LABOUR TD KENNY CALLS FOR WIDE-RANGING POLITICAL REFORM AROUND FUNDING AND LOBBYING

Posted on June 19, 2012 5:48 PM   |   Permanent Link   

Speaking on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011, Dublin North East Labour TD Seán Kenny said that the Bill will address issues of serious public concern in the operation of the political funding system in Ireland and will incentivise parties to ensure that 30% of their general election candidates are women.

"The Bill will implement specific commitments contained in the Programme for Government in relation to political donations, having regard to recommendations made in the Final Report of the Moriarty Tribunal. I think that the Bill can be seen as one part of a wider programme to reform our system of politics and Government, reform that is sorely needed."

"Reform should not be feared, particularly when it opens the political process to greater scrutiny. A closed political system breeds mistrust in politics, and those who work within it. I see this every day in my political life - and I would be surprised if any practising politician said they did not. Personally, I would have preferred a total ban on political donations, but I understand that the Attorney General has advised that there could be constitutional issues in relation to freedom of expression, as making a political donation could be held to be a way of expressing political preferences."

"The General Scheme makes provision for the restriction of corporate donations, a reduction in the amounts that can be received as political donations and a reduction in the thresholds for declaring political donations. Political parties will also now be required to submit their annual accounts to the Standards in Public Office Commission for publication. The bill aims to increase transparency among all donations to ensure there is no question of unhealthy relationships. All political donations will now be done in an open and transparent manner. Speaking as a politician, I welcome this."

"The maximum amount that can be accepted by a political party will be reduced from €6,348.69 to €2,500 and from €2,539.48 to €1,000 by an individual. There will be a reduction in the thresholds at which donations must be declared to the commission from €5,078.95 to €1,500 by a political party and from €634.87 to €600 by an individual. There will also be a reduction in the threshold, from €5,078 to €200, above which companies, trade unions and some other organisations must report on political donations in their annual accounts."

"As an incentive to encourage the selection of a greater number of women candidates, the new legislation includes a provision that political parties will face a cut of half their State political funding if they do not have at least 30% women and 30% men candidates at the next General election. This will then rise to 40% after 7 years. This is a ground breaking political opportunity to incentivise a shift towards gender balance in Irish politics. As a man who has been active in politics for some decades now, I welcome this as well. Irish politics is badly in need of greater female participation. However, gender quotas, while required are only the first step - other change is needed as well in order to increase the number of elected females. Changes to the practise of how political representation works are also required, such as the move to conventional business hours and an end to the late night meetings that conflict with the ability to carry on family life. This by the way would be a positive thing for male, as well as female politicians."

"This government is keen to create more transparency over Government decision-making than is there at present, and to that effect, it is soon to publish new laws, based on the very robust Canadian model for the regulation of lobbyists, that will force lobbyists to disclose all their contacts with TDs and senior civil servants. The proposals dealing with this cover all organisations, including charities, professional bodies and most importantly in my view, commercial lobbyists, who make representations to politicians and civil servants regarding policies or prospective decisions."

"This would be the first time that the public would be able to view information on the contacts that are made between lobbyists and the government - and how intensely lobbyists push for something. This is a critically important issue, and indeed, it must be highlighted that this move is coming only a few months after the Mahon report, which recommends far greater transparency over the role of lobbyists."

"I understand that there are a number of proposals being considered, such as; A two-year "cooling-off" period for public servants or ministers before they can work in the private sector or any area with a potential conflict of interest with their former area of public employment; We have seen examples of this in local government during the property boom, when retiring local authority managers moved to work for developers. A statutory register of lobbyists that would record the dates of all forms of communications including emails or phone contact between lobbyists and office holders or civil servants regarding policies, legislation or prospective decisions; A sliding scale of sanctions for lobbyists who fail to disclose details of contacts with decision-makers; A public register with details of contacts to be maintained by an independent body, such as the Standards in Public Office Commission or the Office of the Information Commissioner."

"Open access to government is, in my view, an important matter of public interest, and lobbying is, within reason, a legitimate activity. However, the public should be able to know who is engaged in lobbying activities.
A definition of lobbying should encompass any communication regarding legislation, policies or decisions being made by office-holders or senior officials, including any office-holder, such as a TD, a Senator or a councillor, as well as a senior civil servant or adviser."

"If adopted, these proposals would represent a radical change for Irish politics - lobbying here has always been informal, has always been hidden, always been based on the nod, wink, and as we have seen, the passing of a brown envelope, all with little public knowledge over the extent of access between those seeking to change laws and decision-makers."