The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 came into effect on 1 September 2015. The Act introduces new registration and disclosure requirements for those carrying out lobbying activities.
What is 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 ("DPO") in relation to a "relevant matter".
The Standards in Public Office Commission ("SIPO") has indicated that communications with public officials or representatives regarding zoning or development of land, which fall outside the formal zoning and planning processes, may be lobbying. SIPO has issued guidelines to help individuals, organisations and groups determine whether they are engaged in lobbying in relation to development and zoning of land.
What is a relevant matter?
Any matter relating to:
- Initiation, development or modification of any public policy or public programme;
- Preparation or amendment of an enactment; or
- Award of any grant, loan or financial support, contract or other agreement, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds.
What is a DPO?
Designated Public Officials include:
- Ministers of the Government;
- Ministers of State;
- Other members of Dáil Éireann & Seanad Éireann;
- MEPs for constituencies in Ireland;
- Members of local authorities;
- Special advisers;
- Secretaries-General, Second Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries General and Directors of Government departments;
- CEOs, Directors of Services and Heads of Finance in Local Authorities;
- Senior officers in other prescribed public bodies.
Who is affected by the Registration of Lobbying Act 2015?
A person carrying out lobbying activity who is:
- An employer (with more than ten employees) where the communications are made on its behalf;
- A representative or advocacy body (with at least one employee);
- Any person communicating about the development or zoning of land (other than an individual's principal private residence); or
- A professional lobbyist being paid to communicate on behalf of a client, where the client satisfies the above criteria.
How does this affect planning applications and zoning submissions?
Submissions or observations made in the course of a planning application, either by the applicant for planning permission or a third party, do not constitute lobbying. However, SIPO guidelines state that any approach to or communication with a DPO (which includes public representatives, CEOs and Directors of Services of local authorities) outside of the official planning process may be regarded as lobbying.
Likewise, formal submissions made in the course of the adoption of a development plan or local area plan are not lobbying. However, SIPO advises that any contacts with DPOs outside of the formal process, or in respect of a proposal for re-zoning specific lands, may be lobbying.
What do I have to do if I am lobbying?
Register and file returns three times a year on www.lobbying.ie which is maintained by SIPO. If you engage in lobbying activities between 1 September and 31 December 2015, you must register and submit your first return by 21 January 2016.
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.