Just weeks after Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) and Labour Party Leader Joan Burton found herself faced with a vote of no confidence and accusations of cronyism, Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, has named Ireland as the 18th least corrupt country in the world.
With a 2015 score of 75 in the organization's index, Ireland tied with Hong Kong and Japan, coming close behind the United States in 16th place and the United Kingdom in tenth place.
The score, however, is based simply on perceptions of corruption within the county, meaning that it may not accurately reflect the genuine amount of public sector corruption or reflect the level of corruption that countries may be engaging in overseas while their own public sector appears to have a clean record.
Denmark was deemed the least corrupt country in the world by the index with a score of 91, just one point above second-place Finland. Sweden rounded up a Scandinavian top three with 89 points.
Not only is Ireland in the top 20 least corrupt countries in the world, according to this research, but the organization found that corruption has in fact been in decline in the country in the past five years, improving each year since 2012 when it had a score of 69.
Despite this, it dropped one place in the overall index since 2014.
Problems with the Corruption Perception Index come into play as early as third-placed Sweden. Swedish-Finnish firm TeliaSonera is currently facing allegations of using bribes to acquire business in Uzbekistan, who place 153rd in the index.
TeliaSonera is 37 per cent owned by the Swedish state.
The research highlights, however, that no single country in the world is corruption free, finding that half of all countries within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are violating their international obligations to crack down on bribery by their companies abroad.
On the release of the 2015 index, Transparency International Ireland, the Irish branch of the organization, stated that the fight against corruption must be a higher priority for the incoming Irish government after this year’s general election.
They called on all parties and candidates to commit themselves to reform, stating that “although Ireland is considered to be one of those countries least affected by systemic public-sector corruption, it is perceived to be far less clean than many of the world’s advanced democracies.”
“Some important reforms, such as new whistleblower protections and lobbying regulations have recently been introduced and will help prevent wrongdoing,” said TI Ireland Chief Executive, John Devitt.
“However, the failure to publish new anti-corruption legislation, four years after it was announced, is hugely disappointing and should be a source of embarrassment for the Government.
“New political finance rules and reforms enacted in 2012 have an important role to play in helping prevent corruption. Yet we know that people will break the rules. Laws that are not enforced are not worth much more than the paper they’re written on.”
In December 2015 the level at which corruption is still operating within Irish politics was in some way exposed by an RTÉ undercover investigation into corrupt councilors.
On Monday December 7, former Co. Monaghan Councillor Hugh McElvaney was one of three Irish county councilors shown in talks with an undercover journalist from RTÉ in which he sought payment from the reporter’s fictional company in return for his off-the-record and illegal assistance.
The RTÉ “Prime Time Investigates” program about standards in public office, headed by RTÉ journalists Conor Ryan and Ken Foxe, investigated the ethical standards of Ireland’s local councillors.
In order to ensure transparency, Irish politicians are required to list all of their interests, adhere to rules if a conflict of interest arises, and are not allowed to seek any private benefit for their work.
Along with Sligo Fianna Fáil Councillor Joe Queenan, and Independent Councillor John O’Donnell in Donegal, McElvaney was contacted by fake company Vinst Opportunities. Although each of the three politicians offered the company help in breach of the three aforementioned main requirements of an Irish politician, McElvaney, a four-time mayor of Monaghan and a winner of nine successive council elections, was revealed as by far the most audacious in asking the fictional company for money.
McElvaney is reported to be considering running for election in Monaghan again despite the scandal and remains confident of his success.
As mentioned, Tánaiste Joan Burton also faced allegations of “blatant cronyism” in early 2016 when it emerged she had appointed former union boss David Begg as chair of the Pensions Authority with no public service advertising or appointments process.
Independent Alliance TDs forwarded a motion of no confidence in the Social Protection Minister stating that although the move is allowed under state board guidelines, and Begg is qualified for the job, it is a return to the days when those supporting the government are awarded.
The motion of no confidence was defeated by 81 votes to 32 on January 20, 2016.
“Never ever in my existence have I ever been involved in anything that has involved any break of the law,” said Burton of the motion.
Devitt believes, however, that many member of government are still blind to corruption or are not willing to rectify the problem if noticed, especially with regard to the Moriarty Tribunal.
“Unfortunately, too many members of the Oireachtas don’t seem to realise how big a problem corruption is.” he added.
“If they do know and they’re not prepared to call for reform, then the only conclusion we can draw is that they don’t care.
“The apparent lack of action and political ambivalence towards Judge Moriarty’s findings sends the public the message that different rules apply to those in positions of power and influence. This will be deeply corrosive of public confidence in democratic government and our criminal justice system’, Devitt concluded.
The Corruption Perceptions Index covers 168 countries worldwide looking for key characteristics within the public sector which give the perception of a lack of corruption: access to budget information so the public knows where money comes from and how it is spent; high levels of integrity among people in power; and judiciaries that do not differentiate between rich and poor, and that are truly independent from other parts of government.
TI Ireland adds that it does not attributes a country's rise or fall on the index to any individual event or individual.