On 16 February the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (the “Minister)” announced the publication of the General Scheme of the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill (the “General Scheme”). The General Scheme sets out a series of proposed reforms to the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the “2015 Act”).
The 2015 Act sets out the rules which must be adhered to for individuals seeking to engage in lobbying activities and the penalties for non-compliance. The General Scheme introduces a number of significant amendments including expanding the scope of groups who must register as lobbyists and closing a loophole that might enable lobbyists to engage in lobbying without having to make mandatory lobbying returns. The most significant amendment introduced by the General Scheme applies to designated public officials who may wish to engage in lobbying activity once they have they have left their office, including an enforcement mechanism influenced by the Central Bank’s Administrative Sanctions Procedure.
Before addressing the amendments proposed by the General Scheme it is worth providing a brief overview of the key elements of the 2015 Act:
- For an act to constitute lobbying it must be a relevant communication (as defined in the 2015 Act) and be made by a relevant person to a Designated Public Official (a “DPO”).
- A DPO is an individual who holds public office (eg, a TD, Senator or MEP) or an officeholder in a specific public body, if prescribed by the Minister.
- Where a person engages in lobbying, they are required to register as a lobbyist with the Standards in Public Office Commission (“SIPO”). A registered person is required to make regular lobbying returns to SIPO providing details of their lobbying activity or, where they have not engaged in such activity, a confirmation to that effect.
- It is an offence to carry on lobbying without being registered and for failing to make a lobbying return when required.
- SIPO has extensive investigative powers to investigate relevant contraventions of the 2015 Act.
2. Key Amendments
Definition of lobbyists
|Closure of Loophole|
While the changes proposed in the General Scheme are not a drastic overhaul of the 2015 Act, they are indicative of an increased legislative and regulatory measures designed to avoid corruption and to improve standards and improve accountability in public office. In particular, once the amendments proposed in the General Scheme are implemented, they should be read in tandem with the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018. The General Scheme and the 2015 Act recognise the importance that lobbying plays in a democracy, whilst appreciative of the the risks that unregulated lobbying can pose.
The most significant amendment in the General Scheme is the enforcement mechanism introduced to ensure that former DPOs do not engage in unlawful lobbying during the statutory cooling-off period and the enforcement regime that has been expressly influenced by the Central Bank ASP.
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