The Irish government has announced plans to expand the Lobbying Register to include senior officials in public service bodies such as the Central Bank, ComReg, the NTA, and the HSE. This move is part of the current programme for government, which aims to extend the lobbying register so that the lobbying of senior officials in bodies such as the Central Bank of Ireland, Comreg, the NTA, and the HSE, which have significant policymaking or development functions, will need to be reported on the same basis as central and local government.
The Lobbying Act 2015 requires that those who lobby Designated Public Officials (DPOs) such as Ministers, TDs, Senators, and MEPs must register and report on their lobbying activities every four months. This means that lobbyists must disclose who they are, who they represent, and what issues they are lobbying on. The aim is to increase transparency and accountability in the lobbying process and prevent undue influence on decision-making.
In a recent parliamentary question to the Minister of Finance, Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh queried about his plans to follow through on the commitment. Minister Michael McGrath said that his department has already engaged with the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) regarding the expansion of lobbying registrations. He said that the inclusion of senior officials in public service bodies within the remit of lobbying legislation will be achieved through a statutory instrument.
“The intention is that this commitment will be achieved by drafting a Statutory Instrument for Ministerial approval subsequent to my Department engaging extensively with all other Departments and relevant state agencies with a view to identifying appropriate posts,” he said. “The Statutory Instrument would prescribe those identified in the most senior posts in the targeted public service bodies as designated public officials (DPOs), or “the lobbied”, for the purposes of the Act. This will consequently expand the current cohort of DPOs in line with the commitment,” he added.
The Minister said that he will shortly write to all Departments and relevant state agencies on the matter. Separately, a bill seeking to strengthen Ireland’s lobbying laws is currently before Seanad Éireann. The Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2022 aims to improve the operation and functionality of the Lobbying Register, and strengthen the existing legislation and its enforcement.
Under the proposed legislation, former DPOs who breach the “cooling off” period and engage in particular lobbying activities within a year of leaving office could face a €25,000 fine or a ban on lobbying for up to two years. The cooling-off period is the time between when a DPO leaves office and when they can start lobbying. The aim is to prevent former DPOs from using their insider knowledge and connections to gain an unfair advantage in the lobbying process.
The bill also proposes to extend the definition of lobbying to include activities that are currently not covered, such as grassroots lobbying, and to require lobbyists to disclose more information about their activities. This includes the names of the clients they represent, the issues they are lobbying on, and the amount of money they spend on lobbying.
The proposed legislation has been welcomed by transparency and accountability advocates, who argue that it will help to increase public trust in the political system and prevent undue influence on decision-making. However, some lobbyists have expressed concerns that the new rules could be overly burdensome and could deter legitimate lobbying activities.
Overall, the expansion of the Lobbying Register to include senior officials in public service bodies such as the Central Bank, ComReg, the NTA, and the HSE, and the proposed strengthening of Ireland’s lobbying laws, are positive steps towards increasing transparency and accountability in the lobbying process. It remains to be seen how effective these measures will be in practice, but they are a step in the right direction towards ensuring that decision-making is based on the public interest rather than the interests of powerful lobbyists.