Government ‘must do more’ to counter corruption

81 per cent of people in Ireland say they think corruption is widespread in the country

EU Anti-Corruption Report: Corruption-related risks associated with close ties between politicians and industry continue to be a cause for concern. Photograph: Nikolay Doychinov/Reuters

EU Anti-Corruption Report: Corruption-related risks associated with close ties between politicians and industry continue to be a cause for concern. Photograph: Nikolay Doychinov/Reuters


The Government needs to do more to fight corruption in public life, according to a European Commission report published today.

Some 81 per cent of people in Ireland say they think corruption is widespread in the country, 5 per cent above the European Union average of 76 per cent.

The assertions and statistics come from the EU Anti-Corruption Report published today which is based on a survey of EU member states.

Stating that the Irish government had “undertaken substantial reforms in its anti-corruption policies” by improving transparency with regard to funding of political parties, it said nonetheless that more work could be done to ally public concerns.

“More work could be done to improve the capacity to prosecute and punish corruption cases in a timely manner,” said the report. “Further work could also be required to address the few remaining concerns around the funding of political parties, election and referendum campaigns and corruption risks related to conflicts of interest at local level, as well as in the area of urban planning.”

The report describes the programme for government as “an ambitious programme of political and legislative reform” in response to “several large-scale cases where politicians and industry players colluded either in an illegal and corrupt manner or legally but in an improper or unethical manner”.

Noting the various pieces of legislation and agencies concerned with anti-corruption measures and enforcement, the report says that the Government “is currently reviewing a draft law to consolidate the seven overlapping anti-corruption statutes and create a set of new offences, including trading in influence, and strengthening the penalties for corruption, including removal from or ban on holding public office”.

The report says Ireland’s request for financial help from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank was caused by “intense competition for profits in the booming (1990s onwards) economy and property market as a result of which “the pace of credit expansion accelerated sharply”.

“By the autumn of 2010, the loss of investor confidence in Ireland triggered a crisis,” it notes.

It continues: “Lengthy investigations that have not yet led to court decisions regarding financial institutions at the heart of the banking crisis in Ireland have contributed to a general climate of mistrust in the transparency and accountability of the financial sector in the country, and in the capacity of corporate oversight and enforcement. For instance, the investigation of the alleged irregularities concerning the Anglo Irish Bank lasted nearly four years before an indictment was issued against its former CEO, who is facing 12 charges in connection with financial irregularities.”

The full EU-wide report identified public procurement as an area of general, EU-wide concern. In relation to Ireland, it notes that public works, goods and services account for 14.6 per cent of GDP in 2011. The report goes on to note that the Government Contracts Committee and the National Public Procurements Policy Unit has published general ethics in public procurement guidelines to help public-sector buyers conduct purchasing operations in line with probity and accountability standards.

“These contain detailed provisions on the disclosure of conflicts of interest and acceptance of gifts and hospitality by those involved in public procurement,” it says.

The report notes various measures taken on foot of the Mahon Tribunal and the increased focus nationally on the funding of politics. It identified weaknesses in the strictures governing political donations.

“The Mahon Tribunal report highlighted ways in which the new thresholds could be circumvented and noted that there is nothing to prevent an individual donor from giving a donation to a political party and to each individual member of the same party,” it said. “This could lead to a significant amount of money, capable of giving rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. Furthermore, the new legislation does not set specific time-frames within which political parties are to discharge their disclosure obligations. This is a significant shortcoming since it is more difficult to identify potential links between a donation and a kickback if a considerable period of time has passed from the receipt of the donation to its disclosure.”

It continued: There is no legislation to regulate the funding of referendum campaigns, even though referenda are quite frequent in Ireland. . . The Irish authorities are currently working on legislative solutions to close this legal gap.”

The report urges the Government to try harder, noting that while “Considerable steps have been taken to improve the framework for the supervision and transparency of political party funding. More consideration could be given to ensuring dissuasive sanctioning of corrupt behaviour and the more timely adjudication of large-scale corruption cases”.

“Corruption-related risks associated with close ties between politicians and industry continue to be a cause for concern. More determined action could be taken to address the risk of conflicts of interest effectively, notably at local level and in vulnerable sectors such as urban development.

“The following points require further attention:

“Improving the track record of successful prosecutions and dissuasive sanctions in corruption cases handled by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the police. Enhancing the power of all investigating authorities to start inquiries on their own initiative and extending their remit with regard to the enforcement of conflict of interest provisions to the regional and local levels. Pursuing the reform for the consolidation of the legal framework of the tribunals of inquiry so as to ensure speedier proceedings and more effective follow-up.

“Placing an overall limit on the amount an individual may give to a political party and electoral candidates or elected representatives who are members of that party, in line with the Mahon Tribunal recommendation. Imposing a reasonably short time-limit for political parties to discharge their financial disclosure obligations. Regulating financing of referendum campaigns.

“Ensuring that planning enforcement powers are vested in an independent urban planning regulator with capacity and powers to investigate systemic problems. Ensuring that local authorities implement plans for the prevention of fraud and corruption. Ensuring the effective prevention and detection of conflicts of interest, notably at local level.”

A survey by Eurobarometer, the EU’s statistical agency, revealed that 16 per cent of Irish people say they consider corruption to be a very serious, or quite serious, problem doing business in Ireland, against an EU average of 43 per cent.

Asked whether they considered nepotism and patronage to be a problem in Ireland, 14 per cent of respondents says they considered it a serious or quite serious problem in Ireland, against an EU average of 41 per cent.

When asked if in the past 12 months, had they been asked to pay a bribe, 3 per cent of Irish respondents said yes, against a EU average of 4 per cent. However, when asked whether anyone from their company has been asked to pay a bribe in Ireland, 13 per cent answered yes to at least one such occurrence, against an EU average of 5 per cent.