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council of europe

Irish government needs to tighten up employment of special advisors, European body says

The Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body has released a new report calling for reforms in how top-level roles are filled.

THE COUNCIL OF Europe’s anti-corruption body has called on the Irish government to tighten up the employment of special advisors to ministers.

Post-employment restrictions for the advisors also need to reformed, says a report by the Group of States against Corruption, known as GRECO, and these should be coupled with appropriate checks by the Standards in Public Office commission (Sipo).

They are among the reforms the 46-nation group has outlined in the study, which similarly recommends improving risks of conflict of interest for gardaí after they leave An Garda Síochána.

It wants to see “integrity checks” implemented prior to a special advisor being hired, and has urged laying down similar rules requiring the same of government ministers and department heads.

GRECO said that while special advisers are required to submit a statement of interests within 60 days of their appointment, there are no integrity checks prior to their being hired, which it said should be changed. 

Last year, an analysis by The Journal’s sister site Noteworthy found issues in almost 400 returns on the Lobbying Register lodged by ex-ministers, ministerial advisers and secretaries general. 

In its fifth evaluation report on Ireland, published today, GRECO calls for the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) to be given more resources and stronger powers to supervise the implementation of integrity standards.

The report also underlines that the current policies intended to prevent corruption “lack the necessary focus” on people with top executive functions, including ministers, ministers of state, the Attorney General, secretaries general and special advisers.

“Itegrity checks should be carried out before people join the government,” it said.

Codes of conduct for people with major executive functions should cover issues including conflicts of interest, lobbying, secondary activities, gifts and hospitality, GRECO added.

“Furthermore, declarations of interests should contain more detailed information and be subject to systematic checks.”

It also wants to see that the existing Code of Ethics for gardaí be strengthened to cover a wider range of topics, in particular relating to conflicts of interest.

“Information technology systems need to be further developed to better monitor integrity breaches committed by Garda members,” GRECO said.

“Regular checks are also needed on secondary activities, to prevent conflicts of interest occurring over time.”

It also supported on-going reforms intended to provide greater independence and more resources for complaints procedures.

Earlier this week, the Garda Ombudsman (Gsoc) hit out at new draft policy which would allow the Garda Commissioner to block the Ombudsman from conducting a search of a Garda station.

This would “significantly undermine” the powers held by the body at present, the Ombudsman, or Gsoc, said in its summation of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill 2023.

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