Tuesday, 24 May 2005
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Standards in Public Office.
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach if he plans to make amendments to the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12847/05]
The code of conduct for office holders was drawn up by the Government following consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission. It has applied since 3 July 2003. As I have stated previously, I have no plans to amend it.
Can I ask the Taoiseach about the recommendations that were made in respect of the awarding of Government public relations contracts? Five or six recommendations were made about invitations to tenders, the EU Journal, an inventory of work to be carried out by whoever gets contracts, the areas of work involved and the fact that there are risks to Ministers if they do not adhere to these tight guidelines. In that context has the Government decided to examine whether the recommendations issued in that report are now being adhered to in respect of conduct by office holders in so far as public relations are concerned?
Yes. The recommendations in that report have been made known to all office holders. I think we have had just one case since. It now applies that the recommendations in the new codes have to be followed in communications contracts or anything relating to the public relations domain.
It is not appropriate. The Taoiseach has answered the question. It is not appropriate to ask about amendments the Deputy would like to see in the code of conduct or what she might like to see taken out of the code of conduct. If we were to allow that, every Member on each side of the House would ask such questions. The question was if the Taoiseach intended to amend the code of conduct. We cannot have a debate on what the Deputy would like to see in it or not.
The Taoiseach may consider responding since I am sure he understands the spirit in which this question has been asked. In regard to the code of conduct for office holders and Members of the Oireachtas appearing before tribunals of inquiry or Oireachtas committees carrying out inquiries of investigation——
These types of questions arise and they are very confined. The Taoiseach has answered the question that was put to him by Deputy Kenny. We cannot allow a broad debate on what might or might not be in the code of conduct.
In response to the question to the Taoiseach on whether he plans to make amendments to the code of conduct, he answered "No". When I and perhaps others ask that question again, will he at least think about his response before saying "No" so quickly? Does "No" mean "No" for today or forever? Will the Taoiseach take on board the question put by Deputy McManus in——
I am not going to raise it. I was simply asking the Taoiseach if saying "No" is for today because he has not finished his deliberations following the outburst of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan.
Will he give a different answer when that process has concluded? What progress has been made on the lobbyist issue? It is clarified in the Bundestag and the European Parliament, but in Ireland we still do not know what the position will be.
I am saying the code of conduct has only been in place for two years. We went through long and detailed consultation over two or three years with the Standards in Public Office Commission. The code of conduct has applied for the past two years. Obviously, a code of conduct must always be kept under review in case an issue arises in connection therewith.
I can say without breaking the Ceann Comhairle's ruling that the code of conduct deals with all aspects of an office holder's position and applies to elected representatives, Ministers and Ministers of State. It is focused on taking decisions, the uses of resources and the furtherance of the common good. It is not drafted to deal with individual statements or utterances. There is another process for dealing with these which is and was used recently.
The lobbyist legislation has not worked as legislation anywhere. The two countries that tried it abandoned it. A question arises in respect of having a system in which outside lobbyists would register. It is not part of the code of conduct because it is a different issue. It only relates to the code of conduct when an office holder, including an adviser, Minister or Deputy, leaves office. In this case they are duty-bound for the initial months after their leaving not to engage in any area of work in which they would have had a vested interest or of which they would have had knowledge. In the case of advisers, the applicable period lasts for 12 months. If they get involved in a company or business, they must inform the Secretary General of the nature of the business in which they are involved.
If the Taoiseach does not intend to amend the existing code of conduct, can he advise the House if, given the number of serious breaches, not least of which includes the utterances regarding asylum seekers by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he is determined to have it enforced as it stands?
I have a brief question. Will the Taoiseach describe the people to whom the code of conduct applies? Who are deemed to be office holders? Does the code of conduct extend to people who might have access to information also possessed by office holders?
The code of conduct applies to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Ministers, Ministers of State, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and their deputies. We have not passed resolutions to extend it to include the Chairmen of committees. That is ultimately a matter for the House to decide. That is what the code of conduct is but, as I mentioned, there are guidelines under the ethics Act. A code of conduct is not taken in isolation. It is part of the wider ethics framework established by the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. The legislation provides that due regard must be taken of the code of conduct, but there are regulations in place which must be followed by advisers and others, and they must comply strictly with the 2001 Act.