The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Brendan Howlin T.D. today published the Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014.

The purpose of this Bill is to establish a web based register of lobbying activity and deliver appropriate transparency on “who is contacting whom about what”.

Minister Howlin stated, “Lobbying has a very important role to play in helping to ensure that all perspectives, assessments and opinions are presented and available to inform decision-making in key areas of public policy and legislative proposals. The Government’s Decision to introduce the Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014 to the Houses, marks an important step in the process of helping to rebuild public trust in the political system by throwing light on its interaction with those who seek to shape and influence policy across all sections of society.”

The Minister continued, “My intention is to strengthen the degree of openness and scope for public scrutiny of the interactions and engagements between all sectors of society with our political and administrative systems. This legislation will allow the wider public to reach informed evidence-based judgements about the extent to which different interest groups are accessing key decision makers across the political and public service systems and would be expected to increase the public understanding of lobbying activity in Ireland.

The registration requirements will be balanced and proportionate so that they do not impose a significant burden on registrants. The Standards in Public Office Commission will be the Lobbying Registrar.

Introducing these registration requirements should have no material effect on the normal interaction between citizens and their local political representative. An individual’s communication in relation to his or her private affairs are excluded from registration with the exception of matters relating to planning and re-zoning. Planning matters in relation to an individual’s private residence would be exempt. Communications by employers with 10 employees or less (i.e. micro enterprises) relating to the business concerned are also similarly excluded unless the communication is in respect of land re-zoning or development.

A review of the legislation one year after its commencement will provide an opportunity to ensure that the legislation is meeting its objectives.

Ends

Notes for Editors
Objective of the Bill

The key objective in introducing a register of lobbying is to make information available to the public on the identity of those who are communicating with Government and senior civil and public servants on public policy matters.

The Bill will establish a web based registration system of lobbying activity which will tell us “Who is lobbying whom about what?”

How will this work?

Lobbyists (the “who” in the question) are defined in the Bill as

  • Employers or their staff (where the employer has more than 10 employees),
  • 3rd party lobbyists (those who are paid by a client to lobby on the clients behalf), or
  • Anyone lobbying about the development of zoning of land.

The lobbied (the “whom” in the question) are referred to in the Bill as designated public officials and are defined in the Bill as

  • Ministers and Ministers of State,
  • Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann,
  • Members of the European Parliament for constituencies in the State,
  • Members of local authorities,
  • Special Advisers, and
  • Public servants as prescribed (initially this will be Secretaries General and Assistant Secretaries in the Civil Service and equivalent grades in local authorities).

The matters about which lobbyists are communicating with the lobbied (the “what” in the question) are defined in the Bill as communications about

  • The initiation, development or modification of any public policy or programme,
  • The preparation of legislation, or
  • The award of any grant, loan, contract etc.

(apart from matters relating only to implementation of any such policy, programme, enactment, award, etc. or matters of a technical nature).

So when a lobbyist communicates with one of the lobbied about one of the listed matters then the lobbyist must register on the lobbying register.

Once registered, the lobbyist will have to make a return of their lobbying activities 3 times a year (at the end of April, August and December).

What type of information will a lobbyist have to put on the register?

Registration Details

(a)           The person’s name (i.e. the name of the business, corporate body, etc. conducting lobbying activities);

(b)          The  persons business address or if there is no business address the address at which the person normally resides;

(c)           The person’s business or main activities;

(d)          Any e-mail address, telephone number or website address relating to the person’s business or main activities;

(e)           Any registration number issued to the person by the Companies Registration Office; and

(f)           (If a company) the person’s registered office.

Return Details

(a)                The names of any public service body and the designated public officals communicated with;

(b)               The subject of the lobbying communications and the results they were intended to secure;

(c)                The extent and type of lobbying activities (while this doesn’t require details of each individual contact, the information supplied must be sufficient to meet the transparency objectives of the Bill);

(d)               The name of the person who has primary responsibility for carrying on lobbying activities within the organisation;

(e)                The name of any person who is or was a designated official, who is employed by or providing services to the registered person, and is engaged in lobbying activities; and

(f)                3rd party lobbyists will also have to provide information about their clients similar to the information required under ‘registration details’ above.

Who will the Registrar be?

The Standards in Public Office Commission will be the Registrar. They will oversee the implementation of the register, monitor compliance, provide guidance and assistance and where necessary investigate and pursue breaches of legal requirements in due course.

When will the Register come into operation?

It is expected that the Bill will be published on Friday 20th June 2014.  The passage of the Bill through the Houses should then commence in the Autumn.

A period of time will then be required prior to commencement of the legislation to enable development of the IT and information systems which will support the registration process.  The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is currently working closely with the Standards in Public Office Commission on these issues. Following publication it is intended to establish an Advisory Group composed of relevant experts and key stakeholders who will be in a position to provide information and guidance that will assist in the smooth implementation of the legislation.

The timeframe for the regulatory provisions of the Bill to come into operation will depend, in the first instance, on the timeframe for the enactment of the Bill by the Oireachtas following Government approval. We anticipate commencement of the Act in mid-summer 2015.

What are the exemptions to registration?

Drawing on international precedent and significant issues raised in the course of extensive consultation a number of exemptions from registration requirements are included in the Bill.

The exemptions relate, for example, to:-

(i)       contacts entirely conducted between public officials or arising in an international or diplomatic context;

(ii)     communication between a commercial state body and their parent Department / Minister   in relation to matters coming within their ordinary course of business. It is intended that other such communications relating for example to the regulation of the relevant sector would be captured by the Bill;

(iii)   where a contact was initiated by the public official and relates to the provision of factual information;

(iv)   where information is requested by a public service body and is published by it; or

(v)     communications between members of working groups, task forces etc. established by a Minister (or public service body) and with private sector representation as long as the group operates according to the principles of a Transparency Code to be developed by the Minister. It is envisaged that the Transparency Code would require, for example, publication of membership, agendas and minutes of the meetings of such groups.

