Opening Address by Gerry Rooney, President Mediators? Institute of Ireland at 15th Annual Conference of the MII

 

8 November 2013

Céad míle fáilte roimh gach éinne inniú chuig comhdháil bliantúil an MII.

 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, guests and fellow mediators.  I'm delighted to welcome you here this morning to the 15th annual conference of the Mediators Institute of Ireland.  

 

Firstly I'd like to thank Mary Rafferty and the conference committee for again putting together a very exciting conference. I'm sure the conference today and tomorrow will hold your interest.  It certainly covers a range of topics which will inform us all and assist us to develop our mediation practice. 

 

This year’s conference entitled "Mediation Across Boundaries From The Personal To The Global" offers us a great opportunity to encounter, learn from, and discuss a variety of mediation experiences and areas of mediation which I trust will inform all of our practices; in addition to giving you the opportunity, yet again, to network and share your experiences with your fellow mediators.

 

We are very fortunate to have such a range of national and international speakers.  I'm sure you are looking forward to John Winslade's presentation and discussion "When Stories Clash- Reauthoring The Conflict Narrative". 

 

We are also Honoured to have Charlie Irvine talk to us on “Do You See What I’m Dealing With here: Biases and Heuristics in Conflict 

 

The third Key Note speaker is our own Geoffrey Curry a former President of the Institute.  Geoffrey will share with us the experiences of disputants “Working With Hurt and fear: Some Peace-making Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace process 1985-2007”. I was talking to a person in America earlier this year who asked what I do.  I mentioned that I was a Mediator and he replied with genuine warmth- oh so you are a peace-maker.  And I suppose that is what we all do as Mediators no matter the complexity of the dispute.  So Geoffrey I’m sure we can all learn from your discussion.

 

Of course we also have a range of break-out sessions that bring richness to our conference and I trust you all enjoy some of the excellent programmes that we have put together today for you.

 

We are particularly honoured this year by the visit of President Higgins.  President Higgins will be joining us at 11 o'clock to formally open and address the conference.  Afterwards President Higgins will meet with the membership for coffee.   President Higgins continues the tradition of President’s addressing our conference since President Mary Robinson attended our first conference.  I'm sure you all agree that President Higgins’ attendance marks a continued recognition of the value of mediation in today's challenging society.  

 

 

Another significant development in this year's conference is the announcement of the winners of the MII’s inaugural award for achievements in mediation where this year we focus on workplace mediation. We will be announcing the winners of the awards shortly. I understand the selection decision was very difficult and the Judges were impressed with the quality of the applications across the range of categories.   I would like to thank members of the committee for the sterling work they have completed, and Helen Harnett will introduce the panel and the awards shortly.

 

I was particularly impressed with the remarkable and positive results that are being reported by the organisations that entered  the award process.  Irish workplaces should take note of the dramatically positive effects that introducing workplace mediation programmes can provide.  Significant reduction in the cost of resolving workplace conflicts, improvement in workplace behaviours, and in some cases the organisations report a complete reduction of grievances and formal disputes being taken by staff. 

 

As a workplace and commercial Mediator I can attest to the growing interest in workplace mediation. What we have learnt from a review of the organisations that submitted applications for the awards is that workplace mediation clearly provides outcomes which show large cost savings and high levels of effectiveness for Mediation.  The organisations also advised us that workplace mediation and procedures can provide an alternative to the costly, stressful and oft times damaging formal processes. Impressively some of the organisations have reported an instant success with the introduction of their mediation service with complaints decreasing by 85% within the first year of being introduced.  Even more remarkably in one case it has been reported that in the last 12 months they have received no formal complaints; with another organisation reporting they have had no formal disciplinary or grievance issues since the introduction of the mediation programme. 

 

It is therefore clear that the introduction of workplace mediation contributes in no small way to maintaining relationships in the workplace, greatly reducing the cost of conflict, and can influence the culture within organisations to support and develop more collaborative relationships.

 

My experience in business is that businesses can only be effective when relationships are maintained. What we have learnt from the awards is that mediation is proving to be an effective way of helping parties in a dispute to maintain a relationship, and in many cases build on that relationship while resolving their disputes. 

 

Based on what we found from the organisations that submitted for the awards I can confidently say that where organisations have introduced a comprehensive mediation program, and work hard in reinforcing the process, they report significant cost savings, a dramatic reduction in dealing with formal complaints and grievances, and a much speedy resolution of issues as they arise.  This brings improvements in workplace relations and performance. A by-product is also building up people’s confidence to resolve disputes rather than let them grow.  The MII is therefore delighted to have recognised the work of many organisations that are applying mediation as an effective conflict resolution tool.

 

These benefits are reported by both private and public sector organisations and no doubt accounts for the growth in Mediators practices in the workplace.   As a growing profession it’s important to recognise those who are committed to mediation as a dispute resolution process and to showcase those who are displaying excellence in its implementation. This is the first year we have done so and we’re delighted with the response. I’d like to congratulate all the winners, their submissions were first class and are a testament to what the mediation profession can achieve.”

