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Statutory Framework and Additional Requirements

2.1. Statutory obligations relating to conduct in public life

There is already in place a comprehensive statutory framework for the regulation of conduct in public life. It is a requirement of this Code of Conduct that office holders comply fully with all of the requirements in that framework as well as any requirements which may be introduced in the future.

The following are key elements of the statutory framework in relation to the conduct of office holders:

The Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995 and the Guidelines for Office Holders concerning the steps to be taken by them to assist compliance with the provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995

The 1995 Act includes provisions in relation to office holders for the disclosure of interests, for the treatment of gifts, and for the fulfilment of their responsibilities in relation to special advisers appointed by them or on their behalf.

Information on the steps office holders need to take in order to comply with the provisions of the 1995 Act is set out in the Guidelines, a copy of which is contained in the attached Appendix.

The Standards in Public Office Act, 2001

The 2001 Act established the Standards Commission, which subsumed the Public Offices Commission established by the 1995 Act. The Standards Commission has enhanced powers under the 2001 Act and an offence of obstruction of the Standards Commission or its agents has been created.

The 2001 Act also requires the Government, from time to time, to draw up codes of conduct for the guidance of office holders. The 2001 Act provides that the Guidelines drawn up pursuant to the 1995 Act (referred to above) continue in force.

Additional requirements are imposed by the 2001 Act on members of the Houses of the Oireachtas in respect of tax compliance. These also apply to an Attorney General who is not a member of either House.

Prevention of Corruption Acts

The 1995 Act amended the Prevention of Corruption Acts in a number of respects, such as increasing the penalties for corruption to a maximum of 7 years imprisonment and a fine of up to €63,486.90.

The 1995 Act increased corruption penalties to 10 years and unlimited fine(s). It also introduced a presumption of corruption, in certain circumstances, from a failure to disclose political donations, and secondly where a person exercising certain functions receives money or other benefit from a person who has an interest in the exercise of those functions.

The 1995 Act also makes liable to an offence of corruption, third parties who seek to corrupt others, in addition to persons who are directly involved in an activity.

2.2. Additional Guidance for Office Holders

In addition to requirements which are legislatively prescribed, office holders should observe the following requirements:

2.2.1. Tribunals of Inquiry

Tribunals of Inquiry established by the Houses of the Oireachtas have a crucial role in maintaining and in some cases restoring public confidence in the political and administrative organs of Government. Office holders (as is the case, of course, for the general public) are required by law to co-operate fully with Tribunals of Inquiry and all other lawfully constituted investigations or inquiries.

2.2.2. Accountability to the Houses of the Oireachtas

Office holders, who are members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, are accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas in accordance with the arrangements set out in the Constitution or in the Standing Orders of the respective Houses. It is of paramount importance that office holders give accurate and truthful information to the Houses of the Oireachtas, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.

2.2.3. Public Resources

Office holders are provided with facilities at public expense in order that public business may be conducted effectively. The use of these facilities should be in accordance with this principle. Holders of public office enjoy an enhanced public profile and should be mindful of the need to avoid use of resources in a way that could reasonably be construed as an inappropriate raising of profile in the context of a General Election.

Official facilities should be used only for official purposes. Office holders should ensure that their use of officially provided facilities are designed to give the public value for money and to avoid any abuse of the privileges which, undoubtedly, are attached to office.

2.2.4. Business and other interests

Office holders should not engage in any activities that could reasonably be regarded as interfering or being incompatible with the full and proper discharge by them of the duties of their office.

Office holders should not hold company directorships carrying remuneration. Even if remuneration is not paid, it is regarded as undesirable for them to hold directorships. A resigning director may enter into an arrangement whereby a company would agree to his/her re-appointment as a director upon ceasing to be an office holder.

An office holder should not carry on a professional practice while an office holder but may make arrangements for the maintenance of a practice until such time as s/he ceases to be an officer holder and returns to the practice.

Office holders should not take any part in the decision-making or management of the affairs of a company or practice and should dispose of, or otherwise set aside for the time-being, any financial interests which might conflict, or be seen to conflict, with their position as an office holder.

Office holders, in taking up appointments on leaving office, should be careful to avoid any real or apparent conflict of interest with the office they formerly occupied. Particular care should be taken in the first few months following departure from office. Office holders should give careful consideration to the type of occupation chosen having left office. Although it is in the public interest that former office holders are able to move into business or other areas of public life, it is equally important that there should be no cause for any suspicion of impropriety when taking up a particular appointment. In this context, office holders should act in a way which ensures it could not be reasonably concluded that an office holder was influenced by the hope or expectation of future employment with the firm or organisation concerned or that an unfair advantage would be conferred in a new appointment by virtue of, for example, access to official information the office holder previously enjoyed.

2.2.5. Lobbyists

It is an integral part of a functioning democracy that particular sections of society will endeavour to highlight issues of sectoral importance with office holders. In this respect contact between office holders and lobbyists is to be expected. However, as guidance, such dealings should be conducted so that they do not give rise to a conflict between public duty and private interest.

2.2.6. Records of Official Meetings

In all cases where meetings are arranged for the purpose of transacting official business, office holders should be accompanied by an official who would act as a note-taker in the office holder’s own interest. In any event, it is advised that an official or adviser should attend before the conclusion of a meeting to record details of any decisions reached.

2.2.7. Appointments

Subject to provisions in legislation or other formal requirements for the establishment of Government bodies or the filling of positions, appointments by members of the Government should be made on the basis of merit, taking into account the skills, qualifications and experience of the person to be appointed, as well as any other relevant criteria including, for example, requirements in relation to gender balance.

2.2.8. Gifts

The Government Guidelines for Office Holders published pursuant to Section 15(4) of the 1995 Act and the Guidelines for Office Holders, in relation to the acceptance of gifts by office holders, produced by the Standards Commission provide a framework in relation to the acceptance of gifts. A copy is contained at Appendix 3 to the Guidelines for Office Holders (as attached in the Appendix to this Code).

Additionally, office holders should not accept offers to meet the costs of travel facilities and/or commercial accommodation in connection with official activities (including of a spouse/partner if so accompanied), where such offers are made by private citizens or private enterprises. Discretion may be used where an office holder is the official guest of another Government or official body, or of a not for profit representative organisation or the like.

Office holders should be particularly sensitive of acceptance of gifts or hospitality from friends, or connected persons, as defined in the 1995 Act, where such persons have, or are likely to obtain, a benefit or suffer a loss arising from a decision made, or to be made, by an office holder or by the Government, of which the office holder is aware.

2.2.9. Constituency Matters

In their capacity as elected representatives, Ministers (including Ministers of State) are free to make representations on behalf of constituents, including to other Ministers, provided that the responses sought or expected to their representations or given to the representation of other office holders are in keeping with responses which would be given to members of the Houses of the Oireachtas generally. Ministers are free to receive representations from other office holders on a similar basis.