The Ethics in Public Office Act was enacted in 1995 following long standing criticism about the lack of transparency in many aspects of public affairs. Conflicts of interest and questionable use of discretionary powers had been recently highlighted by the Beef Tribunal.
The Prevention of Corruption legislation and the Ethics in Public Office legislation applies to elected members and the officers and the executives of governmental and public bodies.
The Ethics in Public Office legislation applies to local authorities. Employees and members of local authorities or Committees of local authorities must does not seek or accept any remuneration. fee or reward for anything done or not done by virtue of his office or employment. A code of conduct is published for the purpose of giving guidance.
A benefit under the legislation is
- any right privilege, forbearance to demand money,
- any aid, consent influence or pretended aid consent of influence, any promise of procurement or agreement to endeavor to procure any gift, loan, fee, reward or other advantage or the avoidance of loss liability, penalty or disadvantage.
Members of Dail Eireann and Seanad must prepare and furnish a al statement of their interest which is required to be registered and disclosed under the Act annually. The degree of disclosure and the format is prescribed. The disclosure may be updated rather than remade. The statement does not require setting out the value of any remuneration of any employment or trade.
The Clerk of the Dail and Seanad are the registrars of interests. The declaration of members is entered on a public register. Within 60 days of registration, the Commission must be given a copy of the register and it must be laid before the Dail/ The register may be corrected and amended from time to time.
A member of the Dail or Seanad who proposed to speak or vote in proceedings of the types who has knowledge actual knowledge that he or a persons connected with him has an interest in the subject matter must declare this before making a speech, or if he proposes to vote makes a declaration in writing before voting to the Clerk. The obligation to make a prior declaration does not apply where the matter concerned is disclosed in the register of interests.
A member referred requests the Committee to give him or her advice who does not receive the advice before the speech or vote concerned shall—
- if it is a case where he speaks make a declaration of the fact of the request in the proceedings concerned before or during that speech and, upon receipt of the advice, as soon as may be, make a declaration in writing of the advice and furnish it to the clerk, or the clerk to the committee, concerned, as may be appropriate, and
- if it is a case where he votes make the declaration aforesaid in writing and furnish it before voting to the Clerk, or the clerk to the committee, concerned, as may be appropriate and, upon receipt of the advice, as soon as may be, make a declaration in writing of the advice and furnish it to the Clerk, or the clerk to the committee concerned, as may be appropriate.
A person is deemed to have material interest in a matter if the result of the decision would confer or withhold a significant benefit or impose a loss or penalty. A connected person includes relatives, business partners, persons linked by trusts, or companies connected with a person directly or indirectly.
Each House is to appoint a select Committee known as the Member’s Interests Committee. A Dail or Seanad member may request the Committee on Members interest to give him advice.
A member may make a complaint. A person other than the member may complain that a person has contravened the above obligation. The Clerk of the House concerned is to consider the complaint. If he believes there is not enough evidence for a prima facie case or the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, he does not refer it to the Committee but prepares a statement of his opinion.
Where a complaint is referred to the Committee, the Committee considers whether it is appropriate to investigate the complaint and if it is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to sustain a complaint to carry out an investigation. Where an investigation is carried out, a report is to be prepared. The person complained of is to be given a copy of the report. A report is sent out with findings concerned and the determination in relation to the matter concerned.
If the Committee is of the opinion that the person concerned may have committed an offence, it is to be reported to the DPP, giving all material in its possession.The Committee may following consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission draw up and publish guidelines for members. There may be amended from time to time.
Designated office holders must prepare a statement in writing of their interests, setting out required information as may be specified. The amount of remuneration in an office or employment need not be specified. An interest be disclosed includes that to the knowledge of that person his spouse or child, which could materially influence the office holder in relation to the performance of the functions of his office in the sense of conferring or withholding a benefit.
Where an office holder covered by the Act proposes to do something in his office where he has actual knowledge that he or a connected person has material interest in the matter, the officer must declare to the Commission a statement of his interest in the matter.
Where an office holder proposes to make a request to another office holder in relation to such a function and has actual knowledge of such interest, he must disclose such interest to the second office holder and the declaration must be made to the Commission.
