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Major report finds much more to be done to prevent corruption in Ireland

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Dublin, 2 March 2009

A Government-sponsored study on safeguards against corruption and the abuse of power in Ireland has found that the country suffers high levels of lawful or “legal” corruption and has also ranked Local Government, Political Parties, and Ireland’s Public Contracting System, as those sectors most vulnerable to fraud, corruption and the abuse of power.

The “National Integrity System Country Study” published today by anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI) is the most wide ranging analysis to be ever conducted on the issue in Ireland. Carried out over two and a half years, the research looked at the risk of corruption and abuse of power in sixteen sectors including government, politics, business, civil society and the media. It also examined the role these sectors have to play in promoting integrity in public life.

“Ireland has long suffered from high levels of undue or hidden influence over regulation and government by vested interests. It’s only now that our country is on the brink of bankruptcy that we can see for ourselves the consequences of weak anti-corruption controls and self-regulation”, said the study’s editor and TI Ireland Chief Executive, John Devitt.

“We urgently need comprehensive legal safeguards for whistleblowers. Current Government proposals to protect whistleblowers in Ireland do not go far enough and will leave most private sector and banking employees without protection if they report an issue of public concern”.

The study also points to the need for a register of lobbyists that would bring more transparency to the relationship between government and business and makes a call for the publication of detailed audited accounts by political parties.

The report points out that Ireland is regarded as one of those countries faced with very low levels of “petty corruption” or political “grand corruption”. It is now perceived to be the 16 th least corrupt country out of 180 countries by TI. Irish people are also believed to be among the least likely in the world to be asked for a bribe by a public official in their own country.

However the study concludes that “ Ireland is regarded by domestic and international observers as suffering high levels of ‘legal corruption’ . While no laws may be broken, personal relationships, patronage, political favours, and political donations are believed to influence political decisions and policy to a considerable degree”.

The recommendations

The study makes over thirty recommendations to tackle a problem that TI claims contributed to the world financial crisis, and could be costing the Irish economy an additional €3 billion each year in lost business revenues and foreign investment.

These include:

   1. The introduction of laws, similar to those in the UK, to protect whistleblowers in the public and private sector who report concerns of public importance.
   2. The introduction of a Register of Lobbyists that would bring more transparency to the relationship between government, regulators, business and interest groups.
   3. The ratification of international conventions against corruption, including the UN Convention described as the “Kyoto Protocol” on global corruption.
   4. The establishment of a Garda Anti-Corruption Unit and more resources for law enforcement agencies including the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the Competition Authority, the Criminal Assets Bureau, and the Garda “Fraud Squad”.
   5. Reform of Freedom of Information fee system. Irish FOI fees and costs of appeals are the highest in the developed world.
   6. The publication of local Councillors’ declarations of interest on the Internet.
   7. The scrapping of Government plans to treble the amount of gifts and loans politicians can receive and keep secret.
   8. The publication of an annual report by the Comptroller and Auditor General on some of the most costly public contracts each year.
   9. The opening of all appointments to the Boards of State bodies to public competition.
  10. The publication of clear no-bribe and conflict of interest policies by newspaper organisations and journalist unions.

Notes for Editors

The National Integrity System (NIS) Country Study for Ireland was funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Irish Government is one of only three European governments (including the UK and Netherlands) to have sponsored this assessment of its own corruption controls.

It is one of some 80 NIS studies published so far by Transparency International and the first time an NIS has been conducted for Ireland.

Transparency International (TI) is an independent non-profit movement campaigning against corruption worldwide. It has chapters in almost 100 countries. The Irish chapter of TI was established in 2004 and is based at the School of Business, Trinity College Dublin.

Research was led by John Devitt from January 2007 to December 2008 and Dr Elaine Byrne from June 2006 to December 2006. John Devitt is Chief Executive of Transparency International Ireland, a Board Member of Transparency International and a Research Associate of the School of Business, Trinity College Dublin. He is a former Trade Representative at the Irish Consulate in New Zealand and Press Officer at the British Embassy in Dublin. Dr Elaine Byrne holds a PhD on the history of corruption in Ireland and is now an Irish Times columnist.

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