Political parties, like other public bodies, need to have their accounts fully audited

The ongoing standoff between the Minister for the Environment and the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) is yet another signal of just how much this government has backtracked on its supposed commitment to open government.

At the heart of this issue is what level of party accounts should be made available for auditing and public scrutiny. The Minister (and in fairness, it seems all the other parties with him – I stand ready to be corrected on this ☺) is of the view that the legislation (the Electoral (Political Funding) Act, 2012) requires that the parties need to only audit their national accounts. SIPO disagrees. As a letter this week from the outgoing SIPO Chair (published on their website here) makes clear their legal advice, on the contrary, is that the auditing should also extend to the sub-national units (i.e. the party branches) of the parties’ organizations. Continue reading

Business Money and Political Corruption in Ireland

Mahon

By Iain McMenamin

The study of corruption and political finance in Ireland has tended to be qualitative.  This has made it difficult to determine whether problems related to a relatively small number of individuals of the system as a whole.  My article, “Business Financing of Politics in Ireland: Theory, Evidence and Reform” in the current issue of Irish Political Studies uses disclosed data to study the potential for corruption. Continue reading

Reform proposals don’t target corruption

By Iain McMenamin (30 March, 2011)

The Moriarty Tribunal’s report details an exchange between a politician and businessman, the like of which cannot easily be targeted by political reforms. Politicians have a demand for cash and can supply lucrative private goods to business, such as a mobile phone licence. The political demand for cash in Ireland is already limited compared to other countries such as the USA and Australia because paid broadcast advertising is not allowed. The Criminal Assets Bureau has great potential to recoup illicit cash from politicians. Continue reading

Is a proper register of lobbyists finally on the way or is this the politics of the long finger?

by Gary Murphy (July 29 2010)

It seems that the Minister for the Environment John Gormley is ready to move on implementing a register of lobbyists. Speaking at a meeting of Green Party members in Limerick last weekend, he said that he intended to change the way politics was funded and to curb the influence of lobbyists, when the Dáil returns in September. Gormley said that his planned reforms on corporate donations to political parties would also involve the introduction of a register of lobbyists to regulate their activities. Strongly criticising the influence of lobbyists in the political process, Gormely noted:

“These individuals or companies who are paid handsomely by companies to achieve certain policy objectives have ready access to those in power. Many of them have previously been involved in political parties and know the system and the personalities. They also know the journalists and opinion formers. The influence of lobbyists is pervasive and at times pernicious. This is why we need a register of lobbyists to regulate their activities. It would immediately allow the public to identify these individuals and the causes they espouse.”

And for those of us who have been calling for such a register for a number of years, we might say hurrah for John Gormley. Continue reading

Freedom of Information and Corruption

by Donal O’Brolcáin (June 21, 2010)

On Wednesday last, 16th June 2010, in a talk on BBC Radio 4 Dan Lucas, London correspondent for the Swedish Dagens Nyheter newspaper, gave an overview of Swedish-style Freedom of Information laws, as part of a talk in the three part series ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’. (As of this Sunday evening, the podcast can be listened for another 3 days here). Continue reading

Callely puts Oireachtas expenses in spotlight

The ongoing debacle over expenses involving Fianna Fáil senators Callely and Butler is symbolic of a number of shortcomings in our political system – notably the lack of transparency and inadequate regulatory controls over all aspects of party finance (about which, see the previous posting here). The Oireachtas website helpfully sets out the details of the existing regulations and provides up to date information on monthly allowances to TDs and Senators (information that has fed the current controversy over the two senators). There can be no doubt that this is a welcome development; it’s fine time that citizens had access to this sort of information. Continue reading

Voluntary registration of lobbying is worthless

By Gary Murphy

Harry McGee the political correspondent of the Irish Times had a very interesting article in Saturday’s paper  Irish political lobbying: who’s who and how does it work

In it he notes that despite the current government pledging in its revised programme for government to introduce a register for lobbyists, so far there have been no movers to make good on that commitment. More worryingly he states that ‘according to sources, the growing preference within Government is for a voluntary register’.

If lobbying is about gaining access to decision makers, all a voluntary register will do, if anyone could even be bothered to sign up to it, is  simply tell the public who the lobbyists are. By not making such lobbyists reveal whom they are in effect lobbying, or what they are lobbying on, the public is none the wiser as to the pressures being brought on decision makers by paid lobbyists. Accordingly, accountability is less likely to be ensured in any such voluntary system.

There was a lot of bleating at the Green party conference last weekend about the corrupt influence of corporate donations with one delegate going so far as to suggest that corporate donations equalled corruption. Well one way of trying to remove the influence of money in politics is by implementing a proper mandatory register of lobbyists. A register of lobbyists should try to capture the information of who is accessing whom, what for, and what monies, if any, change hands. In principle lobbyists should not be against having such a register, and governments should want it, as it should keep transparent what is a legal entity; lobbying of government. In that context what is being regulated is behaviour by interests who have potentially the money to have their expectations met by the access they have.

Registering lobbyists is not about regulating speech, but about preventing undue influence, including abuse of dominant financial position of some interest groups, including private companies. The key is to ensure that what is written into the regulation does not hinder the average citizen from doing what they have always done which is lobby their respective representative. The whole point of a register is to have a system as transparent as possible. This benefits the lobbyist, the legislator and the citizens. Regulation should be something that gives all stakeholders confidence in the system and in that context it must initially be kept simple and not overburden lobbyists with legislation. Finally enforcement of legislation is the key. Any such register should be controlled and monitored by an agency such as the Standards in Public Office Commission. This should ensure public confidence in the process.

Fine Gael’s New Politics document provides a good, if not perfect, framework for a register of lobbyists. Why for instance don’t Fine Gael include politicians, particularly former ministers, as in the case of Tom Parlon, in their cooling off proposals which state that former officials cannot join private companies for at least a year if that company works for, or with the State, in a way that relates to the former official’s work.

Nevertheless Fine Gael’s mandatory register, which is similar to the Labour party’s proposals, would, if implemented, be an important step in showing that the Irish state is serious about informing its citizens as to who has access to decision making and decision makers. If the Greens sign up to a voluntary code they will have missed a glorious chance to make a difference to transparency in the Irish public policy and made a mockery of their own complaints about corporate donations.