First, I must apologise to Deputy Doherty. I am grateful to my colleague, Mr. Murray, for pointing out to me that I overlooked the Deputy's question on the proposed increase of the cooling-off period from one to two years. The commission does not have a particularly strong view on that. The current one-year cooling-off period is on the shorter end of the range compared with some international jurisdictions. For example, in Canada, there is a five-year cooling-off period that applies not only to certain designated public officials but to all civil and public servants once they leave office. There are then explicit provisions that apply to ministers of cabinet who are not allowed to lobby their former cabinet colleagues, are not allowed to switch sides in a negotiation and are not allowed to use insider information. Those provisions do not exist in Irish legislation.
I am of the view that that aspect of the legislation could be strengthened in terms of the applicability of the post-employment provisions. They should not only be restricted to certain designated public officials but also capture communications. The commission, as commented in a previous annual report, believes that provisions should extend to individuals with whom they might have contact not just the public by whom they were employed. The provisions might also extend to include communications between Cabinet colleagues, for example. There are ways in which the legislation could be strengthened.
There is not a particularly strong view on increasing the period from one to two years. Whatever the period the legislation needs to be enforceable and that is the priority. Rather than worrying about the duration of a cooling-off period it is more about whether the legislation has teeth.
Deputy Doherty asked about staffing and resources, and then about investigation costs. In terms of our operations, the commission oversees the Regulation of Lobbying Act, the Electoral Act of 1997, the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Activities) (Amendment) Act and the Ethics in Public Office Acts. All of this legislation has significant processing, returns, advisory and guidance functions for the commission as well as outreach and investigation activities. The commission has a broad mandate. Our secretariat is provided by the Office of the Ombudsman. Currently, we have 20 full-time positions in place within the secretariat and that includes myself, to oversee, on behalf of the commission, the day-to-day operations of all of those pieces of legislation.
In respect of whether we have sufficient staffing for our operations under the Regulation of Lobbying Act, yes, our operational unit, under the current legislation, is sufficient to manage the registration and returns requirements. We also have an investigations unit that looks at investigations under both the electoral and ethics legislation, so the work is divided.
Within the broader secretariat and our broader remit, there are some challenges in respect of staffing levels and resources. Members will have seen comment in the public domain, and most recently by the Hamilton review group, about staffing and the potential need for a capacity review of the commission to determine whether we are sufficiently staffed. The short answer is "yes". I believe that we have sufficient staff to manage the lobbying side. In respect of whether we have sufficient staff to manage the breadth of the commission's mandate, that requires some study and we will look at whether there are ways in which we might be able to either streamline our requirements, maximise our resources or, potentially, add to those resources.
The Deputy also asked about investigation costs. I will not comment on any individual or the content of that particular investigation, although there is a published investigation report, as the Deputy rightly pointed out. In that particular instance, it is not fair to characterise those as investigation costs. The investigation itself was not a particularly lengthy or onerous process. However, a number of court challenges were taken against the commission in respect of the procedure by which the commission would conduct its hearing and the use of official languages in that regard. As a result, there was a High Court challenge and judicial review. I think it also went to the Court of Appeal, although I may have to double-check that because I was not the secretary to the commission at that time. Most of the costs the Deputy cited are associated with court actions and not the investigation.
Most investigations that are conducted by the commission under the ethics Acts, as that particular investigation was, are largely done on a complaints basis. If we receive a complaint, then the commission conducts a preliminary inquiry, which is usually conducted by an in-house inquiry officer. It might involve taking some statements or gathering documents. The inquiry officer then forms a view as to whether there is prima facie evidence of a breach that sustains the complaint. That report is brought to the commission, which will determine whether to proceed to investigation. The investigation is, generally, just a hearing. It often lasts for a day or less than a day. All six members of the commission and the respondent attend. The respondent may or may not have legal representation. Witnesses may be called, although it is usually only a couple. It is a day's work. The actual investigation costs per day would then comprise stenography, counsel to represent the commission and present the case against the respondent, plus the costs of any commission attendance on the day. The costs for each investigation are not onerous but where court challenges are taken, they inevitably bring with them other costs and that is what can be seen in that particular investigation.