The text that follows (in italics) is a reproduction of the guidelines published by the Government on 14 August, 1996 pursuant to section 15(4) of the 1995 Act. Please note that (1) all references to the Public Offices Commission should be read as references to the Standards in Public Office Commission and (2) all references to the Secretary to the Government should be read as references to the Secretary General to the Government; (3) where reference is made to a spouse, the guidelines should also be taken to refer to a civil partner and (4) in paragraph 6, the reference to disclosures in relation to gifts and related property / services to the Clerk of the Dáil or Seanad should be taken to refer to disclosures to the Standards Commission.
All office holders are expected to adhere to the fundamental principle that an offer of gifts, hospitality or services should not be accepted where it would, or might appear to, place him or her under an obligation.
The Public Offices Commission has issued guidelines to office holders on compliance with the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995. These address, inter alia, the requirements on office holders to disclose certain gifts (in their capacity as Members of either House of the Oireachtas) and to surrender valuable gifts to the State where these are given by virtue of office.
However, certain supplies of property and services which are in the nature of gifts cannot be readily surrendered to the State, e.g. below cost loans, free services etc. Recognising this, Section 15(4) of the Act, 1995 provides that the Government will issue guidelines to office holders regarding the steps to be taken if an office holder, his/her spouse or a child, is offered or supplied with property or services, (e.g. travel), at below the commercial price, or with a loan of property free or below the commercial price, or a service free.
These guidelines provide accordingly. It should be noted that office holders must comply with these guidelines which are applicable to such property and services provided either within the State, or abroad.
2. Who is covered by the guidelines?
- An office holder Oireachtas. (A Chairperson of an Oireachtas committee may also be designated by resolution of the House(s) as an office holder) . Under the Act, this means Ministers (including Taoiseach, Tánaiste and an AG who is a Member), Ministers of State, the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of each House of the
- The spouse of an office holder
- The child of an office holder or of his or her house
Different reporting arrangements apply as between Ministers / Ministers of State on the one hand, and office holders attached to either House of the Oireachtas on the other, in relation to matters under section 15 (4). Where such differences arise, these are reflected in the guidelines.
3. What is covered?
The following come within the guidelines:-
- property or a service at below commercial price
- a loan of property free of charge, or for less than the commercial value of the loan
- a service free of charge
offered or supplied to an office holder, a spouse or child, by virtue of his/her office, where the net benefit of the lower price, free or cheaper loan or free service exceeds €650. A sample list of possible property and services is set out in the attached Appendix.
4. What does not come within the guidelines?
These guidelines do not apply where the benefit of the lower price, loan, or free service is less than
€650. In addition, the guidelines do not apply to any offer or supply of property/service made:-
- as a donation for political purposes
- for personal reasons only by a friend or relative
- available also to members of the public, either generally (e.g. property arising from super-club points) or in particular circumstances (e.g. travel arrangements following family bereavement, missing a flight etc.)
- by virtue of a position other than that as office holder (i.e. by virtue of being a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas, officer of a local club or by being the holder of another position)
- in the course of and for the purpose of performance of duties of office holder, (e.g. hotel facilities for attendance at EU Council meetings), including representational role by spouse where this is in accordance with established practice
- where there is no intention to and it does not confer any benefit, directly or indirectly on the office holder
5. Steps to be taken...
Where an office holder, his/her spouse or child is offered or supplied with property or services at below the commercial price, or a loan of property free of charge, or for less than the commercial price, or is offered or supplied with a service free of charge, and, the net benefit of the lower price, free or cheaper loan or free service exceeds €650...
5.1 If offered
Where an office holder, or his/her spouse or child, is offered such property/services by virtue of his/her office, the offer must be refused.
5.2 If supplied
(a)(i) Where such property/services are supplied to a Minister* /Minister of State by virtue of ministerial office, or s/he becomes aware that such are supplied to a spouse or child, s/he must notify the Secretary to the Government in writing, and s/he must make an appropriate refund to the person supplying the benefit. The Secretary to the Government will in turn inform the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and such other Minister as may be specified by Government, on the matter.
(a)(ii) In the event of a refund to the donor not being practicable, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and specified Minister shall determine alternative appropriate action, such as donation of an equivalent amount to a particular voluntary body or charity. A Minister** /Minister of State must act in accordance with such a determination.
(a) (iii) In all cases where such property/services are supplied, the Secretary to the Government will notify the Public Offices Commission on the matter and on the action taken. Ministers /
Ministers of State must provide any information required by the Secretary to the Government so as to enable him/her to discharge this function.
* Reference to Minister includes Taoiseach, Tánaiste and an AG who is a Member.
** In the event of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste or specified Minister being the Minister by whom such property/services are received, s/he shall not participate in a determination under (ii) in relation to that particular matter.
(b) An office holder who is not a Minister / Minister of State must notify the Public Offices Commission on the matter, and make a refund, or if this is not practicable, a donation, to be determined by the Commission, on the basis of (ii) above.
5.3 If unsure
(a) If an office holder is unsure as to whether the net benefit involved exceeds €650, or whether or not the offer or supply of property or service comes within these guidelines, s/he should consult with the Secretary to the Government, who will make a determination on the matter.
(b)(i) The Secretary to the Government will make such a determination in accordance with these guidelines and the general directions of Government relating to Section 15(3) of the Act.
(b)(ii) Subsequently the Secretary to the Government will advise the office holder, and the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and specified Minister, or the Public Offices Commission, as appropriate, on the matter. Where it is found that the matter comes within these guidelines, the office holder must act in accordance with 5.1 or 5.2 above.
All office holders are reminded, that under the Second Schedule to the Ethics Act, they must also make appropriate disclosures in relation to gifts and related property/services to the Clerk of the Dáil or Seanad in their annual statements. This information will be entered in the Register of Members' Interests and laid before the appropriate House.
Examples of property and services which could be offered, or supplied below cost, on loan or free
Examples would include :
- offices or other buildings
- living or other accommodation, fixtures, fittings or furnishings
- machinery and equipment, including computers and photographic equipment
- modes of transport, including motor vehicles, boats, aircraft etc.
- bonds, shares, options or other similar instruments
- intellectual property such as computer software, patents, licences etc.
- artwork and precious objects
- livestock or other animals
Examples would include :
- Travel facilities e.g. free or subsidised
- use of a car or other modes of transport,
- chauffeur service,
- aircraft flights or aircraft flights upgrades,
- Hospitality or entertainment e.g. free or subsidised
- hotel or other accommodation
- meals, drinks
- use of accommodation, conference, function or other facilities
membership of clubs, societies or other such memberships
- Secretarial and related services
- Financial or other professional advice/agency services e.g. free or subsidised investment, banking, insurance or other business brokerage.