The purpose of the Registration of Lobbying Act 2015 is to provide for a register of lobbying to make information available to the public on the identity of those communicating on specific policy, legislative matters or prospective decisions with designated public officials. The Act allows for the development of a code of conduct by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Commission) it also provides restrictions and conditions on the taking up of certain employments by certain designated officials for a specified period of time where a possible conflict of interest arises.
The Act is designed to enable the wider public to reach informed evidence- based judgments about the extent to which different interest groups are accessing key decision makers across the political and public service systems.
The first review was to be held no later than 1 year after the commencement day. Each subsequent review should be held every 5 years thereafter. Reports on the findings and the recommendations of each review will be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas within 6 months of the end of the relevant period.
The Minister may make regulations under this Act. All regulations will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas
Meaning of carrying on lobbying activities
A person carries on lobbying activities if the person—
- makes any relevant communications about the development or zoning of land under the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2014.
- makes, or manages or directs the making of, any relevant communications on behalf of another person in return for payment (in money or money’s worth) in the below circumstances.
- makes, or manages or directs the making of, any relevant communications in any of the below circumstances.
The circumstances where the Act applies are that—
- the person has more than 10 full-time employees and communicates as below on the person’s behalf,
- the person has one or more full-time employees and is a body which exists primarily to represent the interests of its members and the below t communications are made on behalf of any of the members, or
- the person has one or more full-time employees and is a body which exists primarily to take up particular issues and the below communications are made in the furtherance of any of those issues.
The communications covered by the Act (whether oral or written and however made), may be made personally (directly or indirectly) to a designated public official in relation to any matter relating to—
- the initiation, development or modification of any public policy or of any public programme,
- the preparation or amendment of an enactment, or
- the award of any grant, loan or other financial support, contract or other agreement, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds,
apart from any matter relating only to the implementation of any such policy, programme, enactment or award or of a technical nature.
The following are excepted communications:
- communications by or on behalf of an individual relating to his or her private affairs about any matter other than the development or zoning under the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2014 of any land apart from the individual’s principal private residence;
- communications by or on behalf of a country or territory other than the State;
- communications by or on behalf of the European Union, the United Nations or any other international organisation;
- communications requesting factual information or providing factual information in response to a request for the information;
- communications requested by a public service body and published by it;
- communications forming part of, or directly related to, negotiations on terms and conditions of employment undertaken by representatives of a trade union on behalf of its members;
- communications the disclosure of which could pose a threat to the safety of any person;
- communications the disclosure of which could pose a threat to the security of the State;
- communications which are made in proceedings of a committee of either House of the Oireachtas;
- communications by a designated public official in his or her capacity as such;
- communications which are made by a person who is employed by, or holds any office or other position in, a public service body in his or her capacity as such, or) are made by a person engaged for the purposes of a public service body in his or her capacity as such, and which relate to the functions of the public service body;
- communications which— are made by a person who is employed by, or holds any office or other position in, a body which is not a public service body, but is a body by which a designated public official is employed or in which a designated public official holds any office or other position, in his or her capacity as such, or are made by a person engaged for the purposes of such a body in his or her capacity as such, and which relate to the functions of the body;
- communications by or on behalf of a body corporate made to a Minister of the Government who holds shares in, or has statutory functions in relation to, the body corporate, or to designated public officials serving in the Minister’s department, in the ordinary course of the business of the body corporate;
- communications between members of a public sector body appointed by a Minister of the Government, or by a public service body, for the purpose of reviewing, assessing or analysing any issue of public policy with a view to reporting to the Minister of the Government or public service body on it;
The Minister may prescribe further communications which are to be excepted communications; and in determining whether or not to prescribe any description of communications the Minister shall have regard to the public interest in there being an appropriate level of transparency in relation to communications about any relevant matter and (in particular) to any arrangements for opening up such communications to public scrutiny otherwise than in accordance with the Act.
A public sector body covered by the Act means a body the members of which are appointed by a Minister of the Government or by a public service body and include one or more persons who are designated public officials and one or more persons who are neither public servants nor engaged for the purposes of a public service body, and which conducts its activities in accordance with the Transparency Code.
The Minister prepares and publishes a “the Transparency Code”, setting out how, having regard to the public interest in their doing so with an appropriate level of transparency, bodies concerned are to conduct their activities if they are to constitute a public sector body.
A lobbying activity may be carried out by
- persons in the course of their business in return for payment by a client,
- an employer or his or her employee on behalf of the employer, or
- any person on matters about the development or zoning of land.
Designated public officials.
The following are designated public officials:
- Ministers of the Government and Ministers of State;
- other members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann;
- members of the European Parliament for constituencies in the State;
- members of local authorities;
- special advisers appointed under section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997;
- public servants of a prescribed description;
- any other prescribed office holders or description of persons.
The Minister may prescribe such further descriptions of public servants by reference to their roles, levels of remuneration, grades or similar factors. In determining whether or not to prescribe any description of public servants, office holders or description of persons, the Minister shall have regard to the public interest and to any recommendations that may have been made under the Act.
