Standards body seeks wider powers to sanction groups in abortion debate

Commission chair complains to Phil Hogan over curbs on monitoring finances

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan: has been asked to increase the Standards in Public Office Commission’s powers under the Electoral Acts. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan: has been asked to increase the Standards in Public Office Commission’s powers under the Electoral Acts. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 


The judge in charge of regulating political funding has complained to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan about his commission’s inability to monitor the finances of groups involved in the debate on the Government’s planned abortion legislation.

Chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission Mr Justice Matthew Smith wrote to Mr Hogan within the last fortnight seeking greater powers to sanction groups that fail to co-operate with its inquiries.

“The current debate on abortion has once again highlighted the ineffectiveness of the existing provisions and makes it impossible for the commission to operate effectively in this area,” Mr Justice Smith said in his letter of May 14th.

The commission has written to a number of organisations on both sides of the abortion debate in recent months.

These include the anti-abortion organisations Youth Defence, Family and Life and the Life Institute as well as the pro-choice group Action on X. The Socialist Workers’ Party has also been written to.

Mr Smith said the commission was encountering particular difficulties in relation to so-called “third parties”. These are individuals or groups, other than registered political parties or election candidates, who accepted donations above €100 a year.

The commission’s annual reports regularly point to the problems it faces in this area.

Mr Hogan has been asked to increase the commission’s powers under the Electoral Acts by reviewing the sanctions provided for in the legislation, and making failure to co-operate an offence.

The commission has asked that third parties be required to disclose details of expenditure on referendum campaigns.

The Oireachtas health committee will submit a report to Government by Thursday on its hearings on the heads of Bill.