The Standards in Public Office Commission ("the Commission") recently submitted a review of the Lobbying Act 2015 which came into effect on 1 September 2015 ("the Act"), making a number of recommendations for the Act's legislative reform. The Act aims to increase transparency on the influence that lobbying has on public decision making. Businesses and others who engage in lobbying must register their details and lobbying activities to an online lobbying register.
What is Lobbying?
Lobbying involves the making of a 'relevant communication' whether oral or written, directly or indirectly, to a 'designated public official' in relation to a 'relevant matter'.
A 'relevant communication' may include communications made in a meeting, on a phone call, through correspondence or through casual exchanges.
A 'designated public official' includes:
(a) Ministers of the Government, Ministers of State, Ministers of Dail Eireann and Ministers of Seanad Eireann,
(b) members of Dail Eireann and Seanad Eireann,
(c) members of the European Parliament for constituencies in the state,
(d) members of local authorities,
(e) special advisors appointed under section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997,
(f) public servants of a prescribed description, being someone employed by a 'public service body', and
(g) any other prescribed office holders or description of persons, as set down under the Act or as prescribed by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
A communication relates to a 'relevant matter' where it is in relation to:
(a) initiation, development or modification of any public policy or any public programme,
(b) preparation or amendment of an enactment, or
(c) award of any grant, loan or other financial support, contract or other agreement or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds.
Who does the Act apply to?
Lobbying can be carried out by any of the following:
(a) a business with more than 10 employees,
(b) a representative body or advocate body with one or more employees,
(c) a person or body paid to lobby on behalf of their client, or
(d) any lobbying in respect of the development or zoning of land.
Obligations on lobbyists under the Act
The Act places a positive obligation on lobbyists to register on an online lobbying register and provide certain details in respect of their lobbying activities for inclusion in the register in the form of returns to the Commission every four months. Where lobbying is taken on behalf of a client, certain client information must be included, being the client's name, address and business activities. The register and returns are made publically available.
The Commission's Submission on Recommendations for the Legislative Reform of the Act ("the Submission"):
The Submission is split up into a number of sections and sets out the Commission's recommendations in relation to the following: Definitions, Operations, Post-employment obligations, Enforcement and Other. The main recommendations of the Commission include the following:
- The Act should be amended to include any business
representative body, irrespective of the number or status of
employees, where one or more of the members of the body would fall
within the scope of the Act if they were acting themselves.
- Where a relevant communication is made by a paid employee or an office holder of an organisation the Commission recommends that it should be regarded as a lobbying activity of the organisation, and not the individual.
- The Act should capture the management and direction of relevant communications about development and zoning of land, in addition to the making of the same communications.
- Communications about the development and zoning of land which amount to lobbying should be limited to communications made where the person making the communication has a material interest in the development or zoning of land, or are communicating on behalf of or are connected to someone with such a material interest.
- The definition of exempted communications should include not only the negotiation of terms and conditions of employment undertaken on behalf of employees by trade unions, but should also cover such negotiations taken by employee representative bodies.
- The Act should be modified to give the Commission the authority to conduct inquiries into, and reports on breaches of the Code.
- The Commission should be allowed to investigate and publish anonymised summary details of investigations of contraventions of the Act.
Best practices when lobbying
Register: if you engaged in lobbying activities make sure you are registered.
Record: a record should be kept of all lobbying activities. Lobbyist organisations should have processes in place to ensure compliance with the Act.
Return: registered bodies must provide a return to the Commission every four months, no returns are required for the periods the organisation does not engage in lobbying activities.
Appoint a Compliance Officer: Identify someone in the organisation who is responsible for submitting returns on behalf of the organisation and keeping a record of the lobbying activities of the organisation.
Adhere to the Code of Conduct: registered bodies must have regard for the Standard Commission's Code of Conduct.
Seek advice: if unsure if an activity amounts to lobbying under the Act seek legal advice.
For more information on the Lobbying Act and full details of the Commission's Submission visit lobbying.ie.
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.