POLITICAL decisions and policy in Ireland is believed to be heavily influenced by personal relationships, favours and donations, a damning corruption report has found.
Ethics watchdog Transparency International said local government, political parties and the country’s contracting system were the most vulnerable to fraud and abuses of power.
The situation is compounded by a lack of openness in political funding and lobbying, the anti-corruption body’s study revealed.
John Devitt, Transparency International Ireland chief, said: "Ireland has long suffered from high levels of undue or hidden influence over regulation and government by vested interests."
The body said that while Ireland has low levels of "petty corruption", it is regarded by international observers as suffering high levels of "legal corruption".
While no laws may be broken, personal relationships, patronage, political favours and political donations are believed to influence political decisions and policy to a considerable degree and Mr Devitt said the behaviour can be found at all levels of Irish society.
Mr Devitt said self-regulation and poor legal protections had contributed to recent scandals such as those uncovered at FÁS and Anglo Irish Bank.
He said the regulatory system for tackling corruption was too weak, a fact laid bare by the scale of the financial crisis faced by the country.
"It’s only now that our country is on the brink of bankruptcy that we can see for ourselves the consequences of weak anti-corruption controls and self regulation," he said.
There is also an urgent need for new laws such as more protection for whistle blowers.
Weak anti-corruption controls and an over-reliance on self-regulation has contributed to the problems being experienced in the economy, Mr Devitt said.
He said whistle blowers have "little or no protection under the law" and that "self-regulation has been shown not to work".
"We need to see action, not words, and we need to see the Government put its money where its mouth is in the resourcing of law enforcement agencies," Mr Devitt said.
Recommendations arising out of the 188-page report include bringing the Garda Síochána and other bodies under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act; the drafting of a registry of lobbyists to encompass both political and non-political bodies, including groups such as Libertas; the ratification of UN anti-corruption conventions; more resources for existing bodies such as the Garda Fraud Squad and the establishment of a Garda Anti-Corruption Unit.