Kevin O'Higgins Solicitors

State officials to face 'cooling off' before joining private sector

Sunday, 22 June, 2014
The Irish Independent
by Sarah McCabe

PUBLIC servants attempting to move into industry will face one-year cooling-off periods under new legislation to be proposed by the Government. A bill is currently being prepared by Brendan Howlin's Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that will curtail their ability to take on private sector roles after leaving State jobs.

The Government wants to curb potential conflicts of interests where former top executives at public bodies take on private sector positions that benefit from the experience and contacts gathered in taxpayer-funded roles.

Proposals to address this are being drafted into legislation called the Public Sector Standards Bill, a spokesperson from the department confirmed. This is still at an early stage but will be passed on to the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and Public Expenditure later this year and, once approved, be introduced in the Dail.

The legislation currently governing the subject is weak, mainly focused on the activities people are involved in before they take on a State role, not after. Two codes of conduct governing select senior civil servants and local authority officials do contain post-termination provisions, but they are rarely enforced.

Several high-profile government officials and Nama executives have hit the headlines for moving into industry months after leaving State jobs. John Mulcahy, until recently one of Nama's senior executives, made headlines this week when he joined the board of property fund IPTU just six months after leaving the State asset-management agency. Finance Minister Michael Noonan denied this raised a conflict of interest.

The Public Sector Standards Bill will widen the scope of a provision in the Registration of Lobbying Bill which was published on Friday, according to one source.

The lobbying bill sets out restrictions on certain public officials – initially ministers, ministers of State, special advisers, secretaries-general and assistant secretary grades in the civil service and equivalent grades in local authorities – from taking on lobbying jobs where they will deal with ex-colleagues. They must seek approval from a designated Registrar if they plan to do this within one year of leaving their public sector post.

The Public Sector Standards rule will be expanded to cover a much wider group of civil servants and all post-termination jobs where there's a potential conflict of interest, the source said.

The rules could have negative consequences for the recruitment of senior civil servants and top executives at semi-state companies.

A report recently prepared on the NTMA's post-termination policies by a law firm found that any restrictions would need to be balanced against the NTMA's need to recruit good candidates "for whom such restrictions may act as a significant disincentive to taking up employment with the NTMA. Matheson advised that any such restrictions would need to be drafted "as narrowly as possible".

 

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