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Introduction

This document, concerning the Electoral Acts, 1997 to 2002 (the Electoral Acts), has been prepared by the Standards in Public Office Commission (the Standards Commission) in response to an invitation by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (the Minister) to furnish views on the experience of the Standards Commission "with the current legislative provisions, especially in relation to the 2002 general elections to the Dáil and Seanad".

The Standards Commission is an independent statutory body chaired by a Judge of the High Court, The Hon. Mr. Justice Matthew P. Smith. The other members are the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. John Purcell, the Ombudsman, Ms. Emily O'Reilly, the Clerk of Dáil Éireann, Mr. Kieran Coughlan, the Clerk of Seanad Éireann, Ms. Deirdre Lane, and a former member of Dáil Éireann, Mr. Liam Kavanagh, MCC.. The Standards Commission was established in December 2001 under the Standards in Public Office Act, 2001. It assumed all of the functions of its predecessor, the Public Offices Commission.

As well as its functions under the Ethics in Public Office Acts, 1995 and 2001, the Standards Commission is responsible for supervision of the operation of the Electoral Acts in so far as they relate to political donations, election spending and direct Exchequer funding of qualified political parties. The Standards Commission also has a supervisory role under the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Act, 2001, in relation to the Party Leaders Allowance scheme.

The electoral legislation was introduced in 1997 and has since been amended on four occasions, i.e. 1998, 2001 and twice in 2002. The Standards Commission welcomes the broad review which is now taking place and particularly welcomes the Minister's invitation to comment on the operation of the legislation.

As stated above, this document has been prepared by the Standards Commission in response to an invitation received from the Minister. The Standards Commission considers it to be of particular importance that, as the body with responsibility for supervising the Electoral Acts, it should have a statutory basis on which to review the legislation and report on its findings. It would not be unusual that such authority would be vested in a supervisory body like the Standards Commission whereby it could, from time to time, as required, furnish its comments in the appropriate manner thereby assisting in the further development and refinement of the legislative framework. The Standards Commission would recommend the introduction of a legislative amendment to this effect which would enable it to discharge this reporting function with statutory authority as already is the case in a number of other instances including the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Information Commissioner.

In preparing this document, the Standards Commission has been particularly conscious of the fact that it is a matter for the Oireachtas exclusively to determine the nature and content of legislation. In that regard, it will be noted that the Standards Commission itself was established by an Act of the Oireachtas and that its annual report and other statutory reports are required to be laid before both Houses.

It is not a function of the Standards Commission to comment on policy issues arising in relation to the legislation. While recognising that a key recommendation, as outlined above, is that a statutory review mechanism as sought would be provided, the Standards Commission nevertheless feels that in this document, for the sake of completeness and in the interests of facilitating the review process, it should, as well as dealing with operational matters, outline its views on what it sees as the fundamental principles underlying the legislation.

Through its own research and ongoing contacts with individuals and organisations in other jurisdictions, and with bodies which have an international remit, the Standards Commission is aware that, in relation to political funding in the widest sense, the model now existing in Ireland, as outlined in the Electoral Acts, is well regarded as reflecting good practice in terms of control, supervision and transparency.