Republic of Ireland news

New ethics legislation should be in place before next election, says minister

Fine Gael Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has been at the centre of controversy over election expenses (Damien Storan/PA)
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

New ethics legislation for politicians in Ireland should be in place before the next general election, a minister has said.

Sports Minister Thomas Byrne made the remarks after a former member of the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) Commission said there is no political will to bring in new laws around expenses.

In recent weeks Fine Gael Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has been at the centre of controversy over undeclared expenses relating to both the 2016 and 2020 election campaigns.

Mr Donohoe has apologised for his failure to declare expenses related to postering work that was financed by businessman Michael Stone and has amended his returns to Sipo.

The minister said he wrongly assumed the postering had been done on a voluntary basis.

Sinn Fein, which had been severely critical of Mr Donohoe, then revealed that it had failed to declare a series of expenses related to the hosting of press conferences during the 2016 general election campaign.

Peter Tyndall, a member of Sipo from 2013 to 2012, said the current system is “completely dysfunctional”.

He told RTE's This Week In Politics programme: “I think you'd have to ask yourself who's got the job of reforming the legislation, and the answer is the people who more effective legislation would hold accountable.

“A cynic might argue it's not in the best interests of the people charged with the job of reforming it to actually get on and do it.”

He said Sipo needs to be given the power to launch its own investigations and to sanction anyone who breaches the rules.

Asked if new legislation promised by the coalition government will be in place before the next general election, Mr Byrne said: “I imagine it will.

“That is what the Government is committed to doing during its five-year term, so, yes, it will be finished during this term of government.”

He added: “What we have had in the last few weeks is clearly difficulties with Paschal Donohoe's election expenses over the last number of elections.

“We had a huge amount of stone-throwing from the opposition (Sinn Fein) which, quite frankly, was unwise.

“Yes, we want to improve things and, yes, we are committed to doing that.”

Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane said there have been discussion about reforming Sipo since 2009.

“They don't have the powers to initiate investigations,” he said.

“We have had two ministers from government resign over standards in the last number of months.

“Yes, we made errors, we put our hands up. We accepted those errors, we dealt with them and we will deal with them. They were administrative errors.

“There is no equivalence between administrative errors and corporate donations.”