I propose to take Questions Nos. 75 and 76 together.
Section 10 (3) of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 (the Act) provides that the Minister shall from time to time draw up codes of conduct for the guidance of persons who hold or occupy directorships or positions of employment in public bodies. A revised Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour (the Code) was published by the Standards in Public Office Commission in September 2008. This Code, which applies to all civil servants, is an important element of the overall framework within which civil servants are expected to work. It sets out the standards required of civil servants in the discharge of their duties.
The Public Sector Standards Bill 2015 (the Bill) is a key consideration in terms of updating this current Code. This Bill provides for a Public Sector Standards Commissioner to replace the current Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC). Section 30 of the Bill provides that the Commissioner shall draw up and issue a model code of conduct for the guidance of public officials with regard to compliance with the provisions of the Bill. This model code must have regard to the general principles on standards of integrity contained in section 10 of the Bill. Furthermore, the Commissioner must promote, through training, education and research, and guidelines issued for the purpose by the Commissioner, the highest standards of conduct and integrity among public officials, and, in particular, regarding the prevention of situations in which conflicts of interest could arise in relation to their duties.
Under the Bill, public bodies may adopt their own codes to meet particular requirements while having regard to the principles and standards in the model code. Sectorial codes will be drawn up by particular bodies (e.g. for the Civil Service by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform). The Commissioner may advise as to whether amendments to any such code are required.
So once enacted, this Bill will allow my Department to review the current Code in the context of the Commissioners model code and revise it as required. Further information on the current position regarding the Bill is at APPENDIX 1.
The Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour is a document that reflects the standards required of civil servants in the performance of their official duties. There are also various circulars relating to the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants.
Currently, the ethics obligations of civil servants, including the provision of ethics returns, is dealt with under the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 (the Ethics Acts).
It would seem unlikely that there would be conflicts between membership professional codes of ethics and the current Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour . However, should issues arise, there is provision in the Code (para. 3.2) for staff to obtain clarification on any aspect of the Code. In addition, under section 10(12) of the Act the SIPOC can give advice on the Code in particular circumstances.
The Public Sector Standards Bill is currently making its way through the legislative process in the Dáil. It commenced Committee Stage on the 6th of April 2017, where sections 1 to 42 of the 66 sections in the Bill were agreed. Much work has been completed since the Bill was considered in Committee, including work specifically requested by the Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach (FPER) Committee, prior to the re-commencement of Committee Stage. This includes:
- Briefing for all Members of the Oireachtas in relation to the Bill;
- Discussions with T.D.s from other Political Parties in order to seek some cross-party consensus for the Bill. This included a meeting with Deputy Jonathan O'Brien from Sinn Féin in November 2017;
- A meeting with Local Authority Representative Groups following their appearance before the FPER Committee;
- A meeting with the CCMA; and
The development of Report Stage amendments for the Bill which have been approved by Government, in order to resolve and address various issues that have been raised on foot of the consultations, meetings and briefings described above.
My Department is currently awaiting a re-commencement date for Committee Stage of the Bill.