Oireachtas is told to overhaul ethics rules

The Oireachtas has been told to overhaul its ethics rules and tighten up the travel expenses regime for politicians following a Supreme Court ruling against a former Fianna Fáil senator.

The current definition of “normal place of residence” for the purpose of politicians claiming travel allowances should no longer be used, lawyers have advised Oireachtas officials.

It comes after the courts agreed former senator Ivor Callely misrepresented his normal place of residence as being in Bantry, Cork, rather than in Clontarf, Dublin, when claiming €80,000 in mileage expenses.

The four-year dispute over the issue came to a conclusion in April this year when the Supreme Court backed a previous Seanad committee ruling against Mr Callely and his expense claims.

The Seanad committee had concluded in July 2010 that Mr Callely had previously misrepresented his normal place of residence as being in Kilcrohane House, Bantry, Cork, rather than Clontarf in Dublin, when claiming expenses.

The majority of judges also concluded that the Constitution did not contemplate that decisions of the Oireachtas on disciplining of their members would be subject to judicial review.

Mr Callely had argued that he had relied on a Department of Finance definition on what a “normal place of residence” was when claiming expenses.

Parliamentary legal advisers have now said that changes need to be made to rules governing how TDs or senators are disciplined over breaching rules. Problems also exist with the current definitions, the Oireachtas Commission has been told.

Documents given to the commission, and obtained by the Irish Examiner, show it has been told that there is a need to “overhaul” the rules on ethical standards for politicians. Rules on what constitute a breach of those ethics rules also need to be changed, it says.

It adds: “Recommendations should be made to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform seeking that the relevant travel allowances legislation be clarified and, specifically, that ‘normal place of residence’ be explicitly defined.”

The legal advice also says that the Department of Finance’s current definition of a ‘normal place of residence’ should “no longer be relied upon”.

The legal advice suggests that the Supreme Court ruling may have caused problems for TDs and senators.

It found that the relevant travel period for a member’s normal place of residence may be that residence which has “the closest connection” during Oireachtas sittings.

This may have “an adverse effect on those members who reside in the country but rent a property in Dublin from which they come/go during House sittings,” it adds.


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