By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has suggested that one of the possible reforms of ethics rules for politicians could be declaring accommodation “arrangements” TDs and Senators have with local authorities.
It comes after it was revealed Minister of State Robert Troy had not correctly declared several properties on the Dáil’s official list of members’ interests in recent years.
The Fianna Fáil TD for Longford-Westmeath resigned this week following mounting pressure and a call from the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan for two probes into what he called “significant errors” in his declarations that he claimed undermined trust in the political system.
Mr Troy had said that he would amend his declarations, but the State’s ethics watchdog clarified that he did not need to officially declare that he had sold a house in Mullingar to Westmeath County Council in 2018 for €230,000.
The controversy has prompted a debate around the strength of ethics legislation for public representatives. Government ministers have claimed that the issues will be dealt with as part of a review into ethics reforms announced in November last year by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath.
Speaking on Newstalk radio on Friday about the declarations of Oireachtas members’ interests, Mr O’Brien said there would be “learnings” from the Robert Troy controversy.
He said that “changes could be looked at particularly around declarations if TDs or Senators actually have arrangements with local authorities, through the Rental Accommodation Scheme or [the Housing Assistance Payment] … That’s a change that could be made”.
In relation to the interests of politicians and how they form part of Dáil debates, Mr O’Brien said: “I think there would be a legal problem for saying TDs who are elected by the people can only vote on some things and not others. I believe there would be a very serious legal and constitutional issue with that. I think people would understand that.
“Having said that, particularly around if someone is a publican and there’s legislation coming forward or a debate in relation to licensing and the operation of pubs, then they should very clearly state it within the debate and that does happen.
“But maybe that is an element that needs to be strengthened.
“I’ve seen it many, many times over the years – I’ve been in the Dail since 2007 – that people when they get up on their feet to speak, they say, ‘Look, by the way, I’m a publican,’ and I think that’s the way to do it.”
The Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Fingal said Mr McGrath is working on whether the ethics watchdog, the Standards in Public Offices Commission (Sipo), needs additional powers.
“I think there will be learnings from this,” Mr O’Brien said.
“To be fair, the body politic does need to respond, and to make sure there is confidence within the ethics legislation that’s there around the declarations and how things operate, and I would certainly welcome that.
“I have no doubt that changes and relevant changes will be made. Well in advance of this controversy coming up Minister McGrath had actually been working on, and is working on that already, and I would support any relevant changes in that space.
“I think there are learnings needed from this, no question.”