Where a gift above €650 is given to an office holder by virtue of his office, it is to be vested in the State and must be disclosed. A gift to a child, spouse or certain other related parties, is deemed to be given by virtue of the office unless it is given as a donation (contribution for political purposes as defined and regulated)., is given by a friend for personal reasons or by virtue of another office.
Guidelines have to be drawn up by the government and published to office holders concerning steps to be taken if a person concerned, child or spouse is offered or supplied with assets or services free or at less than at commercial price, loans free of charge or on less than commercial terms. This provision does not apply to the offer or supply of which is not intended or calculated to confer, and does not confer, directly or indirectly, a benefit on the office holder concerned
In the above context an office holder is a Minister, Attorney General chairman or deputy chairman of Dail or Seanad Eireann, a person who is chairman of a Committee of the Houses.
The same broad obligations apply to persons holding directorships of certain public bodies and ministerial special advisors. Directors of such bodies s must register their interest and those of their spouses of which they are aware where the person he or she or a connected person has any interest in any matter to his function relates, he must prepare a statement to the other directors.
He must not perform the functions unless compelling reasons requiring him to do so and if he proposes to perform the function furnish to the other directors a statement in writing of the compelling reasons. Similar obligations apply to certain others of public bodies.
The Public Office Commission consists of six members including a chairperson who is to be a judge or former judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court, the Controller and Auditor General, Ombudsman and Clerk of the Dail and Seanad and other persons appointed by the government on resolution of bother Houses and a former member who is not an MEP. Members of the Commission are to hold office for six years and may be reappointed.
A complaint may be made to the Commission in relation to alleged contravention of obligations. The Commission may undertake investigations in relation to alleged breaches of the legislation. The Commission must determine if an investigation is necessary. It shall not investigate complaints which are considered to be frivolous or vexatious. In relation to certain types of complaints, the Commission must consult with the government.
Where the Commission either at the conclusion or in the course of an investigation is of the opinion that the person may have committed an offence relating to his functions as an officer holder it must prepare a report and furnish it to the DPP.
The Commission may give advice as well as drawing up guidelines in relation to compliance. The Commission may guidance and advice to officeholders. Guidelines may be drawn up and published and amended from time to time.
A report to the Commission is set out to finding as to whether there has been a contravention of legislation and it is continuing. The steps required to be taken to secure compliance must be specified. It must specify whether the contravention is inadvertent, negligent, reckless or intentional.
It must specify whether it is a serious or minor transgressions and whether the person acted in good faith in accordance with published guidelines. Where a report includes a determination if there has been a contravention of the legislation and that is serious, a copy has to delivered to the House.
An offence under the Act is subject on summary conviction a fine upwards of €1,270 or six months in imprisonment or on indictment, €25, 200 pounds or imprisonment up to three years or both.
The legislation amended the corruption legislation. See the separate section on that legislation.
Public bodies include the major offices of state, health boards, local authorities and bodies established under legislations or under the Companies Ace pursuant to statutory powers. They include companies in which the State owns a majority, organisation which are appointed by the government and other bodies financed wholly or partly out of public monies that are prescribed.
An office means an office in which the administration or the functions conferred are carried out.
The following interest are registrable
- any position of employment or occupation
- holding of shares or other securities in a particular company
- an interest in land exceeding €13,000 (with certain exceptions)
- a gift to the person or his relatives including properties supplied at less than commercial price,
- monies loaned free of charge or less than commercial price or services at free of charge or less than commercial rate.
- travel facilities living accommodation meals and entertainment supplied free of charge or less than commercial price. This excludes certain travel facilities including accommodation, meals and entertainment in the State or in the course of functions
- travel facilities or accommodations, for the person or their spouse in the nature of a gift given to the person for personal reasons unless the acceptance might reasonably be seen to the capable of affecting him in the performance of his functions
- travel facilities including accommodation or entertainment supplied to the person once on more that once during the annual period priced more than € 650 o
- traveling expenses living accommodations meals or entertainment supplied once or more to the same person exceeding €650
- any remunerated positioned as a political or public affair lobbyist consultant or advisor
- any contract to which the person concerned is a party which directly or indirectly makes him interested in the supply of goods or services to the Minister, government or public body during the period, if the value of the goods and services exceeds 6500 Euro