Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Media Report on Governance in Local Authorities: Statements

 

10:30 am

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)

I agree with previous speakers. The RTÉ programme made for some uncomfortable viewing because any case of misuse of public funds, we can all agree, is troubling and uncomfortable. The lack of oversight, the way in which these cases were investigated and the failure to publish reports were concerning.

I will use this debate as an opportunity to touch on some adjacent ethics legislation.The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, initiated a review of all ethics legislation last November and that is very welcome. That review should be completed with a sense of urgency. I believe there is a commitment to have it completed by the end of next month. We all look forward to getting sight of the review of ethics legislation.

Section 212 of the Local Government Act 2001, which allows for the Minister to conduct public inquiries at local level, has yet to be commenced. My colleague, Deputy Denise Mitchell, tabled a parliamentary question on this matter a couple of weeks ago. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, responded that he did not have any intention of commencing section 212 of the Local Government Act at any time in the near future. He said there were perhaps constitutional issues with conducting inquiries locally and stated:

The potential costs of public local inquiries would also need very careful consideration and whether such an option would represent best value for money as a means for addressing issues of local concern.

While I take that point, moments such as this, including the broadcasting of the “RTÉ Investigates” programme, highlight money being wasted. Will the Minister of State consider commencing the relevant section of the 2001 Act?

The role of the Standards in Public Office, SIPO, in the oversight of public officials also needs to be reviewed. I hope the Minister, Deputy McGrath, will think about reintroducing the relevant Bill once his Departmental review has been completed.

Unpublished reports into investigations should be published where no criminal investigation is currently ongoing. That is vital from a transparency point of view.

Councillors serving on audit committees should probably have independent financial advice and training if they ever require or want it. I am not certain that is currently available.

The RTÉ programme was a very worthwhile piece of journalism. It showed the importance of public service broadcasting. When we discussed the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill we heard about the commercial pressures facing RTÉ and public broadcasters. Programmes such as “RTÉ Investigates” show the importance of public service broadcasting.

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