 

 

As I have now completed my first year as President I think it's helpful to reflect back on what has been an exciting year for the institution in challenging times.   

 

This year many Mediators and indeed the Institute waited for the draft heads of the Mediation legislation to be progressed to a Bill stage.  We are pleased to report progress is being made by the Department of Justice and we met with the Department officials in late summer.

 

As you know the areas of the legislation that the Institute favours include the concept of requiring the parties in a dispute to be provided with information and advice on mediation, and of the parties making an application to court to confirming mediation has been considered as an alternate means of settling this dispute.  However the Institute believes that the legislation would need to prescribe that such advice needs to be given by a certified mediator not conflicted with the dispute.

 

The Institute is extremely positive that the draft legislation requires Mediators to provide information on the qualifications they hold; that they operate under a code of practice; enshrines the confidentiality of the mediation; and that Mediators are required to provide advance notice of potential fees for the process.  We have of course concerns regarding a requirement for a Mediator to report on the outcome of mediation to the Court as we believe it is for the parties themselves to decide whether a dispute has been resolved. Indeed this requirement could impact on issues of confidentiality and impartiality.

 

Traditionally the Institute has favoured a regulatory process for Mediators.  We firmly believe that a minimum standard of training and practice is required and that an impartial body should oversee the standards and conduct of mediators.  We have concerns that mediation service provides within the legislation would be enabled to set up their own standards and codes of practice, or to voluntarily agree to adhere to a common code and to voluntarily apply their own complaints, disciplinary and grievance procedures.  The debate remains as to whether the profession should be self-regulated with a soft touch approach to practice and standards, or whether mediation needs to be tightly regulated.

 

We have carefully considered this matter.  Having reviewed other regulatory bodies we do not necessarily see substantial benefits for moving from the model we currently operate to act as a full scale regulator.  Such a model of regulation would possibly place unreasonable burden on the Institute, and would fundamentally change our relationship with our members.  In such a model we would probably have to operate a licensing system covering all providers of mediation services; set and enforce standards for the grant of such licences; establish a system of investigation and adjudication of complaints; promote increased consumer protection and public awareness; and perhaps establish a Compensation Fund to compensate parties who believe a Mediator acted negligently.  We have no doubt such a system would substantially increase the cost of membership. We are therefore not confident that such a regulatory process would serve the profession well. 

 

Notwithstanding we strongly endorse the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission regarding the need for a professional body to admit to full membership and accredit only those practitioners meeting levels of training established by the professional body.  We strongly endorse the recommendation for a Code of Conduct and Practice for Mediators and that Mediators be required to adhere to such a Code of Conduct and Practice; and that the Code of Practice sets out the standards of training required.   We appreciate that the draft heads of the bill address many of these issues.  

 

However there is a real concern held by the Institute that an entirely self-regulatory approach to the legislation, where each mediation provider voluntarily subscribes to the standards, would not serve the profession well.  It is clear that mediation standards need to be impartially monitored.  The Institute is not at all confident that the professional standards in mediation will be maintained under such a loose arrangement where a broad voluntary approach is taken. 

 

We have achieved a lot over the years in relation to mediation standards and practice. The Mediators’ Institute of Ireland is well regarded nationally and internationally for the standards we have achieved. It is a testament to the high standards in mediation that all the credible mediation training providers on the island of Ireland are now registered with MII.  This includes universities and third level institutions, the Law Society, and CEDR, and Friary Law, with equivalence being granted to the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

 

Significantly the Mediators Institute of Ireland is not a service provider. We therefore act impartially on behalf of the profession to monitor the standards of mediation across the range of Mediation disciplines and areas. 

 

Our recent international research informs us that mediation works best where a single professional body overviews the standards and practice of mediation whilst a variety of mediation service providers operation under such an umbrella. The MII has already established itself to be able to operate in this capacity and over the past 20 years our growing membership year-on-year is testimony to this.

 

We know we are the professional home for Mediators on the island of Ireland. We have already spoken to a number of service providers who have expressed confidence for the MII to operate as the self-regulating body for Mediators in Ireland.  Our proven model can strike a balance between the need to ensure standards of practice are uniform, credible, and trusted whilst ensuring the profession is not overregulated.  We acknowledge the need to allow a broad range of approaches across the spectrum of mediation styles and sectors whilst ensuring the service user receives a quality product.   We need to strike a balance between maintaining qualifications and standards and a credible system within a cost effective model.   We need to balance the maintenance of standards against the core principle of Mediation being accessible, affordable, in every community and to be available to resolve any nature of dispute.  

