As you know from our update on the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, available here, the Act came into effect on 1 September, 2015. Regulations have been introduced which class more people as "Designated Public Officials" under the Act. Make sure that you and your organisation are aware of who these people are so that you understand whether you have an obligation to register under the Act. You should also be prepared for the first annual return date in January 2016, bearing in mind that criminal sanctions may be imposed for breaching the Act.
Designated Public Officials
One of the key components of a "lobbying activity" is that there is a communication made to a Designated Public Official. It is essential to become familiar with who these people are so that you can work out whether you are engaging in a lobbying activity, and therefore whether you must register and make returns, under the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the "Act"). Under the Act, certain individuals, such as Ministers, Senators or MEPs, are classed as Designated Public Officials. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has now made regulations which add to that list (the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (Designated Public Officials) Regulations 2015).
As a result, several further categories of persons are now Designated Public Officials. These include public servants in specified positions, usually the position of Secretary General, Second Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Assistant Secretary or Director, within the:
- Courts Service;
- Departments of State;
- Office of Public Works;
- Revenue Commissioners;
- State Examinations Commission;
- Equality Tribunal;
- Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission;
- Legal Aid Board;
- Office of the Attorney General; and
- Workplace Relations Commission;
to name but a few. They also include public servants in specified positions in local authorities, usually Chief Executive, Director of Services or Head of Finance. Finally, persons whose principal duties are to advise the Minister in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are now also Designated Public Officials.
The result of this designation is to broaden the range of persons to whom communications of a certain nature are classified as lobbying activities.
The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (Appeals) Regulations 2015 also came into force on 1 September 2015. The purpose of these Regulations is to provide the procedure to regulate appeals of decisions of the Standards in Public Office Commission under the Act.
Persons aggrieved by certain Commission decisions can appeal against the particular decision within 14 days. The decisions in question are:
- a decision relating to whether information about the person contained in the Register of Lobbying is inaccurate, out of date or misleading;
- a decision in relation to delayed publication; and
- a decision in relation to restrictions on post term employment as a lobbyist.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is to appoint independent and impartial Appeals Officers to consider such appeals. The decision of the Appeals Officer can then be appealed to the High Court on a point of law within 21 days. The High Court decision is final and there is no further appeal.
If you or your organisation makes communications to public bodies, you need to be aware of this Act, as failure to comply with it is a criminal offence. This applies regardless of whether you or your organisation is based in Ireland or abroad. Therefore, we recommend that you become familiar with those persons who are Designated Public Officials in the public bodies that you interact with, so that you can decide whether it is necessary to register and make annual returns under the Act.
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.