Anti-corruption Bill will extend law to TDs, judges

 

TDs, senators and members of the judiciary are to be covered by wide-ranging new anti-corruption legislation which will be published by the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, next week.

The Prevention of Corruption Bill is the first major piece of legislation dealing with corruption by politicians and holders of public office in over 100 years and was cleared by the Cabinet at the last Government meeting before Christmas.

The reforming legislation creates a new offence of "corruption in office" where a government minister, a member of the Oireachtas or a public servant benefits him or herself.

This new offence will make it illegal for an elected politician or public servant to make a decision biased in favour of a member of his or her family. The legislation outlaws for the first time "indirect corruption", where a person offers a spouse of an office-holder a bribe.

The legislation will increase the current maximum jail term for corruption from seven to 10 years, while the maximum fine will no longer be limited to £50,000.

The new legislation will allow Ireland to ratify three international conventions on corruption from the EU, the Council of Europe and the OECD.

As well as government ministers, Oireachtas members and public servants, the new legislation allows Ireland to apply its corruption laws to European Commissioners, members of the European Parliament, judges of the European Court of Justice and members of the European Court of Auditors.

"Basically, the legislation will make these people amenable to Irish law if they commit a corrupt offence. It means they can be tried in our courts", a Government source said last night.

The legislation also covers acts of corruption by Irish people holding legislative, administrative or elected office abroad, including members of the diplomatic corps. "Basically, an Irish person abroad holding legislative, elected or administrative office can be tried for corruption in courts at home."

The new legislation brings Ireland into line with legislation in other EU countries. "This is the first legislation since 1896 that significantly broadens the whole offence of corruption. It is very significant", the source said.

Despite some changes in rules and ethics governing members of the Oireachtas in recent years, the whole area of corruption legislation has been neglected.

Up to now, Ireland's corruption laws have been governed by three pieces of legislation dating back to 1896, 1906 and 1916. These laws were amended under the Ethics in Public Office Act of 1995, introduced by a Labour minister, Ms Eithne Fitzgerald, in the Fine Gael-led Rainbow Coalition.

However, under the Ethics in Public Office Act, civil and public servants and government ministers were specifically named and covered in relation to corrupt activities, but TDs, senators and judges were omitted.

A Government source told The Irish Times that these omissions constituted a major error by the previous government. "This legislation redresses this", the source said.

The Bill is a response from Mr O'Donoghue to increasing concerns about dishonesty in public life in recent years. While the Dail appointed four tribunals in the last decade to examine matters of serious public concern in relation to corruption and fraud, it failed to take any steps to modernise the law to deal with their findings.

The legislation honours Ireland's commitment to the Council of Europe "Group of States Against Corruption" agreement, which the State signed last June.

The agreement is an important development in the international fight against corruption. Under it, participating countries will regularly be examined for compliance with anti-corruption obligations by a team selected from experts nominated by all of the states involved.