Office of the Ombudsman Policy on Hospitality and Gifts
Background and Context
This policy covers the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC), the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information (OCEI), the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC), the Commission for Public Service Appointments (CPSA) and the Office of the Protected Disclosures Commissioner (OPDC), when established. The six Offices each carry out separate and distinct statutory functions. Nonetheless they function as a single amalgamated agency under one Vote and one Accounting Officer and a management team which manages the Office, while simultaneously protecting and preserving the statutory independence and functions of each of the constituent parts. Each Office has its own staff complement but the finance, human resources, legal, communications and information technology functions are shared.
The Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, is appointed by the President on the nomination of the Oireachtas, as a statutory officer for a fixed contract period (“the Ombudsman”). He will be the Protected Disclosures Commissioner, and he is a member of the Commission for SIPO, CPSA and the Referendum Commission, when established. For ease of reference, he is referred to in this document as the Ombudsman. The staff in the Office are civil servants of the State.
Rules concerning the receipt of gifts and permitted hospitality by Civil Servants are set out in the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour. There is also guidance from the Standards in Public Office Commission, by way of information notice, on gifts to civil servants. As a general rule the use of their official position by civil servants to benefit themselves or others with whom they have personal or business ties is strictly forbidden. Every care must be taken to ensure that any acceptance of hospitality or gifts does not influence or is not perceived to influence the discharging of official functions. The test to be used is the “reasonable bystander” test (i.e. whether the reasonable bystander witnessing the transaction could reasonably assume that a gift was given to influence the person in the course of their functions, or to buy goodwill in the hope of future influence). That it does not have the intended effect, is irrelevant. What matters is that the public needs to have confidence that the civil service is not doing favours in exchange for gifts and in this regard, perception is just as important.
The documents referenced below must be strictly adhered to at all times:
https://circulars.gov.ie/pdf/circular/finance/2004/26.pdf - Sections 16 (Gifts) and 17 (Hospitality) are of particular relevance.
The points below set out the key points on the Office policy on gifts but should be read in conjunction with the two documents referred to above. All staff should be familiar with these documents and should consult the Head of Corporate Services for guidance should an issue or doubt arise. The giving or receiving of gifts is generally not permitted, however, occasionally the Office performs a diplomatic role when visiting or receiving guests from other countries. On these occasions, the Ombudsman may deem it culturally appropriate to accept or to present a modest token to his/her guests or hosts.
Receipt of Gifts
- In the Code the term “gift” includes any benefit which is given to a civil servant free of charge or at less that its commercial price.
- An officer may accept and retain gifts of modest value (i.e. for guidance purposes less than €20 would be considered a modest value). Any gift of higher value should be refused or, if such refusal would cause significant offence (i.e. in a diplomatic context), it should be handed over to his/her Office.
- Cash gifts, gift cheques, including vouchers, even if valued under the €20 threshold, are completely unacceptable.
- Gifts from current suppliers, or persons seeking to engage in procurement, are unacceptable.
- Civil Servants should not receive benefits of any kind from a third party which might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgement and integrity.
- Civil Servants should not accept special facilities or discounts on private purchases from suppliers with whom they have official dealings.
- Civil Servants may not approach any business with which they have contact through their official duties seeking sponsorship or support for any club, charitable organisation, association, trade union or other organisation.
- Gifts given to staff for making speeches or presentations can be accepted by the staff member if the value is under €20. If it exceeds this amount, and does not create a conflict or perceived conflict situation for the Office, it can be retained but subsequently raffled or given to charity under instruction by the Head of Corporate Services. If any potential conflict or perceived conflict may arise it should be returned to the providers immediately regardless of amount.
- In rare circumstances, it may be considered inappropriate to return a gift (even where it falls outside the rules set out above). These circumstances would most likely be where it would be un-diplomatic to return the gift. In these circumstances, the gift may be retained by the Office, not by the receiver.
- If an officer has any doubts in relation to whether an offer of hospitality or a gift falls outside this policy, they should declare it to the Head of Corporate Services.
Receipt of Hospitality
- In their contacts with outside organisations or persons, every care must be taken by civil servants to ensure that their acceptance of hospitality does not influence them, and could not reasonably be seen to influence them, in discharging their official duties.
- Attendance at work receptions (which may include alcohol or other refreshments) or the provision of customary hospitality at a work event is generally acceptable.
- However approval is required in advance from the Head of Corporate Services if an officer receives an invitation to a business lunch or dinner that is targeted at the Office or at the individual and is likely to exceed a value of €20.
- Certain types of hospitality (e.g. offers of travel abroad, lavish meals or holiday weekends) are not acceptable.
- The Ombudsman may entertain in accordance with the approved entertainment limits under Circular 25/2000. https://circulars.gov.ie/pdf/circular/finance/2000/25.pdf.
- Any entertainment by civil servants of third parties, requires the advance approval of the Director General. The civil service approved entertainment limits are set out in circular 25/2000 . https://circulars.gov.ie/pdf/circular/finance/2000/25.pdf.
- Entertainment in this context excludes refreshment and lunches which take place during work meetings, and when the office is hosting meetings with third parties.
The Director General must approve any case in which these limits are exceeded.
Purchase of Gifts
- In general, the purchase of gifts is not recommended, however, occasionally the Ombudsman performs a diplomatic function and may exchange gifts when going on visits abroad or when hosting visiting delegations from outside Ireland. The purchase of these gifts must be in line with the general requirements of this policy – ie: appropriate items of modest value. Corporate Services Unit can provide advice as and when requested.
- Any other gifts purchased by civil servants require advance approval from the Director General, or in his/her absence from the Head of Corporate Services.
- Where possible and practical, gifts purchased will be Irish made and in line with our Environmental Strategy.
- CSU (Finance Unit) manages the budget for the purchase of corporate gifts. In general, gifts should be of modest value.
- All purchases of gifts will follow proper administrative and accounting procedures relating to the purchase of corporate gifts.
- Unused gifts must be returned to Corporate Services Unit.
This policy is subject to review by the Management Advisory Committee every two years. The next review will be carried out in August 2024.
Version 1 Created September 2020
Version 2 Updated August 2022