Minister Howlin announces reforms to Ireland’s Public Sector Standards Regime

Issued 18 June 2015

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Brendan Howlin T.D., announced today (Thursday 18 June 2015) that the Government has approved the priority drafting of a Bill to provide for a statutory framework governing public sector disclosure of interests and related matters on a consolidated basis. 

The Minister said:- 

A strong and effective framework for the management of conflicts of interest and standards of conduct of public officials is integral to the quality and efficacy of public governance and the addressing of corruption risks.

Government approval for the priority drafting of a Bill is a substantial step towards meeting the commitment in the Government’s updated Programme to publish legislation to consolidate local and national ethics requirements and give effect to the recommendations of the Tribunals.”

Among the key reforms are:- 

-          the introduction of a Public Sector Standards Commissioner to replace the Standards in Public Office Commission and oversee a reformed complaints and investigations process; 

-          the adoption of a broad definition of public official with graduated disclosure requirements;

-          a significant expansion in the material and personal scope of disclosures; and

-          the strengthening and the extension of the requirement for ad-hocdisclosures in the case of any actual or perceived conflict of interest arising in the performance of a function.

The Minister highlighted that the proposals are the culmination of an extensive review of the current framework as well as a detailed analysis of the recommendations made by the Mahon Tribunal and the relevant recommendation of the Moriarty Tribunal.

The Minister also said:-   

In addition to publishing the Scheme and forwarding it to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform for pre-legislative scrutiny, I am publishing a policy paper on the legislative proposals to inform and encourage public debate by citizens, civil society interests, advocacy groups and public representatives on the proposed reforms. 

This is in keeping with the principles of the Open Government Partnership.”

 

Notes to Editor

The main reforms proposals include:- 

•           A new Public Sector Standards Commissioner who will have increased powers of sanction and enforcement in relation to a range of contraventions as well as a broader role in the provision of advice and guidance.

•           Establishment of a consolidated framework that will govern officials at both local and national level and thereby enabling the repeal of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001, Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, Part 15 of the Local Government Act 2001 as well as a number of partial repeals.

•           Introduction of a graduated approach to the disclosure obligations of Public Officials,  with periodic declarations of interests of politicians and senior officials (Category A) to be made to the Commissioner and published; and private declarable interests (such as gifts given by relatives in a private capacity) to be disclosed confidentially. 

All public officials will be required, as a matter of routine, to disclose actual and potential conflicts of interest (ad hoc disclosures) that arise in the context of the performance of their duties. 

•           Provision of increased powers in relation to investigation of complaints and compliance.

•           Expansion of the personal and material scope of disclosures of interests and the streamlining and simplification of the disclosure system. 

•           Identification of guiding principles for standard of conduct by public officials in the performance of their functions.

•           Statutory prohibitions on the use of insider information or the seeking by public officials of benefits (including gifts and favours) to further their private interests.

•           Establishment of an Outside Appointments Board on a statutory basis. 

A detailed assessment setting out the Mahon Tribunal and the relevant Moriarty Tribunal proposals and the current position in relation to each, as well as the approach proposed in the draft Scheme can be found at http://www.per.gov.ie/public-sector-standards-bill/

The proposed reforms complement the measures already introduced in the areas of:

-          Protected Disclosures; 

-          extending the Ombudsman’s remit;

-          providing for a system of Parliamentary inquiries;

-          the reform of the appointments system to State Boards;

-          strengthening civil service accountability;

-          reforming Freedom of Information; and

-          the Regulation of Lobbying