These guidelines for office holders, which are published by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Standards Commission), replace and revoke the third edition of the guidelines which were published in December 2002.
The guidelines are intended to assist understanding by office holders of the steps required to be taken by them in order to comply with the requirements of the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995 (the 1995 Act) and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 (the 2001 Act). These Acts are cited together as the Ethics in Public Office Acts, 1995 and 2001 (the Ethics Acts). The guidelines also take account of amendments to the Ethics Acts made by the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010.
The guidelines are published under section 25 of the 1995 Act. As is required, the Committees on Members' Interests of the Dáil and of the Seanad have been consulted prior to publication.
In the Ethics Acts and in these guidelines, the term "office holder" means:
- An Taoiseach
- An Tánaiste
- A Minister of the Government
- A Minister of State
- An Attorney General who is a member of Dáil or Seanad Éireann
- A Chairman or Deputy Chairman of Dáil or Seanad Éireann
- A Chairman of a Committee of either House of the Oireachtas, where that office stands so designated by resolution of that House, or
- A Chairman of a Joint Committee of both Houses, where that office stands so designated by resolution of each House.
A number of other important terms used in these guidelines and in the legislation are defined in Appendix 1 of these guidelines.
Office holders are entitled, pursuant to section 25 of the 1995 Act, to request advice from the Standards Commission on any provision of the Ethics Acts or on the application of any provision in any particular circumstance. This includes the code of conduct for office holders which was drawn up by the Government and published, in July 2003 by the Standards Commission. The 1995 Act provides that, where requested, such advice must be provided by the Standards Commission within 21 days or, alternatively, the Standards Commission may decline to give advice. Ideally, to eliminate any risk of misunderstanding, requests for advice should be made in writing (including by e mail). Normally, the Standards Commission will provide, or confirm, all advice of a substantive nature, in writing.
When a request for advice is made to the Standards Commission in relation to a particular case, the provision concerned of the Ethics Acts will not, as respects the person who made the request, apply in relation to that case during the period from the making of the request to the time when the advice is given or the Standards Commission declines to give advice.
Office holders are required to act in accordance with these guidelines and with any advice given under the Ethics Acts by the Standards Commission unless, by so doing, they would be contravening another provision of the Ethics Acts.
Office holders will note that these guidelines are admissible in any proceedings before a court, or other tribunal, or a Committee on Members' Interests, or the Standards Commission. Any provision of these guidelines that appears to the aforementioned body to be relevant to a question in the proceedings before it may be taken into account by it in determining the question.
An Irish language version of these guidelines will be made available where requested.
Ethics in Public Office Acts - General Background
Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995 (the 1995 Act)
1. The 1995 Act provided for the establishment of the Public Offices Commission and Committees on Members' Interests of Dáil and Seanad Éireann. It provided for the disclosure of interests by office holders, other members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Attorney General, Ministerial special advisers and holders of designated directorships and occupiers of designated positions in a wide range of public bodies, including the civil service. The 1995 Act also dealt with the investigation of contraventions and the publication of guidelines and giving of advice to ensure compliance with its provisions. It described, in detail, the powers of the Public Offices Commission, the circumstances in which complaints can be made and the process by which a decision to commence an investigation would be taken. The 1995 Act also prohibited the retention of valuable gifts by office holders and amended the Prevention of Corruption Acts, 1889 to 1916.
Standards in Public Office Act, 2001 (the 2001 Act)
2. The 2001 Act provides for the establishment of the Standards Commission and confers on it the functions of its predecessor, the Public Offices Commission.
3. The principal functions of the Standards Commission, as inherited from the Public Offices Commission, are to publish guidelines, to provide advice on request to assist compliance with the Ethics Acts and to investigate and report in relation to possible contraventions. Generally, these functions relate to office holders, special advisers and designated directors and employees of specified public bodies.
4. A Tax Clearance Certificate must be provided to the Standards Commission by office holders and will issue, on application, from the Collector General where an office holder is in compliance with the obligations imposed by the Tax Acts, the Capital Gains Acquisitions Tax Acts and the Value-Added Tax Acts, as amended, in relation to the payment or remittance of any taxes, interest or penalties due and the delivery of any returns required. The Tax Clearance Certificate must have issued to the office holder from the Collector General not more than nine months before and not more than nine months after his or her election or nomination.
A Statutory Declaration, being a declaration made in accordance with the Statutory Declarations Act, 1938, as amended, must also be provided to the Standards Commission by office holders confirming that, at the time of its making, the office holder is, to the best of his or her knowledge and belief, in compliance with the obligations imposed on him or her by the Acts referred to above and that there is no impediment to the issue of a Tax Clearance Certificate. This Statutory Declaration must be made by the office holder not more than one month before and not more than one month after his or her election or nomination.
Both the Tax Clearance Certificate and Statutory Declaration must be provided to the Standards Commission by the Office Holder not more than nine months after the date upon which he or she was elected or nominated.
5. Contravention of the above requirements relating to Tax Clearance Certificates and Statutory Declarations may lead to investigation by the Standards Commission and the drawing up of a written report of the result of the investigation. The report will be provided to the relevant Committee on Members' Interests who will cause it to be laid before the House.
6. As compared to the 1995 Act, the 2001 Act provides for a wider range of circumstances in which a complaint can be made to the Standards Commission. These include, for example, complaints in respect of the Acts or omissions of "a specified person" (who is defined in the 2001 Act and which includes an office holder) which may be inconsistent with the proper performance by "the specified person" of the functions of his or her office or position. The 2001 Act also provides for immunity for complainants and establishes a basis whereby the Standards Commission can appoint Inquiry Officers to carry out preliminary inquiries into complaints.
7. The 2001 Act requires the drawing up of codes of conduct for office holders, other members of the Houses and for the public service. These codes of conduct are published by the Standards Commission and will indicate standards of conduct and integrity for the persons to whom they relate in the performance of their functions and connected matters. The codes will be admissable in any proceedings before a court or other tribunal or a Committee on Members' Interests of either House of the Oireachtas or the Standards Commission and any provision of any such code that appears to any of the aforementioned bodies to be relevant to a question in the proceedings may be taken into account in determining the question.