The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the "Act") was introduced to bring transparency to lobbying in Ireland, by requiring those carrying on lobbying activities to register as lobbyists and file returns with the Standards in Public Office Commission ("SIPO"). As described in a previous article, 2016 was the first full year in operation of the Act. The first review of the Act (the "Review") was published last month by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (the "Department") and is available here.
The Review commences with some statistics. Interestingly, the top policy area cited in lobbying returns is health, the top public body lobbied is Dáil Éireann and the top lobbying organisation is Ibec, the Irish business representative group.
31 submissions were received by the Department in response to its public consultation process, which were broadly in favour and supportive of the Act. However, the majority of submissions expressed the opinion that there is a need for guidance, education and clarity in relation to the implementation of certain aspects of the Act. For example, concerns were raised about the requirement for clearer guidance on what constitutes a "relevant matter" under the Act. Similarly, greater clarification and detail was required on what constituted exempted communications.
For its part, SIPO made 23 recommendations in relation to the Act, some of which would have significantly broadened the scope of the Act, if implemented. In particular, it would cover loose coalitions of business interests and third-party objectors to planning matters. SIPO also recommended that the range of public officials to whom the Act applied would be widened considerably. For more details on the existing scope of the Act see our previous article here.
Recommendations of the Review
The Review concludes with a summary of 49 findings and conclusions and recommends further action in a number of areas, including:
- SIPO to consider:
- preparing an FAQ to relieve concerns around the definitions of grassroots communications and mass communication
- preparing an FAQ to provide clarity on what can be considered "ordinary course of business" (see category (m) in the list of "excepted communications")
- The Department to keep under review the issue of whether representative bodies, representing professional and/or coalitions of business interests on issues of mutual industry interest but which have no full-time employees, should fall under the Act's remit
Ultimately, however, the Review did not recommend a change to the Act. This was on the basis that no change would allow people operating in this area to continue to familiarise themselves with the legal framework now in place. Some may view this as a missed opportunity to bring clarity to some aspects of the Act.
The future of lobbying regulation
The next review of the Act is due at the end of 2019. Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, has promised no change to the legislative framework in the meantime.
At the time of publication of the Review, the Act was not yet two years old. Despite a few teething problems, the Department is happy to leave the Act untouched for the time being. With the enforcement mechanisms now in place since January 2017, it is important for you to remind yourself of your obligations to register and file returns, including 'nil returns', if you are a registered lobbyist or if you have made a lobbying communication.
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.