Wednesday 26 July 2017

Anti-corruption agency central to Coveney campaign

Manifesto will contain pledge to investigate misuse of power

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The establishment of a powerful new anti-corruption agency will be a cornerstone of Housing Minister Simon Coveney's election manifesto when he officially launches his leadership campaign.

The first-of-its-kind State agency would have the power to investigate and prosecute politicians and judges found guilty of corruption or misuse of power in office.

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Teachers, nurses and civil servants would also be answerable to the anti-corruption commission.

Mr Coveney is drafting legislation to set up the Anti-Corruption and Transparency (ACT) Commission which he hopes to have enacted if he is elected as the next Fine Gael leader. The anti-corruption agency is Mr Coveney's first policy proposal ahead of the Fine Gael leadership campaign which is expected to start in the coming weeks.

The ACT chief commissioner will have the full powers of a High Court judge and all complaints received by politicians from whistleblowers will be referred to the new office.

It is hoped the permanent State agency will reduce the need to rely on costly and time-consuming commissions of investigation and public inquiries which have become prevalent in recent years. The new agency would also offer an avenue to both Government and Opposition politicians who regularly receive allegations of corruption from members of the public.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Coveney said his key objective was to "build trust in politics again".

"When you look at how splintered politics is today and you see how many small protest parties that are there, there is really is a need for one of the larger parties to galvanise the support of the people of Ireland around a new and better way of doing politics," he added.

The anti-corruption agency would take anonymous complaints from whistleblowers about elected representatives and people in public office involved in any alleged corruption or misuse of power.

The commission would have the power to investigate the complaints and hold hearings to establish if corruption had taken place. It would publish reports detailing its findings and recommendations.

A memo on the new commission states it "will have responsibility, by education and training, to strengthen conduct and processes in the public sector and institutions which are funded with public money, around conflicts of interest, gifts, compliance policies and financial controls to promote and integrity culture and ensure accountability and independence".

An Garda Siochana would not be answerable to the new agency as the force would work along side the commission to investigate and arrest those suspected of corruption.

All members of the judiciary up to Supreme Court judges could be investigated by the commission. As could politicians, their advisers and all staff working in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr Coveney's policy launch comes as the Fine Gael leadership campaign intensified last week. Supporters of the Housing Minister and his leadership rival, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, clashed over the number of votes they have secured ahead of Taoiseach Enda Kenny's departure.

Mr Varadkar's camp said they expected to have more than 30 members of the parliamentary party standing behind the minister when he launched his campaign. Sources said they believed the minister was firmly in the lead across the parliamentary party and within Cabinet.

However, Mr Coveney's supporters believed the gap had narrowed between the two politicians and there were still a lot of undecided voters.

Mr Coveney's camp believed they had the support of the majority of senators and MEPs. They believed they could shore up the votes of half of backbench TDs and ensure a similar level of support around the Cabinet table.

Varadkar's camp dismissed the suggestion the votes were close and insisted the minister had far more support around the Cabinet table than Mr Coveney's team suggested.

It has emerged this weekend that Mr Varadkar has secured the support of first-time TD Josepha Madigan and his former Dublin West running mate Catherine Noone. Ten councillors have also come out in support of the Social Protection Minister over the past week. A list of the councillors compiled by the Varadkar team has been seen by the Sunday Independent.

This includes three Galway councillors - Peter Roche, Michael Finnerty and Niamh Byrne - and two Dun Laoghaire Rathdown councillors, Barry Ward (who is a former Fine Gael legal adviser) and Emma Blain (who previously wrote for the Sunday Independent and was a member of the '03 Team' of models). John McCartin in Leitrim, Anthony Donohoe from Wexford and Patrick Connor-Scarteen in Kerry have also signed up to Varadkar's camp. Mayor of Donegal Terence Slowey and councillor John Ryan declared for Mr Varadkar last Friday night at an event in the county.

A source reported that Mr Varadkar had a standing ovation at the end of a question-and-answer session in Donegal on Brexit, fishing transport links and tourism. Last Monday night, 150 people turned out in Wexford for a Brexit meeting organised by Paul Kehoe in Enniscorthy, and there was said to have been a similar reception.

Sunday Independent

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