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Leaders of merged public bodies left outside scope of Ethics Act, SIPO complains

25 Jul 2019 / home affairs Print

Leaders of merged public bodies left outside scope of Ethics Act, SIPO complains

Senior management at certain public bodies sit outside the scope of the Ethics in Public Office Act, the Standards in Public Office (SIPO) Commission has complained in its annual report for 2018.

It warns that “significant decisions” may be taken by persons in those bodies with no obligation to disclose their private interests which could come into conflict with the public interest.

Potential conflicts

SIPO has continuously urged that regulations be kept as up to date as possible to avoid any “potential or actual conflicts between personal interests and public functions are disclosed and resolved in the public interest.”

This will ensure that significant decisions “are subject to the safeguards of the statutory ethics framework”, it says.

Ethics obligations

One such body outside the scope of ethics obligations is Children’s Health Ireland.

This was established on 1 January 2019 in place of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, the Children’s University Hospital (Temple Street), the National Children’s Hospital element of Tallaght University Hospital and the Children’s Hospital Group Board.

It will take over the running of the new children’s hospital (pictured) in due course.

On the same day, the Technological University Dublin was established in place of Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Blanchardstown and Institute of Technology Tallaght.

Mergers

These mergers brought the boards of the bodies, along with those employees who had previously been subject to the Act’s provisions for disclosure of interests, outside the scope of the Act’s obligations, SIPO has said.

“The new bodies are not named in the regulations, nor has provision been made in their enabling legislation to include their staff under the Ethics Acts,” the annual report points out.

“The omission of the bodies referred to…has meant that the provisions for disclosure of interests in the Ethics Acts cannot be implemented on a statutory basis in those bodies,” SIPO says.

Policing Authority outside scope

Other bodies outside the scope of the legislation include the Policing Authority and the Land Development Commission. Previous omissions, noted by SIPO in its 2016 report, of the Public Service Pay Commission and the Low Pay Commission have not been rectified in the new regulations.

In 2006, the Commission recommended that where a public body is being set up, it should immediately come under the scope of the Ethics Acts, from the date of establishment. This happened on the formation of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) and the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).

Failed to comply

In 2018, the Commission launched 80 investigations and six investigation reports were published where appointees to ‘senior office’ had failed to comply with their obligations under relevant lobbying and ethics legislation.

Appointees to senior office are required to provide evidence of tax compliance to the Commission, shortly after their appointment (a statutory declaration within one month and a tax clearance certificate within nine months).

Difficulties

SIPO has also complained in its annual report about administrative difficulties caused by updating the declaration of interests register for senior civil servants.

These regulations with regard to directorships were signed by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal O'Donohue (pictured) on 21 November 2018, updating the register for the first time since 2015.

“However, the regulations were made without provision for an effective date and came into effect immediately on signature,” the SIPO annual report points out.

Statements of interests

Previous similar regulations provided for an effective date of 1 January, coinciding with the beginning of the period for which annual statements of interests are prepared the calendar year.

“The absence of such a provision in this instance has given rise to administrative difficulties both for the Commission and for public bodies in terms of the provision of revised guidelines for public servants and appropriate advice to bodies on the implementation of the regulations,” SIPO’s report points out.

The report also notes a significant spike in third party registrations on foot of the referendum to repeat the 8th amendment, with an associated increase in concerns from the public on compliance of organisations and individuals with their obligations.

 

 

 

 

 

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