The first Ombudsman, the late Michael Mills, took up office in 1984. He served until 1994 when the late Kevin Murphy was appointed Ombudsman. Kevin was succeeded by Emily O'Reilly in June 2003, who served until 2013. Peter Tyndall served from 2013 until 2021.

The word 'ombudsman' is a Swedish word meaning ‘agent’ or ‘representative’ of the people. An ombudsman examines complaints from members of the public who feel they have been unfairly treated by certain organisations. The office is impartial and independent. If an ombudsman finds a complaint is justified, they will take steps to secure action or compensation for the person who has complained.

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

The king of Sweden appointed the first ombudsman in 1809 to examine complaints against the king’s ministers. It was not until Denmark established an ombudsman's office in 1954 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. A separate commissioner for Northern Ireland was appointed in 1969.

The last 30 years have witnessed a dramatic growth in the institution throughout the world and there are now approximately 120 ombudsman offices worldwide.

Previous office holders

Peter Tyndall (2013 - 2021)

Peter Tyndall served as Ombudsman and Information Commissioner for Ireland from 2013 until 2021, when he retired.

Peter, who is from Dublin, served as Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. He was Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Wales and Head of Education and Culture for the Welsh Local Government Association. Peter worked in a variety of senior positions in housing and social care. In particular, he developed housing and support services for people with intellectual disabilities. Peter served as President of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) for 5 years from 2016 to 2021.

Emily O'Reilly (2003-2013)

Emily O’Reilly served as Ireland's Ombudsman and Information Commissioner from 2003 until 2013, when she was elected European Ombudsman by the European Parliament.

In May 2007, following the introduction of the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations, which transposed Directive 2003/4/EC into Irish law, Emily was assigned the additional role of Commissioner for Environmental Information.

Prior to her initial appointment as Ombudsman and Information Commissioner in June 2003, she was an accomplished journalist and author. Her roles included many years as a political correspondent with prominent print and broadcasting media.

Kevin Murphy (1994-2003)

Kevin Murphy was Ireland’s second Ombudsman, serving from 1994 until 2003. Prior to his appointment as Ombudsman, he was secretary general in charge of the public service at the Department of Finance. He was also chairman of the Top Level Appointments Committee, which advises government on appointments to the very top levels of the Irish civil service.

He was also appointed Information Commissioner when the Freedom of Information Act 1997 came into force on 21 April 1998.

Kevin died on 6 March 2012.

Michael Mills (1984 - 1994)

Ireland's first Ombudsman, Michael Mills, served from 1984 to 1994. He was a widely respected political correspondent with the Irish Press for more than 20 years prior to his appointment as Ombudsman. He took up office in 1984 after being appointed as Ireland's first Ombudsman by President Patrick Hillery. He served two terms before retiring in 1994 at the age of 67.

During his 10 years as Ombudsman, Michael handled and examined thousands of public complaints about government departments, local authorities and health boards.

In his final annual report, for the year 1993, Michael reviewed the previous 10 years and emphasised that the Office of the Ombudsman was by then accepted and recognised by all as an independent agency that impartially examined complaints and which took every possible step to have cases of genuine grievance resolved. He pointed out that the office had succeeded in resolving many thousands of complaints, most of which would never have been resolved without its existence. He also pointed to the significant changes in our legislative and administrative system to which he and the office had contributed.

Michael died on 13 April 2008.