Commissions of investigation

Introduction

A commission of investigation is a type of inquiry into a matter of public concern. They are less expensive and quicker than a tribunal of inquiry. In certain circumstances, a tribunal of inquiry may be set up after a commission of investigation has reported.

Commissions of investigation can be established under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.

A commission is set up by government order – this must be approved by the Dáil and Seanad. The terms of reference are set by the Government or by an individual Minister. These terms must be accompanied by statements setting out the expected time and cost of an investigation.

Commissions that have been set up

The following commissions of investigation have been set up under the 2004 Act:

Commissions of investigation in Ireland
Name and year set up What was it about? Report
Dublin and Monaghan Bombings - 2005 Aspects of the Garda investigation into the bombings in Dublin and Monaghan on 17 May 1974 and the loss of documentation related to the bombing The final report was issued in 2007
Dean Lyons case - 2006 A false confession to the murder of two women in Grangegorman in 1997 Final report was published in 2006
Child sexual abuse – 2006 (Dublin) and 2009 (Cloyne) Allegations of child sexual abuse against Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of Dublin and Cloyne A redacted report was published in 2009 (Dublin) and 2010 (Cloyne)
Leas Cross Nursing Home - 2007 Management, operation and supervision of a nursing home in Dublin, following a televised undercover investigation A final report was published in June 2009
Death of Gary Douch in Mountjoy Prison – 2007 The circumstances surrounding the death of an prisoner of Mountjoy Prison in Dublin The final report was published in 2014
Banking Sector - 2010 The collapse of the banking sector and the role of the financial regulatory bodies between 2003 and 2008 The final report was published in 2011
Certain Matters relative to An Garda Síochána and other persons - 2014 The recording of phone calls in Garda stations between 1980 and 2013 The final report was published in 2016
Ronan MacLochlainn Commission - 2014 The murder of a Garda by members of the Real IRA in 1998 The final report was published in 2018
Certain Matters relative to the Cavan/Monaghan Division of the Garda Síochána Concerns on a range of matters that were disclosed by a Garda whistleblower The final report was published in 2016
Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters - 2015 Institutions for unmarried mothers, including Magdalene Laundries, between 1922 and 1998 The final report was published in 2021
Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) Commission – 2015 Certain transactions entered into by IRBC The final report was published in 2022.
Certain Matters relative to a Disability Service in the South East and Related Matters (Farrelly Commission) - 2017 The role of various persons, including foster carers, in the care of a children placed with a certain family and the treatment of protected disclosures Two substantive interim reports have been published. The final phase one report is expected in October 2022.
National Asset Management Agency - 2017 Certain transactions to which NAMA is a party and the operations of NAMA Thirteen interim reports have been published. The final report is expected in February 2023.
Response to complaints or allegations of child sexual abuse made against Bill Kenneally and related matters - 2018 Child sexual abuse and the response of An Garda Síochána and other persons to those allegations No reports have been issued to date

Powers of commissions

Commissions seek the voluntary co-operation of witnesses but have powers to compel people to give evidence if necessary. They also have powers to search premises and take documents.

In general, evidence is given in private. Commissions are less like a court of law than tribunals. The legal representatives of other parties will be present only if the commission is satisfied that their presence is necessary in the interests of the investigation and fair procedures. Witnesses may only be cross-examined if the commission agrees.

The Act provides for guidelines to be prepared by the relevant Minister for witnesses’ legal costs. A person who obstructs the commission or does not co-operate could be liable for any additional costs resulting from this.

Reports of commissions of investigation

A commission makes a final report on its findings to a specified Minister. The Minister may request interim reports on the general progress of a commission's investigation or on a particular aspect of the investigation.

The Minister must publish the commission’s final report unless the Minister considers that the publication might prejudice any criminal proceedings that are in progress. In such a case, the Minister may apply to the High Court for directions.

There are provisions for people named in the report to challenge the findings in relation to them.

You can read the full reports of the commissions in the table above.

Page edited: 28 September 2022