SIPO ignored own procedures to shut down complaint against Micheál Martin

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) ignored its own procedures to decide against pursuing a complaint against Micheál Martin. SIPO shut down the complaint against Martin before it investigated the claims.

The complaint alleged Martin failed to declare in the Dáil register his shares in two county Cork properties.

SIPO ruled that Martin was not required to register his interest in the properties after it received a letter from the then taoiseach. The letter told SIPO "the complaint is not within the remit of the commission’s complaints process".

The commission later ruled in Martin's favour – despite not being allowed to make findings until after a formal investigation.

SIPO ignored its procedures and skipped to a ruling

In 2012 Micheál Martin inherited a one-fifth share in his late father’s estate, which included the former family home in Turner’s Cross and a holiday home in Dundeady, both in county Cork.

Later that year Martin and his four siblings each took a 20 percent share in the Dundeady bungalow, according to Land Registry records. Martin’s sister Mairead Redmond bought the Turner’s Cross home in 2013.

In March 2022 The Ditch reported that Martin had never declared his interest in the two properties.

The same month, The Ditch submitted a complaint against Martin to the ethics watchdog.

On July 15, 2022, a detailed briefing note was prepared for the commission by SIPO’s complaints and investigation unit outlining the allegations against Martin. It recommended the commission write to Martin “seeking clarity about the properties and his interest with regard to same”.

Martin addressed the allegations in correspondence to SIPO sent from his constituency office on 27 July, 2022. He claimed he was not required to register his interest in either property.

In his letter he said “no interest in the property at Turner’s Cross was ever transferred” to him. While accepting he owned a share of the home, he argued it was “not a registrable interest” as it was used as a holiday home by his “family and by the families of his siblings”.

“We trust that the facts set out above will enable a decision to be made to the effect that the complaint is not within the remit of the commission’s complaints process,” ended the letter, signed by Fianna Fáil councillor Mary Rose Desmond on behalf of Martin.

An updated briefing note was prepared for the commission by SIPO in advance of its meeting on 26 September 2022.

In the briefing document it was noted that the “grounds for declining to investigate (a complaint) are… limited” and that there were only three grounds the commission could rely on to refuse to investigate the complaint.

These three grounds were: if the commission thought “the matter to be of insufficient gravity”; if it decided the “the complaint is frivolous or vexatious”; or if it thought evidence would not be made available.

SIPO however ignored these three grounds and skipped straight to ruling on the complaint rather than investigating it.  

The note recommended the “commission decline to investigate the complaint as… it appears that Mr Martin’s interests in the properties do not qualify as registrable interests”.

This recommendation was made by the briefing note’s author despite the fact that no formal investigation was conducted by the commission and that it did not fall within any of the three grounds for declining to investigate a complaint.

According to the records released under the freedom of information act, the commission met on September 26, 2022. The meeting minutes confirm it ignored its own complaints procedures and decided to “close” the complaint against Martin.

SIPO’s complaints procedure document, last updated in August 2022, states that “the commission does not make any findings at this (briefing note) stage. Its role is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to an investigation.”

Despite these guidelines, SIPO made a finding in favour of Martin.

“The commission considered the briefing note. The commission decided to close the complaint on the basis that the commission is satisfied that the properties in question do not qualify as registrable interests for the purposes of the 1995 Act,” according to the meeting minutes.

SIPO refused to comment when asked on what basis it made a finding in favour of Micheál Martin.

A spokesperson for SIPO told The Ditch that “due to the nature of SIPO’s role as an impartial oversight body, and in order to be fair to all parties involved, we would not be able to provide any comment regarding individual cases of compliance”.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors