On 1 September 2015, the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the “Act”) came into force. The Act aims to make the practice of lobbying more transparent by making information publicly available through a new web based Register of Lobbying (the “Register”). The Standards in Public Office Commission (“SIPO”) is now the regulator of lobbying in Ireland (the “Regulator”).
The Act is designed to increase high public standards and the healthy functioning of democracy through making the following information publicly accessible:
- Who is lobbying?
- Who is being lobbied?
- What are the issues being lobbied about?
- What is the intended result of the lobbying?
Are you lobbying?
A three step test is set out below to determine whether you are engaged in lobbying activities and whether you must therefore register as a lobbyist:
1. Are you one of the following?
- An employer with more than 10 employees where the communications are made on your behalf
- A representative body with at least one employee communicating on behalf of its members and the communication is made by a paid employee or office holder of the body
- An advocacy body with at least one employee that exists primarily to take up particular issues and a paid employee or office holder of the body is communicating on such issues
- Professional lobbyist paid to communicate on behalf of a client (where the client is an employer of more than 10 full time employees or is a representative body or an advocacy body which has at least one full-time employee)
- Note that this definition includes lawyers and accountants etc. who may be lobbying on behalf of clients.
- Any person communicating about the development or zoning of land
2. Are you communicating about a relevant matter?
A relevant matter relates to:
- The initiation, development or modification of any public policy or of any public programme
- The preparation or amendment of any law
- The award of any grant, loan or other financial support, contract or other agreement, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds
3. Are you communicating either directly or indirectly with a designated public official?
The current list of designated public officials, which may be extended over time, includes the following:
- Ministers and Ministers of State
- TDs and Senators
- MEPs for constituencies in this State
- Members of local authorities
- Special Advisers
- Secretaries General and Assistant Secretaries in the Civil Service
- Chief Executive Officers and Directors of Services in Local Authorities
If you answered “Yes” to all three questions then it is likely you are lobbying.
Next steps - what this means for you?
Under the Act, if you are carrying on lobbying, which does not involve an excepted or exempted communication, you will be required to register as a lobbyist and file your first lobbying return by 21 January 2016. Thereafter, you will be required to file a lobbying return three times a year. If you have registered as a lobbyist and no lobbying has taken place for a period you will be required to file a nil return.
A broad range of organisations and individuals will be captured by the Act, with the onus for compliance on the lobbyist not the lobbied. Therefore, in order to prepare for complying with the Act, you should now take steps to do the following:
- Review your organisation’s arrangements for recording relevant communications which might fall within the scope of the Act
- Identify the key personnel within your organisation involved in the relevant communications
- Where necessary, put in place arrangements to record such information from 1 September 2015 and record this information in real time
- Nominate individual(s) responsible for registration and compilation of returns within your organisation and for submitting the final return at the end of each reporting period. You should note that it will be possible to have data entered on the Register on an ongoing basis by more than one employee and saved in draft form (on a private area of the register) prior to its formal submission
The Act’s enforcement provisions, which range from monetary fines to terms of imprisonment (up to 2 years) are due to come into force after September 2016. For the moment, however, the Regulator has indicated that a collaborative approach with the Act is preferred in order to promote compliance and prevent contraventions.