Dáil Éireann - Volume 599 - 24 March, 2005

Written Answers. - Office of the Ombudsman.

  87. Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if he has plans to extend the remit of the Ombudsman’s office to include disputes between third level educational institutions and their students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9811/05]

  Mr. Cowen: A Bill to amend the Ombudsman Act is being prepared, which is intended, inter alia, to extend the Ombudsman’s existing remit to a number of public institutions, including the universities.

Under the existing Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman is empowered to investigate an administrative decision taken by a body listed in a Schedule to the Act, where such decision aggrieves a person in his or her individual capacity and falls into various categories of misbehaviour.

The universities are not among the bodies covered by the Act at present. However, in 1999, the Government approved the draft scheme of an Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill, which listed the universities among the bodies to be brought under the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

It is expected that this would be given effect shortly after the Bill, which is expected to be published in mid-2005, is enacted. Making the universities subject to the Act does not, however, mean that all disputes between students and the universities will be investigated by the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman may only investigate an administrative action and certain actions by universities, including exams and other academic assessments, may fall outside that definition. The Ombudsman is also precluded from investigating administrative actions where there is an independent appeals body to deal with them. The universities have established, or are understood to be establishing, independent appeals facilities covering much of their operations.

It is clear that the body that represents the heads of the universities was unaware that it had been decided to bring the universities within the Ombudsman Act in 1999. In that context, they were surprised when the Department of Education and Science approached them, as a result of a query by our Parliamentary Counsel before Christmas, about activities such as campus companies which it would be appropriate to exclude. The universities would prefer to keep the Ombudsman away, on the grounds that students are members of their university and may seek a meeting to establish the details of what will be covered.