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Press Release - Standards Commission publishes annual report for 2017

STANDARDS COMMISSION PUBLISHES ANNUAL REPORT FOR 2017

The Standards in Public Office Commission (the Commission) today published its annual report for 2017. The report provides a summary of the Commission’s activities during 2017 under ethics and electoral legislation. It includes information regarding compliance under the Ethics in Public Office Acts and the Electoral Act 1997 (as amended), including complaints and investigations, donations, state financing of political parties and the registration of third parties and corporate donors.

Under the Ethics Acts, the Commission closed 38 complaints in 2017, completed a preliminary inquiry, issued a report into a completed investigation, continued three investigations into other cases of possible non-compliance, and launched a further 41 investigations into non-compliance with the Act's provisions regarding tax compliance.

With regard to the latter, the Commission notes the important role that public bodies play in the compliance of their employees with the provisions of the Act. In the report, the Commission calls for an amendment to the Act to require public bodies to provide timely information regarding appointments to senior office. Without such information, individuals employed by those bodies may find themselves in breach of the Acts by failing to provide evidence of tax compliance within statutory deadlines.

During 2017, the Commission examined a complaint where information came to light indicating that there may have been a contravention of the Ethics Acts by a former member of the Dáil. Due to a lacuna in the Legislation there is no mechanism for examining possible contraventions by a member of the Oireachtas (other than a Minister or Minister of State) in circumstances where the matter only comes to light after the member has left office.  The Commission recommends in its annual report that the legislation be amended to expressly deal with situations where a member of the Oireachtas may have contravened their obligations under the Ethics Acts and the matter only comes to light after the member has left office.

The Commission also reports on activities under the Electoral Act, and issues separate statutory reports on some of these activities. In this report, the Commission raises concerns over the lack of regulation dealing with expenditure at referendums. The Electoral Act 1997 is silent on expenditure on referendums, with neither expenditure limits nor disclosures contemplated by the Act.

The Commission also notes the increasing importance of digital advertising and social media campaigns. Although there are prohibitions on foreign political donations other than in specific circumstances, the Commission is concerned that individuals and organisations based outside of Ireland may influence the outcome of an election or referendum by funding political advertising or digital campaigns, which are currently unregulated by the Act.

Commission Chairman Daniel O'Keeffe said, “As no legislative framework currently exists to address these matters, it would appear that an important and continually evolving tool in modern Irish political discourse is unregulated. This allows for foreign actors to influence Irish elections and referendums, with potentially significant consequences. The Commission recommends that the Act be reviewed with a view to addressing this. This should preferably be done in the context of the creation of an electoral commission.”

As in previous years, the Standards Commission has included in its annual report a number of recommendations for legislative change to the Electoral Act 1997 (as amended) and to the Ethics in Public Office Acts. These changes, if implemented will serve to clarify and strengthen the provisions of the legislation administered by the Commission.

A separate annual report on the Regulation of Lobbying in 2017 was published on 28 June and may be viewed on www.lobbying.ie.

For more information, and to read the Commission’s annual report visit the website www.sipo.ie.

For further information please contact:

Rosanne Meehan, Press Officer

Standards in Public Office Commission

18 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2

(01) 6395666

Email:                     sipo@sipo.ie

Website:                 www.sipo.ie

Twitter:                     @SIPOCIreland

Background

The Standards Commission is the independent body charged with oversight of the Ethics in Public Office Acts (1995 and 2001), the Electoral Act 1997 (as amended) and the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015.

The members of the Standards Commission are:

  • Justice Daniel O'Keeffe, Chairperson;
  • Seamus McCarthy, Comptroller and Auditor General;
  • Peter Tyndall, Ombudsman;
  • Peter Finnegan, Clerk of Dáil Éireann;
  • Martin Groves, Clerk of Seanad Éireann; and
  • Jim O'Keeffe, former TD.

The Commission publishes two annual reports each year; one on its activities administering the Ethics in Public Office Acts and the Electoral Act 1997 (as amended), and the other on its activities administering the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015.