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Tom Ferris

The OECD, the Paris based think-tank, has recently published Regulatory Policy Outlook 2018  This report provides an update on the efforts that different countries are making to improve the quality of their regulatory processes. The OECD report also suggests some innovative approaches to better regulation, while it challenges individual countries to improve the quality of their laws and regulations.

This blog looks at what the OECD has to say about Ireland, it records some improvements in the process since the previous survey while also making some suggestions for change.

Why regulate?

Laws and regulations are needed to govern the everyday life of businesses and citizens. They are important tools of public policy and are used by governments in the pursuit of the public interest. Of course, regulating has never been easy. Indeed, it has become much more difficult with the pace of technological change and unprecedented interconnectedness of economies. Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, described the challenge very well when he said that – “The job of ministries, regulatory agencies and oversight bodies in defining the rules of the game for all is becoming more daunting”.

 Where has Ireland progressed?

The OECD opens its comments by recording that – “Ireland recently made some improvements to its regulatory policy system, particularly in the areas of consultation and ex post evaluation” . There are three strands to these improvements:-

  1. Consultation: The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published new consultation guidelines in 2016 entitled ‘Consultation Principles & Guidance’  They update the 2005 guidelines, following a review of best practice in the field of consultation. They also have regard to the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2014-2016.  In common with many other countries, the new guidelines adopt a principles-based approach to public consultation. The aim is to improve transparency, responsiveness and accessibility of consultations. However, the OECD points out that – “Despite these recent improvements, Ireland’s consultation practices do not yet operate on a systematic basis across government departments”.
  2. Central website: The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has recently launched an easily accessible portal to provide details of all public consultations. This is a very welcome innovation. It is a portal that is accessible on the website When the website is fully operational, people will be able to subscribe to the portal and get an email notification of new consultations. They will also be able to share details of a consultation by email and on social media.
  3. Post enactment review of legislation: There was a commitment in the Programme for Government to – “…support mandatory pre-legislative scrutiny for all new bills and post enactment review of legislation by Oireachtas Committees”. Standing Orders for the Dáil and the Seanad  now provide for a process of post-enactment scrutiny. In January 2018, the Oireachtas Library & Research Service published a very informative report on post-enactment scrutiny by Parliament. It provides some further context and analysis and includes a list of post-enactment scrutiny reports laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas  . While this is a welcome development, it will take time to be fully established.

How good is Ireland’s Regulatory Oversight?

The OECD notes that Ireland continues to conduct mandatory Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) for all primary laws and major subordinate regulations. But it does point out that in order – “…to more effectively monitor and assess the quality of RIA implementation, Ireland should consider establishing a central oversight body”.

The box below summarises the institutional setup for regulatory oversight in Ireland at present.  There is an implicit criticism in the final sentence, where the OECD states – “However, the implementation of regulatory management tools and oversight of sectoral economic regulators remains the responsibility of the relevant Department(s)”.

 Institutional setup for regulatory oversight in Ireland

How well does Ireland perform by comparison with other countries?

Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) provide useful information to decision makers on whether and how to regulate to achieve public policy goals. The OECD report includes a number of comparisons of how well countries perform their regulatory functions. There is only space to refer to one set of comparisons; that is the one that measures how well countries do in delivering RIAs for primary legislation. The 2018 OECD Report shows that Ireland recorded a mixed performance, when compared with 36 other OECD Member States (excluded aggregate results for the OECD and the European Commission). In the set of comparisons, Ireland achieved an overall score of 53 per cent, which placed it in 16th place out of 37 OECD Member States.

As regards the constituent parts of the survey, Ireland’s performance varied considerably. It performed very well in terms of the systematic application of the methodology in Ireland, with a score of 80 per cent and joint 16th place in the league of 37 OECD Member States. Under RIA methodology, Ireland had a good score of 73 per cent and was in joint 10th place in the league of 37 OECD Member States. As regards transparency, however, Ireland achieved a low score of 41 per cent and 19th place in the league of 37. The lowest score for Ireland was recorded for “oversight”, where the score was only 15 per cent and ranking was 30th place out of 37.

  Table A: OECD Survey of RIA Performance, for Primary Legislation, 2014
AspectPercentage (*)Position (out of 34**)
1. Systematic adoption of Regulatory 80%16 (***)
Impact Assessment, Primary laws  
2. Methodology of Regulatory Impact 73%10 (***)
Assessment, Primary law  
3. Transparency of Regulatory Impact 41%19
Assessment, Primary law  
4. Oversight of Regulatory Impact 15%30
Assessment, Primary law  
5. Aggregate score for Regulatory   
Impact Assessment, Primary laws53%16
* Categories 1 through 4 were scored out  
  of ‘one’, and Category 5 was scored out of ‘four’. 

**Survey based on 37 Member States (excluding OECD and European Commission


*** Joint position.


Source: OECD, Regulatory Policy Outlook 2018, Paris


Could more improvements be made? 

The OECD report provides a very useful check on how different countries perform on the regulatory front. In the case of Ireland, the OECD acknowledges the areas where progress has been made. But it also points out where improvements are still necessary. In particular it recommends that, Ireland should consider establishing a central oversight body for regulation. That would allow more effective monitoring and assessment of the quality of RIA implementation.

Tom Ferris

Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He Lectures on a number of PAI courses and contributes regularly to PAI. He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport. 

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