Belfast Telegraph

'Less is more' in ombudsmen set-up

Less is more when it comes to the number of ombudsmen needed to investigate state complaints, MLAs have been told.

But current ombudsmen for Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland stressed that Northern Ireland had to develop a system that suited the region's own circumstances, insisting one size does not fit all.

The three office holders addressed Stormont's Committee of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) on the ongoing review of the functions of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman's Office.

That exercise comes amid calls to rationalise the number of ombudsman, commissioner and advocate roles in the region in a bid to save money and streamline the process of probing complaints against public bodies.

With current Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley watching proceedings, OFMDFM committee member William Humphrey asked if the region would be better served with one ombudsman for all government departments and public bodies.

Irish ombudsman Emily O'Reilly said the success of the southern office when it was first set up saw a range of other bodies established.

"The ombudsman term became a very popular one and a very populous one in a sense, and then when groups of people and individuals had particular needs that they wanted to see addressed or championed, the response from the administration tended to be well why don't we have an ombudsman for this and an ombudsman for that, and so on," she told the committee.

Ms O'Reilly said the recession had prompted moves that could see that trend reversed with more offices brought together.

Scottish public service ombudsman Jim Martin, who noted he also investigated prison complaints and could soon be handed responsibility for examining alleged police misconduct, said there had been a drive to create an "uncluttered landscape" in Scotland and merge as many functions under his office.

But he said Scotland had spent far too much time deciding what to do and what structure to adopt.

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