— “Any gift other than a modest token should be courteously but firmly declined,” says SIPO guidelines.
Lord Mayors in Cork accepting gifts of the use of a €69,000 car is in line with the Standards In Public Office Commission guidelines on gifting because the gift is shared between to Lord Mayors, Cork City Council has claimed.
Leasing such a car is likely to cost at least in the order of €14,400 per year and the Standards In Public Office Commission (SIPO) guidelines state that only “modest tokens” should be accepted.
The gifting of cars from car maker Ford to Lord Mayors of Cork City Council is seen as a local “tradition” by the council. Ford has a history in Cork with its first Europen factor opening in the city in 1917, it closed in 1984.
Yesterday, IrishCycle.com covered how electric cars — according to the council — were not fit for Cork’s mayor office until after its “sponsor” launched their first electric car. After this, we asked the SIPO if it had any guidance, position or rulings on the acceptance of such cars by mayors.
Kieran Fennelly, press and communications officer at SIPO said: “As the lord mayors of each city council are considered local authority members, they are subject to the same legislation and guidelines as other local authority members, such as the 2001 Local Government Act, of which SIPO has a regulatory function in relation to Section 15’s ethics guidelines.”
Lord Mayors — generally referred to as Cathaoirleach or Chairperson outside of city councils — are councillors elected to the position usually for a year by fellow councillors, and all councillors are viewed as employees of the councils they were elected to.
SIPO also pointed to its Code of Conduct for Employees covering the Local Government Act 2001, published in January 2007.
On gifts, the guidelines state: “The Act provides that an employee is prohibited from seeking, exacting or accepting any remuneration, fee, reward or other favour for any act done or not done by virtue of his or her employment. Employees in observing this provision must also have regard to this Code’s guidance.”
“The overriding concern in all cases is that the actions of local government employees should be above suspicion and not give rise to any conflict of interest and that their dealings with business and other interests should bear the closest possible scrutiny and avoid any risk of damage to public confidence in local government…” the guidelines said.
There is an exception for the “normal presentation of ‘official gifts’ or tokens” given by, for example visiting dignitary, or if the employee is a “speaker at a conference etc.,”. The guidelines stress that: ” No other gifts other than infrequent items such as diaries, calendars, pens or other infrequent tokens of modest intrinsic value, should be accepted.”
The guidelines outline that: “Any gift other than a modest token should be courteously but firmly declined.”
It also includes that “In all circumstances the advice at paragraph 5.2 [the quote above on conflicts of interest] must be taken into consideration by the employee.”
Is the “sponsorship” of such cars considered a gift? This morning Fennelly at SIPO said: “We do not comment on individual cases.” Cork City Council, however, accepted it was a gift, but said that the gift is in line with the guidelines because it is shared between two mayors.
Asked if Cork City Council thinks that the Lord Mayor accepting a car is in line with the SIPO guidelines on gifting as outlined, a spokesperson for the council said: “Yes. It is a longstanding tradition that the Ford Motor Company gifts a car to the office of the Lord Mayor of Cork, an office that is held in high esteem in the city. The car is not a gift to a specific Lord Mayor, each car is used by two Lord Mayors during the year and returned to the Ford Motor Company.”
On how such a valuable car could be seen as a “modest token”, the council said: “The car is not a gift to a specific Lord Mayor, each car is used by two Lord Mayors during the year and returned to the Ford Motor Company each year.”
Regarding it giving rise to “suspicion and not give rise to any conflict of interest”, the council said: “Each year the handing over of the car to the Office of the Lord Mayor is covered by the issuing of a Press Release together with photographs in order to acknowledge the generosity of the Ford Motor Company, an iconic business in Cork, to the public. In doing so, this transparency demonstrates Cork City Council’s openness, by sharing of information and accountability at all levels.”
A spokesperson for the council added: “The Office of the Lord Mayor is extremely grateful to the Ford Motor Company for their continuous support over the years and looks forward to continuing the longstanding relationship.”