Dáil Éireann - Volume 602 - 24 May, 2005

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Standards in Public Office.

  1. Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he plans to make amendments to the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12847/05]

  The Taoiseach: The code of conduct for office holders was drawn up by the Government following consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission. It has applied since 3 July 2003. As I have stated previously, I have no plans to amend it.

  Mr. Kenny: Can I ask the Taoiseach about the recommendations that were made in respect of the awarding of Government public relations contracts? Five or six recommendations were made about invitations to tenders, the EU Journal, an inventory of work to be carried out by whoever gets contracts, the areas of work involved and the fact that there are risks to Ministers if they do not adhere to these tight guidelines. In that context has the Government decided to examine whether the recommendations issued in that report are now being adhered to in respect of conduct by office holders in so far as public relations are concerned?

  The Taoiseach: Yes. The recommendations in that report have been made known to all office holders. I think we have had just one case since. It now applies that the recommendations in the new codes have to be followed in communications contracts or anything relating to the public relations domain.

  Ms McManus: I wish to ask the Taoiseach two questions in regard to the code of conduct. First, has he any plans to reconsider and review the code of conduct to ensure that no office holder can use this House to make a racist slur?

[1674]   An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on what the Deputy might like to see either in the code of conduct or out of it. The question is quite specific. We cannot have a debate. Otherwise we would be here all day.

  Ms McManus: I am very succinct in my question and it does relate to amendments.

  An Ceann Comhairle: It does not arise from this particular question. The Deputy will have to find another way of raising it.

  Ms McManus: The question is about amendments. I am asking the Taoiseach if he intends to make any amendments to ensure that the public good is protected in regard to an office holder making a racist slur.

  An Ceann Comhairle: It is not appropriate. The Taoiseach has answered the question. It is not appropriate to ask about amendments the Deputy would like to see in the code of conduct or what she might like to see taken out of the code of conduct. If we were to allow that, every Member on each side of the House would ask such questions. The question was if the Taoiseach intended to amend the code of conduct. We cannot have a debate on what the Deputy would like to see in it or not.

  Ms McManus: I am not looking for a debate.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach has already answered the question.

  Ms McManus: If the answers are just going to be “Yes” or “No”, we will not get very far. A new situation——

  An Ceann Comhairle: The question does not allow for the type of debate Deputy McManus is seeking.

  Ms McManus: The Taoiseach may consider responding since I am sure he understands the spirit in which this question has been asked. In regard to the code of conduct for office holders and Members of the Oireachtas appearing before tribunals of inquiry or Oireachtas committees carrying out inquiries of investigation——

  An Ceann Comhairle: That does not arise under this question.

  Ms McManus: ——is the Taoiseach satisfied that all of us are governed by the code of conduct, that it is not in need of amendment and that it works?

  An Ceann Comhairle: That does not arise. I call Deputy Sargent.

  Ms McManus: I find this very difficult. The two questions I am asking the Taoiseach are perfectly reasonable.

[1675]   An Ceann Comhairle: They do not arise. The purpose of questions——

  Ms McManus: I hardly imagine the Taoiseach will have a problem. I am sure he will be asking comprehensive questions before this session is out.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should submit questions in order. I have called Deputy Sargent.

  Ms McManus: I think that is wrong, a Cheann Comhairle. I really do.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I appreciate the Deputy’s point of view.

  Ms McManus: The Taoiseach has been asked two reasonable questions and I am concerned that he is not being permitted to answer them.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I have called Deputy Sargent. The Chair must obey Standing Orders the same as the Deputy.

  Ms McManus: Can I put a reasonable question to the Taoiseach?

  An Ceann Comhairle: These types of questions arise and they are very confined. The Taoiseach has answered the question that was put to him by Deputy Kenny. We cannot allow a broad debate on what might or might not be in the code of conduct.

  Ms McManus: The Opposition putting questions to the Taoiseach may inform him in his approach to the code of conduct. All I ask for is his response.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputies should table the questions they wish to have answered. That question is quite specific. I have called Deputy Sargent.

