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Review of law on Ministers bolting for the private sector announced by Taoiseach


Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin

THE law on former office-holders taking jobs in the private sector is to be urgently reviewed after the Taoiseach said he was “not happy” and did not approve the case of Michael D’Arcy.

In respect of former Senator (D’Arcy), I believe there should be an effective cooling-off period,” Micheál Martin told the Dáil.

“In particular, any cooling-off period should be one that has the force of law, and then a sanction of penalties attached to it,” he said.

“I'm not happy, or in any way comfortable with people taking up a position, who had been in office, particularly in the area they had jurisdiction over and responsibility for - that they would be taking a position in that area immediately after, or within months, of having left an office,” Mr Martin said.

He said he believed the legislation, which does not make an offence of the breaching of a cooling-off period, should be reviewed.

The Government agreed at Cabinet that Michael McGrath, Minister for Public Expenditure would carry out a review of civil legislation in that sector, Mr Martin said.

“I accept that there has to be a cooling-off period,” the Taoiseach added. “I don’t approve of the former minister going into a post that he had responsibility for as an officeholder.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald contrasted Mr D’Arcy’s move with mortgage-holders being left to “go it alone” as a result of the failure to extend the Covid-related repayment breaks beyond tomorrow.

“Cosy connections between Government and the financial sector are once again on show,” she said. “We learn the former minister Michael D’Arcy is leaving the Seanad to be appointed as CEO of a financial lobbying group.

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“No relief for struggling mortgage holders, but a big job for the former minister - what does this say to families and businesses who were relying on Government to stand up for them,” she asked.

“This is the second former Minister of the Department of Finance, to go through the revolving door from Government into the world of high finance.”

At the meeting with the banks on Monday, Government ministers on one side of the table had faced a former junior minister in the Department of Finance, Brian Hayes, on the other side representing the banks, she said.

Ms McDonald reminded the Taoiseach that his Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, had warmly welcomed Michael D’Arcy’s new job. And said that “he will always be welcome, should he decide to run for election again,” she said.

“He went on to say that his new employers are fortunate to recruit someone of his calibre.”

But minister Éamon Ryan had said something different, she said. “He says that he has concerns and that he shared those concerns with you. We know certainly that Sipo (the Standards in Public Offices Commission) has had concerns about this revolving door.

“We know that over the last five years they have approached Government, seeking changes to legislation that would give them the power to investigate and prosecute ministers who don't adhere to the cooling-off period rules.

“And we know that Sipo has been consistently ignored by government in these. And you have to wonder why,” she said.

The Taoiseach said however that Minister McGrath’s review would also look “more widely.”

He explained: “For example, I've long been concerned at the fact that parties and movements can raise funds and donations. I think that should be examined.”

He told Ms McDonald: “I think your party would have raised $15million over the years in the United States. I worry about that, and the big vested interests that money has been raised from.”

It came from “construction and financial elites in the United States that you seem to have no difficulty with,” he told her.

The Taoiseach said he believed that referendums “have been influenced by large amounts of money, the origins of which we do not know.

“I think that's a more fundamental area for our democracy, because some people fund commemorative projects celebrating 1916,” he said. One particular project “was funded by loans from abroad,” he said.

“There was a political agenda, attached to that as well. It’s a concern when projects, organised by political parties but separate from them, seem to be funded by American money with a political agenda.”

He told Ms McDonald: “That seems to have been the case in the alternative to the national commemoration 1916, and the agenda of a continuing link from 1916 to the war in the North, and the conflict and the modern mayhem that ensued - and that you continue to endorse,.

“These are very serious political issue. You may not think so, but I do. It’s not one rule for one group of politicians and a separate rule for others.”

It needed to be faced up to, “once and for all,” the Taoiseach said.

Ms McDonald did not address the remarks.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, who worked closely with Mr D'Arcy in recent years, said his former colleague should have got Sipo clearance prior to taking up his new role.

He said he was glad he had now written to watchdog to seek clarity on the matter.

"Minister D'Arcy did do a very important role in relation to the development of financial services in our country," he noted of the former Fine Gael senator's previous government role.

Mr Donohoe, who was Public Expenditure Minister between 2016 and June of this year, said he believed Sipo did have effective powers to regulate this area.

The watchdog disclosed earlier on Tuesday that it had repeatedly asked the Department of Public Expenditure for legislative changes to give it enforcement powers over the so-called cooling-off period for public officials.

"I believed that the powers that the Standards in Public Office Commission had were effective in dealing with this issue. But I do think it is appropriate now that we look at if those powers do need to be strengthened," Mr Donohoe said.

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