I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on these resolutions proposing the appointment of the chairperson and ordinary member of the Standards in Public Office Commission. The motions were passed in the Dáil this morning.
The Standards in Public Office Commission was established under ethics legislation, namely, the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, as amended by the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. The commission supervises the operation of the ethics legislation, provides guidance and advice on compliance with it and investigates and reports on possible contraventions. It also has a supervisory role under the Electoral Acts relating to political donations, reimbursement of election expenses, Exchequer funding of political parties and, under the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Act 2001, payments to the leaders of political parties.
Recognising the importance of the ethics legislation and in response to the findings and recommendations of the final report of the Mahon tribunal, a project is being progressed by my Department to develop an integrated ethics Bill which will consolidate, modernise and simplify the existing legislative framework governing ethics. The end result will be a much improved anti-corruption system for ethics matters, which will control and regulate conflicts of interest in public life. Substantial progress has been made on the project and the development of draft heads of an integrated ethics Bill is well advanced. Further work and consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission, Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Oireachtas are necessary on the proposed approach. Proposals will be brought by me to Government shortly submitting the general scheme of an ethics Bill. I will update the Government on progress made on the new ethics framework, including implementation of the Mahon tribunal recommendations in that context.
The Standards in Public Office Commission has six members, four of whom are specified in the legislation, namely, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Ombudsman and the Clerks of the Dáil and Seanad. The chairperson of the commission is appointed by the President on the advice of the Government following a resolution of each House of the Oireachtas. An ordinary member is appointed by the Government following a resolution of each House.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the outgoing members of the commission. Mr. Justice Matthew Smith was appointed chairman in 2001 while still a High Court judge and was reappointed for a second term in 2007, having retired as a judge at the end of 2004. He served the country well in this important role and I thank him and wish him well in his retirement. I also thank the former Minister, Mr. Michael Smith, who has served as ordinary member since December 2007 and also did an exemplary job.
The legislation requires that the chairman of the commission be a judge or former judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court. I am very pleased that Mr. Justice Daniel O'Keeffe, who retired from the High Court in 2008, has agreed to be nominated for appointment by the President as chairman of the commission. He is highly qualified and has extensive experience in statutory and corporate governance matters.
When the Standards in Public Office Commission was established in 2001, a provision for appointing a former Oireachtas Member was introduced following a recommendation of the Dáil Select Committee on Members' Interests. This recognises that the commission needs not only legal and administrative expertise, but also the expertise that comes from service as a public representative. As the committee has such an important role in overseeing our politicians, it is essential to have the views of an experienced practitioner on the committee. The Government, therefore, is pleased that Mr. Jim O'Keeffe, who has long experience both as a Member of the Dáil and Minister of State, has agreed to be nominated for appointment by the Government as ordinary member of the commission, subject to the approval of the House. Having worked with Mr. O'Keeffe on constitutional and law reform matters, I am sure his personal qualities and experience will be of great value to the commission.
These appointments are an important measure in ensuring the Standards in Public Office Commission can continue its work. Therefore, I have no hesitation in asking the House to approve the appointment by the President of Mr. Justice Daniel O'Keeffe as chairman and by the Government of Mr. Jim O'Keeffe as ordinary member of the commission.