56 p.m.

UN Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women

The Committee noted a response from the Department advising that the Committee will be briefed on the UN Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women in advance of the formal hearing.

International Development Strategy

The Committee considered a letter from MR Jim Nicholson MEP in relation to an Executive Strategy on International Development.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department to request an update on the development of an International Development Strategy. The Committee also requested a research paper on the International development Strategies that have been developed in Scotland and Wales.

Higher Education Funding Cuts

The Committee noted a copy of a letter to the First Minister concerning Higher Education funding cuts.

University of Ulster

The Committee considered a request from the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster to brief the Committee on a number of issues.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Chairperson, the Deputy Chairperson and any other interested Members would meet with the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ulster.

7. Northern Ireland Community Relations Council

Mr Tony McCusker, Mr Duncan Morrow and Ms Jacqueline Irwin from the Northern Ireland Community Relation Council joined the meeting at 4.01 p.m.

Mr Tony McCusker, Mr Duncan Morrow and Ms Jacqueline Irwin from the Northern Ireland Community Relation Council briefed the Committee on their paper “Towards a Shared Society?” A question and answer session followed.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 4.55 p.m.

Mr Molloy left the meeting at 4.55 p.m.

The meeting recommenced at 4.56 p.m.

Mr Clarke declared an interest as a member of Antrim Borough Council.

Mr Tony McCusker, Mr Duncan Morrow and Ms Jacqueline Irwin from the Northern Ireland Community Relation Council left the meeting at 5.15 p.m.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk prepare options for the Committee to visit different community projects.

8. Any Other Business

Committee for Employment and Learning

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward correspondence from the Committee for Employment and Learning to the Department concerning European issues.

The Committee noted a number of other tabled items of correspondence.

9. Date, time and place of next meeting

The next meeting will be in Room 30 on Wednesday 29 June 2011 at 2 p.m.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting at 5.17 p.m.

Mr Tom Elliott MLA
Chairperson,
Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister

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