Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen
May I welcome you all here this evening to the formal official opening of our new premises at Lincoln Place? Though we were established on 1 April 2005 we had two separate buildings from day one. It was a priority for me, as the first statutory Financial Services Ombudsman, on taking up duty in mid May 2005, to have all staff located in one building at the earliest possible date. This was necessary so as to have organisational cohesion as the former two voluntary ombudsman schemes and staff were being merged into the new but expanded statutory scheme.
It did not prove possible to get suitable premises despite the best efforts of the Office of Public Works until late January 2006. Despite the delay compensatory measures were taken to ensure that a cohesive approach was taken by my staff in the meantime. However since February last it is pleasing to record that special efforts were made to have the building fitted out within a very tight time frame and within budget.
In that regard I wish to pay a deserved and sincere word of thanks to the Office of Public Works; to the Contractors, Albert Building Services; to the Architects, Richard Hurley & Associates; to the Mechanical and Electrical Contractors, Dungan Electrical Services; to our Legal Team, OíDonnell Sweeney; to our Bankers, Bank of Ireland and to all who have been involved with this project. Of course adapting and moving into a new building is not an easy job, but it was overseen in a most efficient and effective way by a small staff complement, to whom I pay sincere thanks.
I now pay tribute to all my staff, not alone for the generally seamless way the former voluntary ombudsman schemes have merged into the Statutory Scheme but for the work they have carried out over the last eighteen months. While a nice work environment is important it is the quality of the work output that really matters.
I want to express a special word of appreciation to the Financial Services Ombudsmanís Council, ably led and chaired by Dr. Con Power for the support they have given me in my role. Your two year reign can be looked on as one of achievement.
I am especially pleased to have among us this evening, staff of the Financial Regulator, the Pensions Ombudsman, representatives of the various financial services sectors as well as some consumers of financial services.
It is important to realise that as Financial Services Ombudsman, I am an independent arbiter of unresolved complaints against financial service providers, not a consumer champion, per se. I am a champion when I redress a wrong. Since we commenced operations in April 2005 it has been an extremely busy period. We have received to date over 5,000 complaints. We have a very high profile, which we did not seek but it has been thrust upon us.
I acknowledge and appreciate the spirit of co-operation I have received from consumers and all financial service providers and particularly from those Providers where complaints have to be dealt with by me. It is fair to say that you all have embraced the new Statutory Scheme in a very cooperative manner. Naturally there will and have been occasions when we differ, but as an Ombudsman I try, and do, act in a fair and impartial manner. Some of my decisions have been challenged in the Courts but that is the statutory safeguard provided to all parties to a dispute if they are not happy with my decisions.
I am confident that going forward we will continue the work we have embarked on in a fair, practical and efficient manner. Both Consumers and Financial Service Providers can be confident that we will operate to the highest public sector statutory principles. With the enhanced regulatory regime now in place, the recently launched Financial Regulatorís Consumer Protection Code combined with the efforts being made by all financial service providers to improve customer service and complaints handling procedures I expect our work load to decrease in the medium term.
We have and will continue to be capable, strong and authoritative in our adjudication. By our actions we are a major part of an enhanced financial services environment for all sectors but above all for the consumer.
Finally, I would now, Minister, like to extend special thanks to you and your officials for coming along this evening. Your presence clearly demonstrates the importance you and your Departmental staff attach to my statutory role. I warmly thank you and your officials for the continuing support and help. Indeed your presence Minister also testifies to both your desire and the Governmentís commitment to have a rigorous but not unnecessarily onerous financial services regulatory environment in Ireland.
Minister, I would at this point very much appreciate if you would now officially open these premises.