Dublin, 25 January 2010 - Anti corruption organisation Transparency International (TI) Ireland has responded to today’s Council of Europe report on corruption in Ireland by calling for the Government to introduce reforms to tackle the corruption and the sale of influence.
The Council of Europe’s ‘Group of States against Corruption’ (GRECO) report looked at political party funding and the enforcement of corruption law in Ireland. It found significant loopholes in the political party funding system; weak safeguards against the abuse of influence by individuals close to public officials; and a patchwork of confusing and outdated laws aimed at fighting corruption.
Responding to the GRECO report Transparency International called for the introduction of a register of lobbyists, the publication of all annual party accounts, and curbs on election spending. TI Ireland also called for the disclosure of all party donations above €120. Currently political parties and candidates are not allowed to accept anonymous political donations of more than €127. However the source of these donations do not have to be reported.
“Money has a role in funding politics but we need to see where that money comes from and to limit its influence. With so much spending unaccounted for by political parties, there’s a great risk of corruption and undue influence over how policies and laws are made. Political parties and candidates have to prove they’re answering to the people that elected them and not party donors”, said John Devitt, Chief Executive of Transparency International Ireland.
In 2008 it was reported that €10 million out of €11 million was undisclosed by political parties in election spending. Parties and candidates are believed to regularly solicit donations just under a legal threshold to avoid public scrutiny. “They may not be doing anything illegal, but electoral law has been written by politicians for politicians – not the people they represent”, said Mr Devitt.
Transparency International recently published a report on the protection of whistleblowers that highlighted the absence of laws encouraging the reporting of the abuse of power. The report “An Alternative to Silence” is now available online.
Key GRECO recommendations include
- The legal requirement for all political parties to publish independently audited annual accounts. These accounts should also report on income and expenditure of local branches.
- A need to outlaw trading in influence (the practice of taking money to influence public policy by a person close to a public official) both at home and overseas.
- The lowering of the current disclosure threshold of 5,078.95 EUR (donations received by political parties) to an “appropriate level” the registration of all political donations.
- To provide the Standards in Public Office Commission, local managers, and/or yet to-be-created Electoral Commission, with greater investigative and sanctioning powers
- A call for reform to bring “greater clarity” to electoral and anti-bribery codes and laws together with their enforcement.
- The extention of the period that political parties have to report electoral spending. Currently political parties and candidates only have to report on how much they spent from three weeks prior to the election.
- To ensure that all violations of political funding rules are “coupled with effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions”
- To allow the Standards in Public Office Commission (or the yet-to-be created Electoral Commission) with additional oversight of donations and spending in local government elections.
- Reform of corruption laws to tackle foreign bribery – these are planned to be addressed in the delayed Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008.