Written answers

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

Ethics in Public Office

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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139. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will review the powers granted to the Standards in Public Office Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2279/23]

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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An independent statutory body under the auspices of my Department, the Standards in Public Office Commission has supervisory roles under five separate pieces of legislation (as amended):

- the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001, (together “the Ethics Acts”);

- the Electoral Act 1997;

- the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 1938, as amended; and

- the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015.

The Commission also has a role in investigating potential non-compliance with Part 15 of the Local Government Act 2001.

Policy responsibility for the Electoral and the Local Government Acts lies with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and I propose to concentrate in my reply on the legislation that is under the auspices of my Department.

In regard to the Ethics Acts, I am happy to inform the Deputy that the Department has just completed a review of the statutory framework in preparation for a major legislative reform of this area, which is in line with our Programme for Government commitment to “reform and consolidate the Ethics in Public Office legislation’. A report on the Review was submitted to Government by my predecessor Minister McGrath in December. The Government approved the Report ‘s publication and agreed to the preparation of a General Legislative Scheme informed by the Review's outcome. On foot of this, a draft legislative scheme will be prepared in consultation with relevant Ministers and brought to Government for approval to publish during 2023. The Review Report itself is currently being prepared for publication and it will issue shortly.

The Review considered input from key public sector stakeholders and notably the recommendations from the Standards in Public Office Commission, as well as submissions received during the public consultation, and international good practice.

The Government’s ultimate goal in this is to create a fit-for-purpose, easy to understand and user-friendly ethical framework that contributes to the quality and efficacy of our public administration.

In regard to lobbying, the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2022, introduced last year by my predecessor and currently making its way through the Houses, seeks to amend the original 2015 Act in order to build on the existing strong legislative foundation and further strengthen Ireland’s lobbying laws, thus ensuring that the regulation of lobbying framework remains up to date and fit for purpose. In particular, this reform will:

- Improve the operation and functionality of the Lobbying Register;

- Strengthen the existing legislation and its enforcement; and

- Make failure to comply with the post-term employment restrictions set out in section 22 of the Act a relevant contravention under the Act.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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140. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will publish a draft scheme of a new ethics Bill in quarter 1 of 2023; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2204/23]

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I am happy to inform the Deputy that my Department has just completed a review of ethics legislation in preparation for a major legislative reform of this area, which is in line with our Programme for Government commitment to “reform and consolidate the Ethics in Public Office legislation’.

A report on the Review was submitted to Government by my predecessor Minister McGrath in December. The Government approved the Report‘s publication and agreed to the preparation of a General Legislative Scheme informed by the Review's outcome. On foot of this, a draft legislative scheme will be prepared in consultation with relevant Ministers and brought to Government for approval to publish during 2023. The Review Report itself is currently being prepared for publication and it will issue shortly.

As the Deputy may recall, my Department’s review of Ireland's statutory framework for standards in public office, which was agreed by the Government in September 2021, covered the following elements:

- A review of Ireland’s existing ethics legislative framework, including a reassessment of the 2015 Public Sector Standards Bill;

- A review of the recommendations of relevant tribunals of inquiry;

- A review of recommendations of the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) based on its operation of the current regime;

- Consultations with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on the local government aspects of a consolidated statutory regime;

- A review of current EU/International best practice; and

- Public Consultation - Consultations with various parties.

The Review considered input from key public sector stakeholders including the Departments of Justice and Housing and Local Government. It also engaged with the Dáil and Seanad Committees on Members Interests. It also considered recommendations from the Standards in Public Office Commission.

I can inform the Deputy that the recommendations in the Review Report broadly focus on five key themes:

- A legislative framework for Ethics to be underpinned by a set of overarching integrity principles

- New specific statutory prohibitions, including on the use of insider information

- Strengthening disclosures requirements to improve transparency and examining whether the regime should encompass more office holders

- Strengthening the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO)

- Post-term employment restrictions for elected officials/public servants that address matters not already covered by lobbying regulation and should align closely with that legislation.

The Government’s ultimate goal is to create a fit-for-purpose, easy to understand and user-friendly ethical framework that contributes to the quality and efficacy of our public administration.

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