Ethics law review to examine disclosure obligations for TDs selling property to public bodies

Tánaiste has ‘total confidence’ in Robert Troy amid questions over property interests

The Government is to expand a review of ethics legislation to examine the disclosure obligations of TDs selling properties to public bodies.

Amid scrutiny over the property dealings of Minister of State Robert Troy, the Department of Public Expenditure said on Wednesday that it would consider the issue as part of an ongoing review of ethics in public office legislation.

Mr Troy has said he will amend the Dáil register of members’ interests after he failed to declare his ownership or part-ownership of three houses in recent years.

He said he was operating under the assumption that he did not have to declare a property if he did not own an interest in it at the end of the relevant year. Two of these properties were later sold to local authorities.

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However, Mr Troy has argued that he was not in breach of a requirement to disclose contracts for goods or services with public bodies worth more than €6,500. He has said the provision relating to contracts does not apply as it relates to contracts on goods or services, and a house is not a good or service. The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has said that “in summary, there is no obligation to disclose such contracts under the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995″.

Mr Troy has said he has “no issue” with Solidarity TD Paul Murphy submitting a complaint to Sipo about him “as I have already acknowledged my error in my declarations with respect to properties sold within the years in question”.

Robert Troy, budget rumours and refugee resources

Listen | 00:00
Jack Horgan-Jones and Jennifer Bray emerge from the misty miasma of August political coverage to tell Hugh what's going on in a number of stories: controversies over Fianna Fáil TD and Minister of State Robert Troy's declaration of property interests, problems at An Bord Pleanála, early speculation about potential budget measures and coping with the growing number of Ukrainian refugees in need of accommodation.

Technical issue

Asked whether Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath would consider changing the rules so TDs would have to declare when they sell properties to a public body, a spokeswoman for the department referred to an ongoing review of the ethics Acts. “While the particular technical issue arising has not heretofore been brought to the attention of the review, it will be now examined as part of the review process, which is currently under way.”

She said the review of the Statutory Framework for Ethics in Public Life is expected to conclude shortly and its outcome would inform proposals for legislative reform.

The department is said to be examining strengthening the legal obligations on public officials to disclose, as a matter of routine, actual and potential conflicts of interest, including, for the first time, provision for the confidential disclosure of liabilities over a certain threshold, in addition to sources of income and assets.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Wednesday said he had “total confidence” in Mr Troy after questions were raised about the Fianna Fáil TD’s property interests.

Information drip-feed

It came as the Opposition sought to turn up the pressure over the issue, with Sinn Féin enterprise spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly saying there should be “no more drip-feeding of information, he needs to make a public statement with all the information now”. She said local authorities also needed to publish records relating to the sales, including minutes of relevant meetings, and said public confidence was at stake. The details of the holdings first emerged on the Ditch website.

Mr Varadkar was asked by reporters if he was satisfied with Mr Troy’s explanation for why he did not declare the properties. “Mr Troy has given a full explanation and certainly, from my point of view, that stacks up,” the Tánaiste told reporters in Co Monaghan.

The Fine Gael leader said his Coalition colleague made an error in his declarations and it would be up to Dáil authorities and Sipo, which is independent of the Government, to determine if any further investigation was needed. “I think it’s really important that he should be afforded due process in that regard.”

He added that some people in politics were involved in business before being appointed to ministerial office. “And among those businesses may be property, you know. There are a lot of people who you want to get involved in politics who are involved in construction, in business, in farming and so on,” he said. “Are we really saying that they can’t, you know, engage in business or buy and sell things for profit?”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times