  Ms McManus: It is a shame the Taoiseach is prevented from answering two perfectly reasonable questions——

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is a point of view.

  Ms McManus: They are important from the point of view of the public.

  Mr. Sargent: In response to the question to the Taoiseach on whether he plans to make amendments to the code of conduct, he answered “No”. When I and perhaps others ask that question again, will he at least think about his response before saying “No” so quickly? Does “No” mean “No” for today or forever? Will the Taoiseach take on board the question put by Deputy McManus in——

[1676]   An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot allow the Deputy to raise that question given that I ruled Deputy McManus out of order.

  Mr. Sargent: I am not going to raise it. I was simply asking the Taoiseach if saying “No” is for today because he has not finished his deliberations following the outburst of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I call on Deputy Ó Caoláin.

  Mr. Sargent: I am just asking whether the Taoiseach is saying “No” for today.

  Mr. O’Donoghue: It is a kind of “No, no”.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I will allow the Taoiseach to respond to the Deputy’s legitimate question.

  Mr. Sargent: That is all.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has made his point. He is being repetitive.

  Mr. Sargent: Is the Taoiseach taking on board the question of whether the process associated with code of conduct pertaining to lobbyists is still under way? Is he saying “No” until that has concluded?

  Mr. O’Donoghue: It is “No, no”.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Allow the Taoiseach to respond.

  Mr. Sargent: Will he give a different answer when that process has concluded? What progress has been made on the lobbyist issue? It is clarified in the Bundestag and the European Parliament, but in Ireland we still do not know what the position will be.

  The Taoiseach: I am saying the code of conduct has only been in place for two years. We went through long and detailed consultation over two or three years with the Standards in Public Office Commission. The code of conduct has applied for the past two years. Obviously, a code of conduct must always be kept under review in case an issue arises in connection therewith.

I can say without breaking the Ceann Comhairle’s ruling that the code of conduct deals with all aspects of an office holder’s position and applies to elected representatives, Ministers and Ministers of State. It is focused on taking decisions, the uses of resources and the furtherance of the common good. It is not drafted to deal with individual statements or utterances. There is another process for dealing with these which is and was used recently.

The lobbyist legislation has not worked as legislation anywhere. The two countries that tried [1677] it abandoned it. A question arises in respect of having a system in which outside lobbyists would register. It is not part of the code of conduct because it is a different issue. It only relates to the code of conduct when an office holder, including an adviser, Minister or Deputy, leaves office. In this case they are duty-bound for the initial months after their leaving not to engage in any area of work in which they would have had a vested interest or of which they would have had knowledge. In the case of advisers, the applicable period lasts for 12 months. If they get involved in a company or business, they must inform the Secretary General of the nature of the business in which they are involved.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: If the Taoiseach does not intend to amend the existing code of conduct, can he advise the House if, given the number of serious breaches, not least of which includes the utterances regarding asylum seekers by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he is determined to have it enforced as it stands?

  An Ceann Comhairle: That does not arise out of this question.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will the Taoiseach indicate——

  An Ceann Comhairle: I suggest that the Deputy submit an appropriate question.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Enforceability is very important.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We will proceed to ceist a dó on Northern Ireland.

  Mr. Durkan: I have a brief question. Will the Taoiseach describe the people to whom the code of conduct applies? Who are deemed to be office holders? Does the code of conduct extend to people who might have access to information also possessed by office holders?

  The Taoiseach: The code of conduct applies to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Ministers, Ministers of State, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and their deputies. We have not passed resolutions to extend it to include the Chairmen of committees. That is ultimately a matter for the House to decide. That is what the code of conduct is but, as I mentioned, there are guidelines under the ethics Act. A code of conduct is not taken in isolation. It is part of the wider ethics framework established by the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. The legislation provides that due regard must be taken of the code of conduct, but there are regulations in place which must be followed by advisers and others, and they must comply strictly with the 2001 Act.

  Mr. Durkan: What sort of regulations?