Little or no political reform has taken place in Ireland for decades and the current Programme for Government sets out to change that in a substantial way. We are not making empty promises, we are delivering real reforms often mooted by previous administrations but never delivered.
Recently we have seen the final report from the Mahon tribunal and it doesn’t make for pretty reading. The Government has published its response to the report and we will now go about implementing the necessary changes.
We cannot expect to have a political system that commands the highest levels of respect amongst the people of Ireland unless we are completely transparent about how it is funded and unless we have a gender balance in elected politics that is more reflective of our population.
In my own Department, I have recently finalised the legislation which has drawn a clear line between corporate funding and political activity. All corporate donations over €200 are being banned, unless the donor meets the most exacting conditions. Again the Opposition bellyache this is not enough and yet again when they held power their inaction was second to none. Some people would say "why not ban these donations altogether?" but they chose to ignore the legal advice that this is not constitutionally feasible.
The amount that can be accepted as a political donation by a political party is being more than halved. Cash donations over €200 will be banned. The threshold for the public declaration of donations by parties is being reduced by more than 70%. The books of political parties will all be audited and published. The income and expenditure of parties will be opened up for all to see.
I am absolutely committed to ensuring that we will never return to the days that spawned the Mahon Tribunal and saw the body politic dragged through the mire. I want the public to have complete confidence in the political system. I am confident that this legislation will assist in delivering on that.
Women are underrepresented in the Dail and have been since the foundation of the State. This situation is now changed. Parties that do not select at least 30% female and 30% male candidates at the next General Election will face losing half of their State funding. This would be not just for one year, but for the lifetime of a Dáil.
This Government has made a strong start to our reform agenda and we will continue to build on that. For my part, I will drive forward the reform promgramme in my Department. I am aware of the public perception that politics is tainted and I intend to change this by making decisions and taking action and by implementing real and effective reforms that will bring about real change.