Ireland must take "urgent" action to ensure Irish companies can be prosecuted for bribing foreign officials when doing business abroad.

This is according to a second damning international report on Ireland's progress in combating bribery of foreign officials by Irish companies and agencies, which was published last week.

"Currently, the prosecution and conviction of companies for corrupt activities appears unlikely due to the very high barriers required to establish corporate criminal liability," says the OECD report.

An OECD official visited Ireland last October to carry out the assessment.

The report noted with some surprise that "there have been no prosecutions for foreign bribery in Ireland."

But it noted that the Irish authorities told the OECD they are "dealing with five allegations concerning the direct or indirect involvement of Irish companies in the bribery of foreign officials, three of which concern the UN oil for food programme."

On the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation (GBFI), the report said it was "surprised to learn that no
concurrent investigative steps were being taken or considered by gardaí in
two other cases because action was being taken by overseas authorities or had been requested from such authorities".

On the difficulties of obtaining warrants to search company premises, "the GBFI had not yet applied to obtain a warrant to conduct such searches in relation to certain cases of transnational bribery ... despite the existence of credible and publicly available documentary information that transnational bribery involving Irish companies had taken place abroad," the OECD noted.

"There needs to be an effective way of obtaining access to financial and company records in Ireland to provide proof of the part of the offence that took place in Ireland."

October's visit to Ireland by OECD anti-corruption officials was the second in less than six months. A similar trip in June was marked by what the OECD said was a "very low attendance from major government bodies" and private companies, prompting a second visit.