The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the "Act") introduces new registration and disclosure obligations for those involved in lobbying activities in Ireland. It provides for an online lobbying register maintained by the Standards in Public Office Commission ("SIPO") which will be publicly accessible.
The commencement date of the first reporting period under the Act is 1 September 2015, with the deadline for making the first returns under the Act falling on 21 January 2016. In view of this, we have set out below some of the key information and questions which those who may need to register under the Act should be considering.
At Matheson, we have established a multi-disciplinary team led by our Regulatory Litigation Partner Bríd Munnelly together with our Asset Management Client Team Partners to specifically advise on the registration and lobbying disclosure obligations which may arise for our clients under the Act, and we would encourage you to get in touch with us in order to discuss the application of the Act to the specific circumstances that you may be currently considering.
Am I Lobbying?
Lobbying is defined as the making of a "relevant communication" which means any communication, written or oral, directly or indirectly made to a "designated public official" in relation to a "relevant matter". Relevant matter includes any matter relating to:
- the initiation, development or modification of any public policy or public programme; or
- the preparation or amendment of an enactment; or
- the award of any grant, loan or financial support, contract or other agreement, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds.
Relevant matter does not include any matter which relates only to the implementation of a policy, enactment, programme or award, or of a technical nature. In addition to this, a number of specific exemptions from the Act are provided for. These include communications requesting factual information or providing factual information in response to a request for information, and communications requested by a public service body and published by it.
Do I need to be a "Professional Lobbyist"?
No. It is worth noting that there is a strong focus in the legislation on relevant communications being made to the relevant persons as opposed to simply looking at whether someone is a "professional" lobbyist. In this regard, the Act not only includes in its scope those who are paid to make, manage or direct the making of a relevant communication on behalf of another person, but also expressly covers those who lobby on behalf of themselves, or their business or organisation in prescribed circumstances.
Who is a Designated Public Official?
A designated public official ("DPO") is defined to include Ministers of the Government, Ministers of State, members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, Irish members of the European Parliament, members of local authorities and special advisors. The definition of DPO also includes public servants of "public service bodies" who may at a future date be prescribed by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (the "Minister") under the Act. While it is expected that senior officials within the Central Bank of Ireland, which is listed in the Act as a public service body, will be designated by the Minister as DPOs in due course, it may be noted that communications with the Central Bank of Ireland in relation to a "relevant matter" are not currently registrable.
Can there be Delayed Publication?
There is a facility to apply for delayed publication of lobbying activity on the lobbying register under the Act. This, broadly, might arise where publication may reasonably be expected to have a serious adverse effect on the financial interests of the State, the national economy, or business interests generally, or the business interests of any description of persons, or cause a material financial loss to the person to whom the information relates, or prejudice seriously the competitive position of that person in the conduct of the person's business / the outcome of any contractual negotiations. Delayed publication requires SIPO's approval and is limited to six months.
When Must I Register and When Must my Lobbying Return be Filed Online?
Those involved in lobbying activities must register their relevant details within 21 days of the end of the reporting period in which they carry out lobbying activities. Once registered, there is an obligation to continue to submit returns, detailing the relevant communications with DPOs. There are three four-month reporting periods per annum.
The start of the first reporting period under the Act is 1 September 2015. Registration and returns for that period must be made by 21 January 2016. Thereafter, a return must be filed every four months, ie by 21 May each year in respect of the period from January to April, by 21 September each year in respect of the period from April to August and by 21 January of the following year in respect of the period from September to December.
Next Steps and Commentary
Although a relatively short piece of statute, it is generally accepted that the new Irish lobbying legislation has broad application. Matheson is here to advise and assist with an analysis of whether the activities you may be engaging in, or intend to engage in, fall within the scope of the Act's lobbying definition or not and, if so, whether these may avail of any of the exemptions set out within the Act.
Where registration and returns are required, we would be happy to guide you with respect to the information and level of detail that must be contained in the registration and return, and of course any clarifications you require regarding how the ongoing operation of the Act generally may impact your business.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.