An exemption from any obligations to declare how much money is earned outside of politics should be considered for local politicians, the group representing councillors has argued.
In response to a consultation on a review of the State’s ethics legislation, published on Tuesday, the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) also warned against placing “additional extensive and onerous obligations and responsibilities on our members”.
The review suggests that certain categories of officials and politicians may have to make private declarations of income, assets or gifts, saying a “graduated approach” for disclosure obligations should be part of new legislation.
While accepting the requirement for public declarations on local politicians’ employment and business status, the AILG wrote that it would “question the need to make a further private declaration in relation to the amount of their remuneration particularly in relation to PAYE [Pay As You Earn] employment”.
They argued that in the case of a conflict of interest emerging, the amount of their pay would be “irrelevant” and that they should recuse themselves in any event.
The review published this week is not prescriptive on what kind of disclosure obligations would arise for different categories of public officials, but does recommend that a “limited number of broad categories be created” with varying degrees of disclosure required.
The AILG also raised other queries on plans to beef up disclosure requirements to a level that would introduce new obligations on local politicians.
Referring back to lapsed legislation – the Public Sector Standards Bill – which helped inform the review, the association argued that making local authority members “category A” public officials would create an obligation to make a “multitude of declarations” and to retain certain statements for up to 15 years.
“This approach can have the unintended consequence of placing onerous administrative obligations on our members, who serve at local authority level with minimal secretarial and administrative backup,” the group wrote in its submission.
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The AILG also raised “serious concerns” about the prospect of powers for a standards commissioner, envisaged in the same lapsed legislation, which could accept complaints up to 12 months after an individual obtained evidence sufficient to make a complaint. It also said that the “yardstick for measuring sufficient evidence [to support a complaint] needs to be set at the higher end to combat malicious, vexatious or repetitious complaints”.
The review published this week suggests a standards commissioner could be augmented by a board structure.
In its submission, Transparency International Ireland recommended a “significant extension” of the current disclosure regime to include loans, liabilities and guarantees to the value of €30,000 or more. It said there should be provision made for the digitisation of returns demanded of office holders, officials and politicians.
“The current practice which only requires officials and public representatives to fill in, post or scan paper documents poses an undue administrative burden on officials and the Standards in Public Office Commission,” the NGO argued, saying it made search and retrieval difficult for the public.