What protection is there for sensitive information?

There is a process in the Bill allowing for the protection of sensitive information.  Publication of information could be delayed which could have a serious adverse effect on the financial interests of the State or on the ability of the Government to manage the economy. This would only apply where immediate disclosure would not be in the public interest.  Application may also be made to the Registrar for a delay in publication of information where the publication which could result in disclosure of commercially sensitive information.  Regard must be given to the public interest.

How is the cooling off period being addressed?

The approach to the “cooling off” period requires certain designated public officials or office holders (initially this will be Ministers, Ministers of State, special advisers and secretary general and assistant secretary grades in the civil service and equivalent grades in local authorities) to apply to the Registrar for approval to lobby their former colleagues in the public body in which they previously worked (or in a further public body to which such colleagues have subsequently transferred) during a period of one year subsequent to having left the public service. This approach allows the Registrar to permit, for example, the take up of employment but to impose restrictions in relation to engagement in certain activities rather than a blanket ban.

Frequently asked questions

(i)         What is the proposed policy approach to the regulation of lobbying based on?

The development of policy on lobbying regulation has been informed by several very valuable sources of information, analysis and experience.

The OECD has developed a set of principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying which have been adopted as a recommendation by all OECD Member States.  The OECD principles formed the basis of the consultation exercise carried out by my Department.

The project has also drawn on information on regulatory regimes operating for example in Canada, the US, Australia, and several European countries.  The voluntary register in place in the European Union institutions was also analysed.

There have been five Private Members Bills published on the regulation of lobbying since 1999. These have proved useful in illustrating the possible shape of lobbying regulation.

My Department’s assessment has also derived significant benefit from the work of Irish researchers in TCD, DCU and DIT* who have provided guidance and insights drawn from the authoritative work that they have published comparing global approaches to lobbying regulation.

* Dr Raj Chari, Professor Gary Murphy and Dr John Hogan respectively.

(ii)        What benefits are expected through the regulation of lobbyists?

The aim of regulating lobbying activity through registration and reporting requirements is to strengthen public confidence in politics and in the business of government, to increase the accountability of decision makers and to subject public policy making, and those who seek to influence it, to greater openness and transparency. The Bill would facilitate the appropriate independent scrutiny of lobbying activity.

The value of regulation of lobbying in fostering a culture of integrity is supported by the Organisation for Co-operation and Development (OECD) which states that:

“…a sound framework for transparency in lobbying is crucial to safeguard the public interest, promote a level playing field for business and avoid capture by vocal interest groups…”

The aim of this process is unequivocally not to restrict the flow of information, opinions, perspectives or proposals feeding into policy making or legislation but rather to bring about greater transparency so that the public at large will know who is seeking to influence whom in respect of what.

The reports of the Mahon and Moriarty Tribunals have highlighted inter alia the risk that the legitimacy of the political system might be eroded by the corrosive impact of secrecy and undue influence.

(iii)         How will the regulation of lobbyists impact on the access of constituents to their representatives?

It is essential that normal local and constituency-related interactions should be unaffected by the proposals to regulate lobbying. Such interaction includes contact between individual citizens and their local political representatives, constituency TD, Councillor or public representative by a person acting in a private capacity and relating to their private affairs. Matters relating to the zoning or development of land will, however, be captured as we want to ensure we fully learn the lessons from the Planning Tribunal.   Planning matters in relation to an individual private residence would be exempt.

(iv)       Won’t these proposals cut across the right of individuals, representative bodies, charities and NGOs to make their case to Government representing the public interest?

The proposed legislation is not intended to change behaviour but rather to shine a light on what is happening – “who is contacting whom and about what”.

These proposals should not be characterised as restricting the important flow of information between government and its citizens or interfering with the right of access of any individual, organisation or interest group to political representatives.

The key objective of the initiative is to ensure greater transparency regarding public policy and decision making.  This requires a significant strengthening of the degree of openness and scope for public scrutiny of the engagement between various types of interest groups and our political and administrative system.

It is clearly important to ensure that the implementation arrangements for lobbying regulation are well designed and work effectively. There is no question that a requirement to provide information on the scope and extent of this activity – whether it is described for example as lobbying, advocacy or public affairs – should create an obstacle to the political system being fully informed of the views of important stakeholders and interests in relation to particular policy proposals or legislation.

(v)        Will the proposals implement the recommendations on the regulation of lobbying contained in the final report of the Mahon Tribunal?

Yes, it is intended that the proposals would lead to the implementation of these recommendations.

There is a close alignment between the commitment included in the Programme for Government and recommendations made in the report of the Tribunal relating to the establishment of statutory register of lobbying and professional code governing the conduct of lobbying.

Indeed, in light of the key objective of securing greater transparency in relation to the development of public policy and legislation the intention is to adopt a comprehensive definition of lobbying encompassing a broad range of interest groups beyond the relatively small number of consultant or multi-client lobbyists which were the primary focus of the recommendations and findings of the Tribunal.

(vi)  Could you provide further information on who made submissions as part of the consultative process?

Submissions were received from a broad range of interest groups, representative bodies, industry and civil society organisations, NGOs, charities third party professional lobbyists and individuals.

The submissions have been published and can be viewed on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s website (per.gov.ie).

A number of groups which had submitted documents during the written consultation period were invited to the department to further discuss and elaborate on the issues raised in their submissions.