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"It suits the powers that be for our ethics watchdog to be all bark and no bite": Roisin Shortall

The Social Democrats have today published reform proposals to make lobbying activities and government decisions more open and accountable.

The party said the initiative was in direct response to the recent controversy over contacts between Communications Minister Denis Naughten and a professional lobbyist in relation to Independent News and Media's proposed takeover of Celtic Media.

Speaking at the launch of the proposals today, party co-leader Róisín Shortall TD said recent events have shown "that cronyism and old-style politics are alive and well."

She went on: "The INM saga once again puts the spotlight on a cosy circle of influence where government insiders enjoy advantages far beyond ordinary citizens who contact their public representatives.

“Last week the Social Democrats called for Minister Naughten to be relieved of responsibility for media regulation. We are still waiting a response from the Minister and the Taoiseach to our call, which has the backing of the National Union of Journalists.

“But the problem doesn’t stop here. The fact is that this government has shown zero enthusiasm for reforms to promote ethical lobbying and deter undue influence in government.

Ms Shortall went on to say that when the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 was reviewed after one year in operation, the Standards in Public Office Commission made 23 recommendations to strengthen the law.

"The government did not accept a single one of these. What’s the point in asking our ethics watchdog for ideas on how to strengthen lobbying laws, and then simply ignoring them?”

[quote]“Unfortunately, this official indifference to reform is not a new phenomenon. It has been obvious for years that it suits the powers that be for our ethics watchdog to be all bark and no bite.[/quote]

“We see similar government foot-dragging when it comes to the long-promised overhaul of our ethics laws to implement the recommendations of successive Tribunals. The Public Sector Standards Bill 2015 is going nowhere fast because there is simply no political will behind it.

“No system of regulation is perfect and our laws will always struggle to capture unethical behaviour that is intended to stay under the radar.

[quote]"That’s why the reforms we propose today are about instilling a climate and a culture where lobbyists and public officials including Ministers act with integrity and high ethical standards in their interactions.”[/quote]

- Digital Desk