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Parties should show accounts, says Sipo

All political parties would have to subject their accounts to public scrutiny under proposals from the Standards in Public Office Commission.

In its annual report for 2013, the commission emphasises that it would like to see guidelines for political party accounts that would give the public an indication of the amount of funds they raise each year and the nature of those funds.

It comes after earlier draft guidelines submitted by the commission were rejected by former minister for the environment Phil Hogan. They proposed that local branches of political parties, including youth wings, provide accounts. Mr Hogan rejected it on the basis that it would place too onerous a burden of reporting and accountability on local party branches which were voluntarily run. Sipo later published information showing almost ?1 million was put in accounts for Fine Gael, Fianna F?il and Labour.

Guidelines sought

The commission, chaired by Mr Justice Daniel O?Keeffe, states in the report it is ?anxious that some form of guidelines for political party accounts be put in place as soon as possible. If ministerial consent is forthcoming, the earliest period for which political party accounts will be required will be the year 2015 and this information will be made available during 2016.? The new Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly will make the decision on that issue. In all, there were some 29 complaints made against politicians in 2013, some 16 of which were deemed to be valid.

The report notes that the number of complaints had returned to more normal levels following an unprecedented number received by Sipo in 2012. There were some 427 complaints in that year, 388 of which related to Michael Lowry, principally about land interests he had in Wigan.

The report detailed the inquiries conducted by Sipo into complaints against Mr Lowry and others. In Mr Lowry?s case the conclusion was there was not sufficient evidence to sustain the complaints. In relation to the land in Wigan it was pointed out that its value fell below the threshold of ?13,000 above which land must be registered by a TD as an interest.

The commission found there was no requirement on TDs and Senators who went to the US on a trip organised by Family and Life to register the costs as a donation as the Ethics in Public Office Act provided that a member can avail of such funding ?in the course of, and for the purpose of, the performance of a function as a member [of the Oireachtas]?. The parliamentarians submitted a report to the Oireachtas after the visit.