The Irish Times view on ethics in public life: The rules need tightening

Reform is also needed in the rules governing gift-giving to public officials

The Government should heed the advice of the outgoing head of the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), who has called for significant reform of the rules governing ethics in public life. Sherry Perreault has said legislative, structural and resourcing improvements are urgently required.

While improvements have been made in recent years, particularly with regard to the improved regulation of lobbying and draft legislation governing the revolving door between politics and business, Perreault believes further reforms are needed to ensure that Ireland has a robust ethics framework. The ethics legislation as it stands does impose a significant burden on politicians and political parties, particularly smaller ones, in complying with the complex network of rules and regulations, but further reform is needed.

The 1997 Electoral Act is now a quarter of a century old and there are gaps in the rules. One glaring omission is that while the public register of interests applies to Oireachtas members it does not cover advisers, senior civil servants and others involved in the political system. Another loophole is that the register covers assets but does not detail liabilities.

Reform is also needed in the rules governing gift-giving to public officials, particularly when they are not actively considering a proposal or a submission from an interested party. It is not unusual to see hospitality or tickets to major events being used to build up relationships that could possibly lead to preferential access in the future. Another reason for updating the ethics legislation is that it does not properly cover issues such as online campaigns which were not even imagined when the original provisions were drafted.


With all ethics legislation there is a happy medium between the public right to transparency and the imposition of cumbersome and costly regulation which can act as a deterrent to people entering public life. The 1997 Act was a necessary response to the abuses which went before and by and large it has served the country well. Now is the time for a sensible update of the rules.