Wednesday, 22 January 2014
Appointments to the Standards in Public Office Commission: Motions
I welcome the making of these appointments. SIPO must now be at its full strength and the media focus before Christmas drew strong attention to that. A lesson should be learned for the next time when there will be replacements that it will be done in a more timely way.
I welcome the Minister's statement that there will be more work done in this area because where politics is funded from is incredibly important. We need only look at what has happened in this country to realise that.
On the issue of a former politician being a member of SIPO, there are pluses and minuses in that regard. Whereas he or she may well bring expertise, it certainly is coming from the established political parties. From 2002 to 2012, the years for which I have figures, not one single solitary donation has been disclosed by Fine Gael. The Labour Party disclosed figures in three years, Fianna Fáil did so in five or six years, and Sinn Féin did so every year. It is not believable that there are not donations, particularly in years where there are elections. That kind of practice undermines considerably the confidence in the governance required on the area of ethics. There are large sums expended in this country under the Electoral Acts for the large political parties where the funding comes from the taxpayer, but there is this other income as well which it is not possible to stand over.
It is not only political parties that are funded. I made a complaint to SIPO last year around the time of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 about a number of groups which had not registered as third parties. It is really a big gap that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency because there were obviously large sums of money being spent with vehicles driving around with advertising hoardings, etc. In reply, SIPO stated that, in relation to the five groups mentioned, the Pro Life Campaign is registered as a third party, that Life House Ireland is not registered and that SIPO contacted it recently and asked it to consider if it required to register. SIPO continued:
In relation to the other 3 groups, Youth Defence, The Life Institute and Family and Life, they are not registered as third parties with the Standards Commission. In this regard the Standards Commission has been in correspondence with all of them and asked them to consider whether they are required to register as a third party. All eventually responded and stated that they do not have a requirement to register as a third party. The Standards Commission remains firmly of the view that the activities of these groups comes within the definition of political purposes and that they are required to register as a third party.All that SIPO could do was write and warn them. The fact that there was no sanction, at a time when there was an important debate going on, there was a great deal of money being spent on that debate on one side which was not being declared and we did not know who was interested, draws attention to the kind of shortcomings there are, and with which we must deal.
I echo the point made that it is quite fragmented. I understand to an extent why that is so - in the case of elections, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will have a responsibility for local government elections - but a more consolidated approach would be better where there would be one point where decisions are made and where the legislation covers all of this.
While I welcome, and certainly do not dispute, the appointment of Mr. Jim O'Keeffe, with whom I was a Member in this House some years ago and who is a capable and honourable man, I raise a major question mark over having somebody who is a former Member as a member of the Standards in Public Office Commission. Despite the fact he or she may hold some information that can be useful, on balance that may well present other problems as well. Those of us who would be non-aligned would certainly feel that we may well have a different viewpoint which will never really come to the fore.