Richard Bruton, the enterprise minister, suggested the proposed legislation, designed to increase transparency and reduce corruption, especially in developing countries, should not apply to companies operating in the EU.
Mr Bruton, in Brussels to discuss the issue with other EU states, said he questioned whether there was a need to have the same level of transparency within the EU as for countries where there was a system of corrupt payments. People in Ireland could find out such facts through the freedom of information act, he said.
“There is a concern not to create administrative burdens,” he said, and added NGOs concerned about the effect of corruption in developing countries had not raised the issue of having such rules apply to the EU.
“In principle we are in favour of this directive, we are just posing the question,” he said. If it was to go ahead as proposed, he asked if it should be based on an assessment of each case, rather than a blanket law.
Asked about the use of such legislation for companies applying for prospecting licences to search for shale gas by fracking in a number of Irish locations, the minister said that this was an environmental concern covered by existing legislation.
John Devitt of Transparency International said there was little or no evidence to support claims that published company payments to EU governments would pose legal problems or tie them up in red tape.
“US companies are already obliged to report on their payments to foreign governments, so why not Europeans? Likewise, the Irish government seems to support the publication of payments to countries outside the European Union.
“This position is hypocritical at best, and amounts to telling poor countries that they need to be transparent while keeping payments made to European governments a secret.”
Michel Barnier, the European commissioner, said there were 600 companies in Europe working in mining, gas, oil and forestry, and he believed it should apply to everyone. He added that it would mean less red tape for SMEs as well as improving transparency and fighting corruption.
Another aspect of the directive applies to the financial industry. Mr Bruton said there was a clear case for overhauling the legislation on the sector.
The issues will now be discussed by experts from each member state before returning to the ministers for further debate.
Ireland will have to grow faster than the EU average to grow its way out of the crisis, Richard Bruton, the enterprise minister, has acknowledged.
The country is forecast to grow at just 0.5% this year, much less than is considered enough for the country’s huge debt to be sustainable.
But Mr Bruton said the country was determined to push growth and this was why there was such huge emphasis on the Government’s jobs strategy.
“It is very challenging. We have taken a bigger hit in our economy but we have the capacity to grow,” he said, citing the young labour force and the number of ambitious firms choosing to locate here.
Growth was not sufficiently on the agenda in the EU earlier in the crisis when the problem was seen as one of liquidity, but it had now forced itself onto the agenda, he said.
“All these issues of debt sustainability have two sides — one the burden of debt and then the growth rate and the capacity to work your way out of this… having a successful growth strategy is absolutely vital.”
It was very important the second bailout agreement for Greece was finalised, but this would not be the end of the crisis, he added.