Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin TD, Response to Policy Recommendations - Mahon Report
Meenan, Brian Brian.Meenan@finance.gov.ie
4:41 PM (4 hours ago)
A Cheann Comhairle
In common with my Government and party colleagues I have strongly welcomed the publication of the “Mahon” Tribunals Final Report and would like the opportunity to outline my Departments part in the overall response paper being published today.
The publication on the Final Mahon Tribunal Report and it’s findings of endemic corruption of Irish political life calls for a comprehensive and forceful response. This can be achieved through reform of the various systems for prevention of corruption in the Irish political system in the first instance, but also for its administrative, regulatory, law enforcement and judicial systems.
I am therefore committed to the delivery of an ambitious programme of commitments of political reform contained in the Programme for Government. The unifying theme running through these initiatives relates to securing greater openness and transparency, enhanced accountability and thereby leading to more effective public governance. As I have previously highlighted, these measures represent a comprehensive suite of significant measures which have the potential to bring about an important shift in the ‘rules of the game’ for the political and administrative system.
My Department has responsibility for the implementation of a significant number of the Recommendations in the Report. They fall into the categories of Conflict of Interests, Lobbying, Corruption and Misuse of confidential Information.
Policy proposals on lobbying regulation were published in early July and have been the subject of a recent successful public seminar involving key interests and experts. Lobbying is a positive force in our democracy. But a comprehensive approach to the regulation of lobbying is required to shed greater light on the question who is lobbying whom about what. We need to know more about how our public policy and decision making is shaped. Taking account of the issues raised in the consultation process, my Department is currently developing draft Heads of a Bill which, following Government approval, I intend to submit to the Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Committee for its consideration. I am aiming for enactment of this legislation early in 2013.
Protected Disclosure in the Public Interest Bill
The introduction of comprehensive whistleblower protection legislation is central to more effective management and early amelioration of risk – both in the public and the private sector. As you will be aware, in well-run and risk focused organisations whistleblowing should be encouraged and promoted – the need for protections against reprisals is a safety-net when the whistleblower rather than the information they have disclosed becomes the primary focus of the organisation’s attention. Following the approval of the Government and with a view to informing the public debate on the matter I published draft heads of the Protected Disclosures Bill earlier this year. I have received, and am considering, a number of submissions from interested parties including Transparency International, ICTU, IBEC. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has also recently made a number of observations and I anticipate that I will be in a position to introduce a Bill to the Dáil in the Autumn session.
Beyond, the registration of lobbyists and the introduction of whistleblower legislation, a large number of recommendations in the final report relate to conflicts of interest - characterised by the Tribunal as the “root cause of corruption”. Collectively these recommendations point to the need for an extensive overhaul of the legislative framework for ethics.
The findings and recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal highlight the requirement for a fundamental review of the legislative framework for ethics. There is a consensus that the existing framework needs significant reform, updating and modernisation. There are some very important policy issues to be grappled with in advancing this project, but the basic objective must be to put in place a model that can play an appropriate part in embedding ethics as an integral part of the values, culture and behaviour of the Irish public service.
Given the watershed that is the Mahon Report, I have decided to take this opportunity to undertake a full review of how the existing legislative framework for ethics can be reformed in order to develop a single, comprehensive legislative framework grounded on a clear and comprehensive set of principles. This considerable undertaking will cross departments and sectors and complement the work of both of my colleagues speaking in the House today. My Department has and will continue to work closely with Minister Hogan’s officials who are currently responsible for the Local Government Ethics framework and also with Minister Shatter’s officials who are advancing legislation on corruption prevention.
It is intended that this process will result in a modern and appropriate framework to address in a coherent way the recommendations of the Mahon Report relating to conflicts of interests.
I remain committed to continuing to drive forward the Government’s Reform Programme, on behalf of, and with my Government colleagues with a view to ensuring that ethical values are – and are seen to be – fully reinstated and addressed in public life.