I am delighted to speak on this important legislation. Politics and politicians must be credible and clearly accountable. Politics is about honest public service. Everyone I have met since my election in 1997 is very much committed to that ideal, but the perception of politics has been very much tainted by the few. Civil servants, county councillors and others are totally committed to serve.
The increasing pace of change requires people of the highest calibre and integrity in public life. I take note that the Government has created a statutory basis for the prevention and prosecution of corruption, which is very important. The provision for a special account for public representatives into which it will be an offence not to channel political donations is important.
The area of political and corporate donations and of political funding was raised by other speakers. The time for getting money for election expenses has long gone. People are elected to do a job and they are well paid. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, recently brought in a fair package for Deputies and Senators. I would not encourage election candidates to accept funding for election expenses because it would affect the candidate no matter how small the political donation. A Deputy is here for four or five years and if, as a previous speaker said, that Deputy does the job well, he or she may be re-elected and the people will decide. One can be elected without accepting donations from anybody.
Funding for political parties is a separate issue to funding of political candidates. We talk about ethics in public office. I refer to the price of democracy. There should be audited expenditure, which should be accounted for, and the State should pay the bulk of that. I accept it is paying a portion at the moment. Although there has not been agreement on banning corporate donations, given the allegations in regard to business, I would see very few business people coming forward with any money. Even though some gave donations for the right reasons in the past, such donations have been tainted and they have severe implications in that in the aftermath, people may feel donors have been placed in a privileged position.
The introduction of legislation on a code of conduct to regulate lobbyists is very important because lobbying could be wide open to abuse as well. Legislation to protect whistleblowers is also very important. The continuation of the unprecedented overhaul of the regulatory framework of public life is very important and welcome. The ethics in public office legislation, the Freedom of Information Act, the local government Bill, the prevention of corruption Bill and the Standards in Public Office Bill are important. All the inquires are, regrettably, doing the body politic untold damage.
The Standards in Public Office Bill provides for the establishment of a new standards in public office commission with wide powers in relation to complaints about acts or omissions by persons in public life. Such complaints would concern matters which would be inconsistent with the proper performance by persons of the functions of office concerned or with the maintenance of confidence in such performance by the public. That is only right. It is a great privilege to serve in public office. This legislation will establish a code of conduct. There has been a voluntary code of conduct since I came into the House and it is very much adhered to by everybody. That has to be recognised.
As previous speakers have said, the Bill also provides for tax clearance requirements and a requirement to make a statutory declaration in relation to tax compliance for persons elected as Members of the Oireachtas or appointed as senior public servants. It is very important that people are tax compliant. It would be very hard to speak on someone else's behalf if one did not adhere to the rule of the law. That is particularly so in this House where laws are passed. It is very important that we are fully compliant with the high standards set.
It has been mandatory for many years for people operating in business to have a tax clearance certificate and this is very important. For those who comply, it is like a clean bill of health and the system is very easy to regulate. Business has made very important reforms from which it has benefited. Unlike years ago, the Revenue Commissioners are seeing that people are working to get their affairs in order.
The Bill also provides for the streamlining of current requirements for declarations of interest and donations under the Electoral Act. It makes a number of technical amendments to the existing legislation. The declaration of interests and donations published recently was so small that it clearly indicated the level of donations that people are now giving. There is no hidden agenda here.
Freedom of information is very important so that people can inquire. They are entitled to know about the spend for elections. A cheque book does not get a person elected to Leinster House, it is commitment to constituency and the work a person does. It is important that there is prudent management. A candidate can lose votes by being excessively extravagant, although it is important to have a certain profile. Naturally, those who have not been previously elected are under pressure to get their names known and that is quite understandable. However, management of spend is very important.
The high standing of politics is vital to the quality of our democracy. Our country needs the energy and the idealism of the brightest and best of our young people. It is important we encourage people to become involved in politics. Young people at the beginning of the last century carved out Ireland's place in the world and established what is now one of the oldest democracies in Europe. It is important that ideal of the 20th century is brought forward in the 21st century and that people in office have a vision.
Many people, particularly young people, are cynical about politicians. Many young people in college who are highly educated would say they would not vote. They nearly frown on politicians. It is not that one wants anyone to revere them, but politics must be seen as an honest profession and that we are here to serve the public.
The issue of ethics in public office and the high standards expected from people in office should be included in the school curriculum. Civics has been brought back into the curriculum. The provisions of this legislation, when enacted, should be taught in our schools as it would help to make younger people more aware of the major opportunities offered by public office.
This is a country of unprecedented opportunities. For the first time in our history we are a country at peace and the basic needs of all our people can be met. Legislation is enacted in our national Parliament. We must set out our stall and let people be in no doubt that candidates elected to public office are here because the electorate wanted them and that they are proud to represent those who elected them.
I was not elected to a county council prior to being elected to Leinster House, although subsequently I have been elected to my local county council. Local authorities represent local government at local level. Their members do an outstanding job by representing every aspect of every county and parish and rural area.
The Public Office Commission has drawn attention to a number of shortcomings in the legislation dealing with ethics in Government and in public life. It suggested remedial action should be taken by adhering to standards in public office with regard to gifts received. I am not sure how such gifts are valued. A politician can receive an expensive gift or a large financial donation from a friend and fail to record it as a political contribution without breaching the letter of the law. I am not sure who puts a value on such a gift whether a painting or something else. I have not availed of that opportunity. The giving of large gifts to politicians when opening a centre or some other facility can be overdone. Large expensive paintings given as gifts go way beyond—