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The General Scheme of the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill

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.

1. Background

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

  • Business representative bodies or coalitions of business interests will be considered lobbyists and will be required to register and submit lobbying returns, regardless of the number of employees or the employees’ status
  • Non-remunerated office-holders in special interest groups will now within scope
Political Parties
  • Communications by political parties to DPOs will be excepted communications where the DPO is in their capacity as a member of the political party
Closure of Loophole
  • Previously a person could have their entry on the register marked as having permanently ceased lobbying, thus exempting them from the requirement to make returns.
  • Under this loophole, there was no express prohibition on such a person engaging in lobbying, meaning they did not have to make a return detailing any lobbying activity.
  • The General Scheme removes this loophole by prohibiting lobbying when the person has their entry marked as having ceased lobbying, whether permanently or temporarily
Cooling-off Period
  • Under the 2015 Act, a DPO is prohibited from engaging in lobbying for one year after ceasing to be a DPO, save with the consent of SIPO
  • The General Scheme introduces an administrative sanction procedure for enforcing this prohibition
  • Sanctions for contraventions of this prohibition are up to €25,000 and / or up to a 2 year ban on registering as a lobbyist.

3. Conclusion

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.  

This article was authored by Karen Reynolds and Darragh Casey.

Please get in touch with Karen Reynolds or your usual Matheson contact should you require further information in relation to the material referred to in this paper. Visit our Regulatory and Investigations and Litigation page to stay up to date with the latest updates, articles and briefing notes.