SIPO is currently more lapdog than watchdog
The decision of the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) not to investigate the Tánaiste’s leaking of a draft contract to a friend in 2019 is further evidence that the watchdog needs more teeth, according to Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall.
“The Tánaiste has maintained that he leaked the draft contract in his capacity as Taoiseach – and SIPO has said it has no remit to inquire into the extent of the powers of the office of Taoiseach.
“It is notable that this was not a unanimous view. Two of five SIPO commissioners were of the opinion they could investigate this matter while a sixth commissioner recused herself.
“This decision raises questions about SIPO’s capacity to investigate complaints about the actions of Taoisigh – and suggests the office of Taoiseach protect its inhabitants from scrutiny.
“During leaders questions today, I asked the Tánaiste if he was satisfied that SIPO is sufficiently empowered to investigate the decisions of Taoisigh when that is necessary. In response, the Tánaiste initially dodged the question – ultimately saying SIPO should not investigate political decisions.
“Of course, this was a response to a question that was not asked. Nobody has ever suggested the SIPO should investigate political decisions – but rather the ethical conduct of politicians while in office.
“The reality is that Fine Gael has failed, for more than a decade, to strengthen our woefully inadequate ethics laws. This is despite repeated pleas from SIPO, in its annual report every year, for additional powers of investigation and enforcement.
“The net result of this is that SIPO is currently more lapdog than watchdog. It will remain in this prostrate position unless the government provides it with the increased powers it needs to hold politicians to account.”