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Appendix 4: Gifts

1. As already stated, a gift given to an office holder, or a spouse or civil partner or child, by virtue of his or her office, which exceeds €650 in value, must be surrendered. There is also a requirement that such a gift will be disclosed in the office holder's annual statement of registrable interests.

2. Because of the office held, some office holders are more likely than others to attract gifts which would fall to be surrendered. Examples might include the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs who would be prominently engaged in State visits and representation abroad and in hosting State visits and foreign dignitaries to this country. The Standards Commission recognises that the protocol of such occasions often involves an exchange of gifts and the traditions and culture of some nations can result in the giving of quite valuable gifts. The following general advice on gifts may be helpful in this regard. Office holders should bear in mind that the Secretary General to the Government is empowered by the 1995 Act to make determinations both on the value of any gift and the question of whether a gift was given by virtue of office.

Aggregation of Values

3. In so far as the disclosure requirement is concerned, the Second Schedule to the 1995 Act makes it clear that gifts received from the same person in the course of a single registration period should be aggregated for the purpose of determining whether or not their total value exceeds €650. If the aggregate value of such gifts during any one registration period exceeds the threshold, each individual gift should be declared, even when the individual value does not exceed the €650 threshold. Where a gift comprises of more than one item, being presented together on the same occasion by the same person, the total value of the gift will be used for disclosure purposes. Likewise, any gifts which are intrinsically linked to one another, even if presented separately during the same registration period, must have their values aggregated for disclosure purposes. Gifts which are intrinsically related to one another but presented in
different registration periods, where each item individually has a value of less than €650 but where the aggregate value exceeds €650, need not, strictly speaking, be disclosed as the threshold would not be exceeded in any single registration period. However, the staggering of related gifts between registration periods could be seen as seeking to circumvent the spirit, if not the letter, of the legislation.

4. The requirement to surrender gifts is of course a different one to that of disclosure. Section 15 of the 1995 Act provides that where a gift valued in excess of €650 is given to an office holder by virtue of his or her office, that gift shall be deemed to be a gift given to the State and shall be vested in the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Section 15 omits any reference to the notion of the cumulative value of gifts within any one registration period; "gift" is referred to in the singular throughout that section. The Standards Commission is, therefore, of the view that the 1995 Act does not require the surrender of gifts received from one source, but presented on separate occasions during any one registration period, where the cumulative value exceeds €650 but where the value of each gift is individually less than the €650 threshold. The Commission is also of the view that, for the purpose of surrender, gifts presented together on a single occasion should be treated separately. In other words, each separate gift must exceed the €650 threshold before being required to be surrendered. This would not, of course, apply to gifts which are intrinsically linked to each other (e.g. decanter and glasses), received in any one registration period, whose values should be aggregated for this purpose.

5. Gifts which are intrinsically related to one another, but presented separately in different registration periods, could give rise to difficulties. If, for example, such gifts comprise part of a set, the total value of which exceeds the sum of the individual parts, it is certainly arguable, although not strictly required under the 1995 Act, that the gift should be viewed in its entirety and, provided that value exceeds €650, it should be surrendered.

6.The following examples may be useful:

Example A : A gift given to an office holder, exceeding the value threshold of €650, should be both surrendered and disclosed. A gift given to the office holder's spouse, even if deemed to be one given by virtue of the office holder's office under
section 15, which does not exceed the value threshold can be retained. The smaller gift should, however, be included in the office holder's disclosure of interests as being part of a gift from a single source with an aggregate value in excess of €650.

Example B : Gifts having a combined value below €650 can be retained, while a single gift with a value in excess of €650 should be surrendered. The value of gifts should be aggregated for the purpose of establishing the requirement to disclose them. If the combined value exceeds €650, all gifts must be disclosed.

Example C : Where the aggregate value of gifts, each valued at less than €650, from a single source in a registration period exceeds the threshold of €650, each gift should be disclosed individually. Surrender of such gifts is not required.

Exemptions from 'Gift' Classification

7. The following would not be classified as gifts for the purposes of section 15 of the Act :

(a) Awards made to an office holder in recognition of certain specified achievements of a public nature following a process of nomination and selection from a number of qualified persons (e.g. European of the Year, Nobel Prize). Such awards may involve the giving of tokens as an intrinsic element of the award.

(b) Awards conferred on an office holder in recognition of certain specified achievements of a public nature where the award is made by a recognised and properly constituted academic institution and/or a civil, religious or sporting body (e.g. Honorary Degrees, Freedom of a City). Generally speaking, such awards do not have any direct monetary value. They may, however, involve the giving of tokens or regalia as an intrinsic element of the award.

(c) Subject to the prior approval of the Government in accordance with Article 40.2.20 of the Constitution, awards conferred by a foreign Government or a foreign Head of State in accordance with established and recognised procedures of general applicability (e.g. Papal Honours, Legion of Honour). These awards may involve the giving of tokens or regalia as an intrinsic element of the award.