It’s not just the Commissioner, stupid!

Elaine Byrne, 25 March 2014

The traditional attitude to scandal in Ireland is to politicise and personalise. We move on once the head-on-the-plate has been delivered. Or we just move on without it. The third anniversary of the Moriarty Tribunal fell last weekend – but let’s not go there (the hot weather in exile is some compensation). 

Let’s get it right this time. The government are actually introducing far-reaching legislation that will make elements of Ireland’s ethical infrastructure that of international best practice. Ireland is not corrupt but that perception is there because we mess up on the small stuff. 

The resignation of the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan should not have happened. He was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t – long before his “disgusting” remarks about whistleblowers.



What should happen now?

For the last 18 months I was a consultant on the European Commission anti-corruption report on Ireland. This involved liaising with stakeholders from many of Ireland’s watchdog agencies. The problems they articulated were similar across the board - resource capability, legislative limitations, overlapping responsibilities and ability of the different oversight organisations to co-operate and share information. I wrote about this here and hereAn independent audit of all oversight agencies is long overdue, as articulated by former financial regulator Mathew Elderfield last year.

The Garda Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has made two specific reform proposals (among many others). 

1. Reform the whistleblower framework 

GSOC should act as the external confidential recipient. A position where the Gardaí receive complaints of corruption or malpractice about themselves was never a runner. Changes to the whistleblowing framework are already underway, there was a high level Inter-Departmental meeting on this issue already this week. 

2. The Garda Commissioner must be subject to civilian oversight 

GSOC currently have responsibility to oversee policing but this does not extend to the Commissioner. GSOC should have the capacity to investigate allegations of misbehaviour by the Garda Commissioner where it is in the public interest.


European Commission corruption report on Ireland


Elaine Byrne 3 February 2014

The European Commission published its first Anti-Corruption report today.

Information on the Eurobarometer polls and summaries of each country can be found here

The Ireland chapter is here.

The report makes a number of observations across different sectors of Irish public life. It has commended the government for the reforms it has introduced but states that more needs to be done, particularly when it comes to prosecuting corruption.

The European Commission report was written by European Commission officials from DG Home. It was researched by me with the assistance of Trinity College Dublin, Government of Ireland scholar Mark Carpenter.

Political Party Accounts, Unaccounted For?


Elaine Byrne 31 January 2014

An exchange between the Chair of the Standards in Public Office Commission recently the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan T.D., with regard to the draft guidelines on political finance largely went by unnoticed. Just as unnoticed were the implications of the far-reaching Electoral (Political Funding) Act 2012. 

The potential effect of the Minister’s decision not to implement the Standard Commission recommendations on party finance is that Fine Gael, and the state’s other political parties, are not obliged to provided a detailed set of accounts until 2016. The cynical might suggest the timing is thus convenient – after the 2016 election.

This is my submission to the Standards Commission, based on research conducted for the IDEA index of political financing, Global Integrity report and the European Commission report on corruption in Ireland. There’s a chapter in my corruption book on political donations in Ireland spanning 1980s-2000s. The submission distinguishes between donations to political parties and individuals from (a)corporations with government contracts, (b) corporations which are actively undergoing a tender process for the procurement of public funded contracts and (c) corporations which are government owned or partially government owned. It also examines multiple donations by the same individual, the role of third parties, the difficulties around accrual v cash receipts and the capacity of the Standards Commission.

Below is my Sunday Business Post column on the implications of the political finance.

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Dáil reform ?

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste announced Dáil reform measures today – two and a half years after the 2011 election.

According to the Irish Times report by Stephen Collins, the measures will only come into force if the electorate gives a mandate to abolish the Seanad. At first glance the commitment to consult experts and civil society before the pre-legislative stage to develop legislation before Bills are drafted is positive and in line with the OECD’s 2008 recommendations in its report on Ireland.

Why are some of the announced measures contingent on the Seanad referendum passing?



The 1947 Reform of the Seanad

Elaine Byrne, University of New South Wales: 4 September 2013

“10 reports in 75 years – NO reforms introduced to the Seanad” is Fine Gael’s slogan to abolish the Seanad.

That’s not true. The Seanad was reformed in 1947 with the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947. A longer version of my Sunday Independent article will be published on later this week.

The Act addressed the areas which had been open to abuse during the 1938 and 1943 Seanad elections.

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“Reform Scorecard” Nua?

Elaine Byrne, University of New South Wales: 5 August 2013


Following from Dr Theresa Reidy’s excellent post on the need for a political reform “roadmap”, perhaps the political science community might once again engage in an updated version of the “reform scorecard” which was conducted prior to the 2011 general election.

The best roadmap right now is clarity.

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John Perry, James Reilly & the introduction of a Register of Debt

Elaine Byrne, University of New South Wales: 23 July 2013

It is with no small irony that the Minister with responsibility for Small Business consented yesterday to a judgment for €2.47m against him and his wife at the Commercial Court over unpaid loans. John Perry’s long-running difficulties with Danske Bank raise underlying questions about Ireland’s ethics framework and the need to introduce a register of debt for politicians, as is the case in Canada.

The Irish public do not know the extent to which Ministers are in debt and the conflicts of interest, if any, that such debt may incur. John Perry is not the only Irish Minister who has experienced serious financial difficulties.

Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny campaigning in Ballymote, Co. Sligo.

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Judge Jed Rakoff on the Limits of Prosecution

Judge Jed Rakoff gave a keynote address last week to a conference hosted by the Centre for Law, Markets and Regulation (CLMR) at the University of New South Wales.


The influential judge from the Southern District of New York spoke about the flawed rationale for non-prosecution of offences related to the Global Economic Crisis. Judge Rakoff explained, as far as he is aware, the Department of Justice in the US has taken the position that no crime was committed in connection with the events leading up to the financial crisis. Their public position is that they could not indict for three reasons, some of which may be familar to the Irish case.

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Are “Cultural” explanations for systemic failure sufficient?

Originally posted in the CLMR portal by Elaine Byrne (11 April, 2013)

The Salz Review into Barclays shares similar findings to the Honohan and the Regling and Watson Banking Inquiries. Salz attributed the extraordinary failings at Barclays to “corporate corruption” while the Irish approach has been to focus on “group think”.

“Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society,” warned Machiavelli. He was wrong as the Independent  Review into Business Practices at Barclays, the latest in a series of reports into the corrosive nature of investment banking, makes abundantly clear.

The probe into the manipulation of benchmark interest rates at Libor ultimately resulted in a £290m million settlement by Barclays with US and British regulatory authorities in June 2012.  In February 2013, Barclays surprised everyone when it revealed that it had set aside £1 billion to cover mis-selling as part of a damages bill for Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) and the cost of compensating small businesses, bringing its overall estimated legal liabilities to £2.6 billion.

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Bill to reduce the number of TDs

Posted by Elaine Byrne

Deputy Brendan Griffin (Kerry South) has introduced a proposed amendment to the constitution which seeks to -

  • Hold a referendum on reducing the Dail to 101 members
  • From 100 evenly populated constituencies  
  • Retain the PRSTV system. 

Deputy Griffin says the primary purpose of the amendment is to help “ensure that the attention of parliamentarians can be more focused on parliamentary/legislative/policy issues and not on competing locally with constituency rivals, both inside and outside their parties”. He believes it would also lead to a less congested Dail. He argues that, at present, “many Deputies are waiting for weeks to raise a matter on Topical Issues and very often do not get selected high enough in the order of oral questions to have their issue discussed using that avenue”.

The Bill can be found here.