A body shall publish up-to-date lists showing—
- the name and (where relevant) grade, and
- brief details of the role or responsibilities,
of each person employed by, or holding any office or other position in, the body who is a designated public official.
Certain designated public officials (Ministers, Ministers of State, special advisers, and on commencement Secretaries General and Assistant Secretaries in the civil service and equivalent grades in local authorities) are to apply to the Commission for approval to carry out lobbying activities in an area that might cause a conflict of interest as a result of their former role in public employment, within one year of ceasing to be a designated public official. The Commission may permit, for example, the take up of employment but impose conditions or refuse to give consent.
A person who has been a relevant designated public official shall not—
- carry on lobbying activities in circumstances to which this section applies, or
- be employed by, or provide services to, a person carrying on lobbying activities in such circumstances,
during the relevant period except with the consent of the Commission.
A “relevant designated public official” means a person who is a designated public official above. The “relevant period” means the period of one year beginning with the day on which the person ceases to be a relevant designated public official.
The circumstances to which this provision applies are any in which the making of the communications comprising the carrying on of lobbying activities—
- involves any public service body with which the person was connected during the period of one year ending with the day on which the person ceased to be a relevant designated public official, or
- is to a person who was a designated public official connected with that public service body during that period.
A public service body is one with which a person was connected at any time if it was at that time a public service body by which the person was employed or in which the person held any office or other position. On an application for consent made to the Commission in such manner and form as the Commission may require, the Commission may, after any appropriate consultation, decide to—
- give consent unconditionally or subject to conditions, or
- refuse to give consent for the whole or any part of the relevant period.
The purpose of the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Act 2023 (the Act) is to amend the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the Act) to build on the existing strong legislative foundation and further strengthen Ireland’s lobbying laws to ensure that the regulation of lobbying framework remains up to date and fit for purpose.
The Act provides for:
- the extension of the definition of lobbying, including to ensure that certain informal business groups, which themselves have no employees, are brought within the scope of the Act;
- the improvement of the functionality of the Lobbying Register, including by providing flexibility for new registrants to use the address of where their main activities are conducted; and
- the strengthening of the existing legislation and its enforcement, including the introduction of an anti-avoidance clause and the enhancement of the operation and enforcement of the Act, which deals with restrictions on post-term employment as a lobbyist.
- The statutory review of the Act is extended from 3 to 5 years.
The 2023 Act provides for an extension to the definition of lobbying in relation to the development or zoning of land to include the managing and directing of relevant communications as well as the making of relevant communications.
It also brings certain informal business groups, which themselves have no employees within the scope of the Act, in particular bodies formed to represent the interests of their members and bodies that are established mainly to take up specific issues. Such bodies will only be brought within the scope of the Act where at least one of the members of the body would be classified by the Act as carrying on lobbying activities if they were acting solely on their own behalf.
The 2023 Act amends the Schedule to the 2015 Act, which lists those bodies that are not public service bodies. It provides for the deletion of the citation relating to the Harbours Acts and for the insertion of the individual names of the State commercial port companies. This amendment is required due to changes made to the Harbours legislation.
Where an office holder makes a relevant communication on behalf of an organisation that falls within the scope of the Act, it will be regarded as a lobbying activity, regardless of whether or not the office holder concerned is remunerated for the position.
Communications made by a political party to its members, who are designated public officials (DPOs), only in their capacity as members of the party, are excepted communications. A consequent provision is made for the inclusion of a definition of the term ‘political party’.
There are new contraventions
- carrying on lobbying activities while one’s registration has been marked as having ceased;
- taking any action with the purpose of avoiding one’s obligations concerning registration or the making of returns (the anti-avoidance clause); and, where required,
- failing to apply to the Commission for consent to take up a specific employment or position in certain circumstances during the 12-month ‘cooling-off’ period subsequent to leaving a position as a relevant DPO.
A fixed payment notice can be served on a person by leaving it at the address where the person carries on his/her main activities.
The 2023 Act provides that not only are former relevant DPOs are restricted from taking up a specific employment or position in certain circumstances without the prior consent of the Commission, but where conditions are attached to any such consent given by the Commission, the relevant DPOs must abide by these conditions.
It establishes how applications for consent are to be dealt with by the Commission. When a person applies for consent, the Commission, after consulting with all appropriate parties, must decide whether to grant consent (with or without conditions) or refuse consent outright. The Commission is also obliged to notify the applicant of its decision and, where conditions are attached to the consent or where the consent is refused, the reasons for such a decision.
The decision on a consent application is to be made, as far as practicable, no more than 14 days after the application is received by the Commission. Where a decision cannot be made within this 14 day period, the applicant must be notified of any extension which cannot exceed a further 14 days.
There 2023 Act provides for obligations for public service bodies. They must inform every person who is a relevant DPO in their organisation of his/her duties under the Act as regards applications for consent, both when the person takes up a position in the public service body and leaves such a position.
Furthermore, as soon as possible after a public service body becomes aware that a relevant DPO is to leave the organisation, the public service body must provide the Commission with certain details pertaining to the person concerned, i.e. his/her name, the grade s/he held in the public service body, and the dates on which s/he took up and left the employment or position concerned.