Politicians could face fines of up to €2,500 for breaches of ethics laws in proposed Bill

Labour introduces legislation to close loopholes

Government Ministers could face fines of up to €2,500 or up to two years in prison for breaching ethics law under proposed new legislation introduced by the Labour Party.

The party's public expenditure and reform spokesman Ged Nash introduced a Bill to strengthen ethics legislation and enforce stricter rules on politicians who work with lobby groups when they leave the Oireachtas.

The Regulation of Lobbying (Post-Term Employment as Lobbyist) Bill follows the departure of former minister of state Michael D’Arcy who resigned from the Seanad to join the Irish Association of Investment Managers.

Mr Nash said “we need a top to bottom review of our ethics legislation” and told the Dáil the Bill aimed to strengthen provisions around ministers going to work for lobby groups and would give the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) Commission the power to investigate breaches and prosecute politicians who failed to adhere to the rules.


No difficulty with lobbying

Mr Nash said he had no difficulty with lobbying, which, along with advocacy, he said, was part of an open and democratic society. But he said “we have seen the corrupting influence that big money and cronyism can have on decision-making and on trust in politics, politicians and institutions.

“This week, there has been a renewed public focus on how politics are conducted in this State.”

While the current legislation is broadly strong, he said section 22 of the Act which provided for a one year cooling off period before a government minister would be allowed to join a lobby group, had to be changed.

A minister who was leaving office could apply for an exemption from Sipo. But Mr Nash said “we know that in a recent high-profile case, no such permission was sought from Sipo by a recent office holder who moved seamlessly into a job in the industry in which, until recently, he had ministerial responsibility”.

The sanctions under the proposed legislation include fines of up to €2,500 for a summary conviction in the District Court. If the case proceeded to the Circuit Court the punishment would include a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times