Commissions of investigation
The Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 provides for the establishment of commissions of investigation which can investigate matters of significant 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 has reported.
The Act provides that a commission is set up by government order – this must be approved by the Dail 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 likely duration and cost of an investigation.
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. It is intended that commissions should be less adversarial 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 may be held 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 is obliged to publish the commission’s final report unless the Minister considers that such 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.
Commissions of investigation that have been set up include:
- Commission of Investigation into Dublin and Monaghan Bombings (2005): Set up to investigate the 1974 bombings
- Commission of Investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese (2006): Investigation into the handling of complaints of child sexual abuse involving Catholic priests in or attached to the Archdiocese of Dublin
- Commission of Investigation into the Banking Sector in Ireland (2010): An investigation into the main causes of the banking crisis
- The Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation (2021): An investigation into mother and baby homes in Ireland from 1922 to 1998