Yesterday, the heads of a new Bill were introduced in the Oireachtas, which if passed in its original form, will give Ireland some of the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world. The heads of the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill 2012 are available here. Elaine Byrne, the Trinity College lecturer and author of the recently-published “Political Corruption in Ireland 1922-2010: A crooked harp?” says that “if this corruption bill is not watered down, it will be one of the most radical pieces of legislation internationally on corruption”. And although there is no claim to expertise in such matters on here, the Bill’s headings promise a tough approach to a scourge of Irish life that seems to have largely gone unpunished in the past.
NAMA is specifically named in the Bill as a public body which makes sense, though it is ironic that NAMA is presently in the courts battling with the Information Commissioner who last year, dubbed NAMA a public body subject to environmental information requests, something to which NAMA objects. The Irish Bank Resolution Corporation – IBRC, the name of the new organisation formed from the merger of Anglo and Irish Nationwide Building Society – is not named in the heads; who knows what will happen with any corrupt goings-on there.
NAMA was supposed to have been immunised against corruption through its anti-lobbying rules, but in practice these rules appear useless, and it seems that politicians now routinely refer matters to NAMA with the intention of influencing NAMA behaviour. NAMA has even set up a dedicated phone hotline for TDs and senators as well as a special email address email@example.com
What will the rules in the new Bill mean for NAMA? Both NAMA employees and contractors, and those interacting with NAMA, in Ireland or abroad, can be fined and imprisoned for up to 10 years for acting corruptly. Even recklessness and intimidation are addressed, and presumptions of guilt are made in certain circumstances such as if a person’s income or wealth is at odds with their official source of income.
The Bill was introduced by Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter and it would seem to have a reasonable chance of making it onto the statute books in something close to its current form. Alas, the general legal principle is that laws can’t be retrospectively applied to what-are-now-offences, so our past scourges may still go unpunished.