Political ethics overhaul planned

New laws to beef up the political ethics system are to be brought to Government early in the new year.

It follows a review of the fragmented method of scrutiny which currently exists in terms of laws for ethics, local government and standards in public office.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said Brendan Howlin had ordered the review after the publication of the Mahon report in March.

Meanwhile, an overhaul of the current system is emerging which will reflect the recommendations made in recent tribunal reports.

“Substantial preparatory work has been carried out by the department in relation to this significant legislative project. It is proposed to advise Government of the proposed legislative approach early next year,” said the department.

It said the system needed to be strengthened by removing the anomalies that have created loopholes in the policing of the Ethics Act, Local Government Act, Electoral Act, and company laws. It follows calls by the Standards in Public Office Commission to develop a principles-based system of legislation rather than a rules-based one.

This news comes as Sipo confirmed it has appointed an inquiry officer to investigate a politician or public official for only the eighth time in its history.

Sipo was asked by the Dáil committee on members’ interests last month to inquire into the UK land asset part-owned by independent deputy Michael Lowry.

The commission said it has decided to take the additional step of appointing an inquiry officer to compile a report into Mr Lowry’s property in Wigan.

The officer will also examine the issues raised in the 380 complaints the Oireachtas received on the subject.

In a separate matter last week, the Dáil committee found Mr Lowry had not properly declared his interests in two companies.

However, it said the mistakes were inadvertent, were made in good faith, and could be rectified by amending the register.

Mr Lowry has already amended the register to reflect his ownership of the property in England, but he maintained it was of negligible value and did not require mandatory declaration.

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