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Tribunals of Inquiry


Ireland's Parliament (Oireachtas) has the power to establish tribunals of inquiry to investigate certain matters of public importance.

These tribunals are not permanent tribunals. Instead, they are set up with powers to investigate specific matters. They are usually chaired by judges or senior lawyers.

At the end of the investigation, the tribunal submits a report to the Oireachtas, which may contain recommendations.

Significant costs have arisen in recent years with regard to tribunals. The Comptroller and Auditor General published a Special Report into Tribunals of Inquiry (pdf) in December 2008. The report gives an estimate of the costs involved in the more recent Mahon, Moriarty and Morris tribunals.

Some of the tribunals that have been set up in include:

  • The Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry, 1994. This tribunal was set up to investigate alleged irregularities in the way the beef industry in Ireland was being run.
  • The Tribunal of Inquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board, 1997. This tribunal was set up to investigate the infection of large numbers of people in the 1970s and 1980s with contaminated blood products.
  • The Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians (Dunnes Stores), 1997. This tribunal was set up to investigate the payment of moneys to politicians.
  • The Mahon Tribunal (Formerly known as the 'Flood Tribunal'). This tribunal was set up to investigate payments to politicians in the context of planning decisions.
  • The Moriarty Tribunal. This tribunal was set up to investigate into payments to politicians, including former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
  • The Lindsay Tribunal. This tribunal was set up to inquire into the infection with HIV and Hepatitis C of persons with haemophilia.
  • The Laffoy Commission. This tribunal was set up to examine claims of child abuse within the State's industrial schools.
  • The Morris Tribunal. This tribunal was set up to investigate complaints concerning some GardaĆ­ of the Donegal division.

Tribunals of Inquiry and Equality

In May 2005, the Law Reform Commission published a Report on Public Inquiries Including Tribunals of Inquiry (pdf). This Report followed on from a Consultation Paper originally published by the Law Reform Commission in 2003. The Report came in the wake of the establishment of numerous tribunals. These tribunals have examined various matters, including major disasters involving loss of life, and allegations of wrongdoing in land development and the planning process.

The Report also recommends procedural changes concerning the selection of an appropriate type of inquiry, drafting appropriate terms of reference, the rights of individuals and organisations to be heard and represented and the awarding of legal costs.

The Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 (pdf) aims to consolidate and modernise the law regarding Tribunals of Inquiry.

The Bill contains provisons which:

  • Clarify the process for setting and amending terms of reference of a tribunal
  • Require a tribunal, within three months of its establishment, to produce a statement of estimated costs and duration of the tribunal. This statement must be subsequently amended after significant developments
  • Enable the Government for stated reasons and following a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas to dissolve a tribunal
  • Governing the taking of evidence, including a provision to end the costly practice of orally reading-in of evidence already available in written form and not disputed
  • Clarify the situation with regard to the granting of legal representation before a tribunal
  • Enable the responsible Minister will be able to request an interim report on the general progress of an inquiry, or of a particular aspect of an inquiry, from the tribunal
  • Allow tribunal reports to be admissible in civil cases. This section provides that the facts in a report or the opinions expressed therein are uncontested
  • Require the Minister for Justice, Equality and Equality, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to make regulations which will set out maximum amounts of legal fees recoverable from the State
  • Require the Taxing Master of the High Court, when adjudicating on applications for costs in respect of third parties, not to exceed the amounts set out in the regulations.
Page updated: 15 September 2009



Related Documents

  • Tribunals - introduction
    There are a range of tribunals with different functions in Ireland today. What is a tribunal and how and why is it set up?
  • Powers of Tribunals of Inquiry
    A tribunal of inquiry in Ireland is established by legislation to investigate a particular matter of public importance.
  • Political system at national level
    This document describes the way in which the political system operates at National Level, including an outline of the Oireachtas. It also contains an explanation of the political terms used.

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