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Introduction and General Principles

1.1. Purpose of the Code of Conduct

This Code of Conduct for the guidance of office holders has been drawn up by the Government in accordance with Section 10 (2) of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 (2001 Act).

In accordance with Section 10(6) of the 2001 Act, it is designed to

“indicate the standards of conduct and integrity for the persons to whom it relates in the performance of their functions and in relation to any matter connected with or affecting or likely or appearing to affect such performance and in relation to such other matters (if any) as may be specified in the code.”

This Code does not make provision in relation to matters for which adequate provision is made in existing guidelines and will apply prospectively, i.e. from the date of publication.

1.2. Persons to whom the Code of Conduct applies

In accordance with the terms of the Ethics in Public Office Acts, 1995 & 2001 (Ethics Acts) this Code applies to office holders, namely

  • the Taoiseach
  • the Tánaiste
  • a Minister
  • a Minister of State
  • an Attorney General who is a member of Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann
  • a person who is Chairman or Deputy Chairman of Dáil Éireann or Chairman or Deputy Chairman of Seanad Éireann
  • a person who holds the office of Chairman of a Committee of either House of the Oireachtas, being an office that stands designated, for the purpose of the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995 (1995 Act), for the time being by resolution of that House or
  • a person who holds the office of Chairman of a Joint Committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas, being an office that stands designated, for the purposes of the 1995 Act, for the time being by resolution of each House.

1.3. Requirement to observe the Code of Conduct

In accordance with the provisions of the Ethics Acts, office holders shall, in so far as it is relevant, have regard to and be guided by the Code in the performance of their functions and in relation to any other matters specified in the Code. This Code seeks to ensure that office holders must at all times observe, and be seen to observe, the highest standards of ethical behaviour in the carrying out of the functions of their office. Office holders are obliged to act in accordance with advice given and guidelines published by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Standards Commission) unless to do so would constitute a contravention of another provision of the Ethics Acts. Pursuant to Section 10(8) of the 2001 Act, codes of conduct will be admissible in proceedings before a Court or other tribunal or a Committee or the Standards Commission and any relevant provision may be taken into account in determining a matter.

1.4. Principles of Ethical Conduct

Holders of public office have a duty to keep faith with the public trust placed in them by the manner in which they carry out their official responsibilities. This is a personal responsibility and requires them at all times to promote the common good, fairly and impartially, to conscientiously and prudently apply the resources of their office in furtherance of the public interest and to observe the highest ethical standards in the performance of their duties.

The Standards Commission has described ethical behaviour in the following terms

“A successful ethics regime is one which provides mechanisms whereby the sensitivities of political/public life can be handled, where competing interests can be reconciled and where individual legislators/executives can be guided in their difficult decisions by reference to the general principle that the public interest should always take precedence over the interests of the individual and, perhaps more importantly, over the interests of a political party whether in power or in opposition.”

These are the principles which should guide office holders.

1.5. Highest ethical standards to be applied at all times

In addition to complying with those formal requirements, office holders should at all times observe the highest standards of behaviour and act in good faith with transparency, fairness and impartiality to promote the common good in the performance of their official functions.

Ministerial office holders, in the performance of their functions, need to
respect the particular requirements of the many different and distinct roles

that they hold, e.g. as a member of Cabinet, as a Minister of a Department of State, as an elected public representative.

Ministers also have a responsibility to ensure that special advisers are accountable to them for the performance of their functions in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Management Act, 1997.

Special advisers cease to hold their position when the relevant Minister ceases to hold office as outlined in the Public Service Management Act, 1997.

Office holders in particular should

- act only by reference to and dedicate the resources of their offices in furtherance of the public interest
- make decisions and encourage and support the making of decisions on merit and without discrimination
- not be influenced in their official duties by personal considerations
- be accountable for their decisions
- protect the integrity of the offices they hold
- respect confidences entrusted to them in the course of their official duties
- respect at all times the role of the Accounting Officers of their Departments and the obligations of staff under the Civil Service Code of Conduct.

1.6. Chairs of Committees

The increasing role and importance of Committees in the Houses of the Oireachtas has placed the chairs of such Committees in a more prominent role. There is a need for the chairs of Committees to be mindful of this increased responsibility in the conduct of their business.