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History of the Office

The legislation setting up an Irish Ombudsman dates back to 1980 and the first Ombudsman, Michael Mills RIP, took up office in 1984. He served until 1994 when Kevin Murphy RIP was appointed Ombudsman. Kevin Murphy was succeeded by Emily O'Reilly in June 2003 who served until 2013.

The word ombudsman is not gender specific. It is a Swedish word meaning "agent" or "representative" of the people. An ombudsman investigates complaints from members of the public who feel they have been unfairly treated by certain organisations. His/her office is impartial and independent. If he/she finds a complaint is justified he/she will take steps to secure redress for the complainant.

There are many different kinds of ombudsmen. Some investigate complaints about government while others investigate about particular industries, for example, banks and insurance companies.

The King of Sweden appointed the first Ombudsman as long ago as 1809 to investigate complaints against the King's ministers. It was not until Denmark, in 1954, established an Ombudsman's Office that the idea began to attract general attention in countries outside Scandinavia. In 1962 - New Zealand - a country with an administrative system similar to Ireland's - became the first English-speaking country to appoint an Ombudsman. The United Kingdom followed with the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration in 1967 and a separate Commissioner for Northern Ireland was appointed in 1969. The last thirty years have witnessed a dramatic growth in the institution throughout the world and there are now approximately 120 ombudsman offices worldwide.

The Office of the Ombudsman investigates complaints about the administrative actions of Government Departments, the Health Service Executive and local authorities. By the end of 2008 approximately 72,000 valid complaints had been handled by the Office. In addition, at present the Office deals with up to 10,000 queries from the public every year.