 

The MII therefore strongly encourages the State and the legislators to consider building on the current strengths within the profession and utilise the existence of an independent, impartial, a not for profit body that can maintain a register of Mediators who meet the agreed Code of Standards and Practice  as prescribed in the legislation.  The profession has demonstrated an ability to self-regulate through the MII where we apply a practice of continuous improvement. The profession already has a well-established and credible complaints procedures provided by the MII. 

 

We therefore believe the maintenance of an independent national register of mediators, mediation Providers and approved mediation training programmes, monitored by the MII, will ensure the state can be satisfied that the profession does operate in support of the legislation.  This model, which is currently operating well, will avoid a burdensome regulatory body or a free for all that either way would affect the credibility of mediation. 

 

The MII is therefore looking forward to working with the profession and the State to ensure the mediation model that emerges under the legislation is functional, credible, and ensures Ireland continues to be a model of best practice for mediation.

 

 

Of course in this context I'm pleased to confirm that the membership of the MII continues to grow. It's amazing to think that back in 2008 we only had 259 members and today Membership stands over 800.  A review of the membership areas of interest sees growth across all areas of practice and particularly in organisational and workplace, community, commercial, and elder mediation and family. I believe this demonstrates the growth in the interest of mediation throughout Ireland but it also presents a key challenge to the Institution as Mediators seek to develop their practice and gain experience.

 

 

 

Then MII is currently conducting a members survey and I’d like to thank all of you have completed this to date.  We have extended the closing date until next weekend.  Indications from the survey show that just over 50% of respondents have been a member of the institute for more than 3 years which reflects the growth in membership.   Over 61% of respondents see themselves as being reasonably or very experienced and I have anticipate that there have been over 5,000 mediations completed by our members in the past 12 months. 

 

A third of respondents reported providing internal or pro bono mediation (i.e. are not paid).   

 

Remarkably most respondents have anticipated a growth in mediation across all areas over the next five years; with a particular belief that workplace, separating couples, family, elder and commercial mediations will grow. 

 

A high percentage of our mediators reported that the mediation cases are settled or reach agreement on the same day or shortly after mediation. An overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that they would favour legislation for mediation, with 85% of the respondents stating that a register of mediators that adhere to codes of practice would be appropriate. 

 

 

This year has seen many developments in mediation throughout Ireland.  

 

Earlier this year the ombudsman for children invited the MII to advise and participate in the design of a DVD for separating families and children who are considering mediation. We understand this video will be released shortly and the MII strongly encourages organisations such as the Ombudsman for children to consider and advocate Mediation as an opportunity for dealing with difficult disputes in preference to the Courts.

 

We welcome and encourage the work of the court services under the guidance of Tom Ward.  Tom will be presenting later today in relation to the developments the Courts Services are making regarding advising disputants about mediation as an alternative to the Courts.  The MII has supported the court services in a pilot programme it ran in the district and family courts in providing information on mediation, and we are pleased to hear successful experiences were reported.

 

 

We have also seen a growth in community mediation around the Country.  It is encouraging to see Mediators grouping together to provide a voluntary or low cost mediation service to communities where mediation is being brought to the hearts and minds of people. I strongly encourage mediators to link with their local authorities and other local bodies two explore the opportunities that mediation can provide for community disputes where the costs of engaging in more traditional processes are prohibitive.  As I’m sure we will hear from Geoffrey Corry that giving a community the skills and confidence to resolve their dispute through mediation can transform societal norms and lead to a more caring and productive community where focusing on common interests can grow significant relationships. 

 

It's also important for the profession that Mediation practices and trends are researched.  It is only through research that we can we discover new ways of doing things and enhance what we have.  As a research topic in Ireland mediation is perhaps under analysed.  However I’m pleased to observe a growth across the third level and university sector in Ireland in relation to Masters and PhD research on mediation. We know some of our members are completing this research.  I look forward to this research being published in the coming years and indeed that it will form the topic for a learning session at a future MII conference.  In the meantime I would encourage our members to respond to any requests you receive from our members to complete research. It is only through such research can develop our practice to make a meaningful difference.

 

I think what I have learnt this year is that there remains a growing passion for mediation to become more mainstreamed.  We feel there are exciting opportunities for the process to grow.  We have now been told by some of Ireland’s leading workplaces that mediation is an effective tool in resolving disputes because it is cost effective and helps to preserve relationships.  We are confident that the legislation will serve the profession well because if it fails to do so there will be a lost opportunity for Ireland.  And we are optimistic for the future.  As professional’s I would encourage you to maintain that optimism, sustain that belief and remember only 20 years ago this Institution was a small and fledgling organisation that was populated with people who had foresight.  We have inherited that energy and in believing what we offer is significant we can push down boundaries and turn our personal beliefs into global significance which after all is the theme for this year’s conference.

 

So I look forward to this weekend’s conference.  There is much to be covered, much learning to be done, many friendships to be renewed, and new friends made.  Most importantly this is your weekend to broaden your mind, reality check your practice, and refresh your knowledge.