The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins on 11 March 2015.
The Act establishes a web-based register of lobbying, making information available to the public on the identity of those who are communicating with Government and senior civil and public servants on public policy matters.
What is lobbying under the Act?
The Act describes lobbying activities (relevant communications) as the making of communications, either written or oral, personally (directly or indirectly) to a designated public official which are not exempted communications and which concern the initiation, development or modification of any public policy, the preparation of legislation, or the award of any grant, loan contract, licence etc. involving public funds.
Lobbying activity is carried out by:
- Persons in the course of their business in return for payment by a client
- An employer, or their agent or employee, on behalf of the employer
- Any person about the development or zoning of land
Who does it apply to?
The Act covers the lobbying of Ministers, TDs, Senators, MEPs, local Councillors, special advisers, and designated public officials.
Each public body will have to maintain an up-to-date list of designated public officials.
Registration and returns
The Act requires those engaged in lobbying activities to register their activities on a public register maintained by the Commission for Standards in Public Office (SIPO).
A registered person must make three returns per year setting out any lobbying activities. That return must include details such as:
- If lobbying was done on behalf of a client, information about the client
- To whom the lobbying was made
- The subject matter of the communications and the results they were intended to secure
- The name of the person with primary responsibility for carrying on the lobbying activities
- The name of any person who is or has been a designated public official employed by, or providing services to, the registered lobbyist
An application can be made to SIPO for delayed publication of the material contained in the return if it could have a serious, adverse effect on business interests or cause a material financial loss or seriously prejudice a person's competitive position.
Investigation, offences and penalties
Contraventions set out in the Act include carrying on lobbying activities without being registered, failing to make a return, providing inaccurate or misleading information to SIPO and failing to comply with or obstructing an investigation.
SIPO can carry out investigations of alleged contraventions and have extensive powers to demand information, explanations and documents. It also has powers of search and seizure. Documents which are covered by legal professional privilege do not have to be handed over.
Penalties under the Act range from a fixed payment of €200 to fines of up to €5,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum of two years.
It shall be a defence for the person to prove that they took all reasonable steps to avoid the commission of the offence.
Directors and other officers of a company can be held personally liable for offences by that company where the offence was committed with the consent or connivance of the director/officer of the company.
Key dates for the Regulation of Lobbying Act are:
- The web-based register launched on 30 April 2015 (it is available for a trial period from 1 May – 31 August 2015 to allow potential registrants to pre-register and familiarise themselves with the system).
- The Act will come in to effect on 1 September 2015.
- The first return is required by 21 January 2016.
Anyone covered by the legislation must register and make a return in respect of lobbying activities carried out in the period 1 September 2015 to 31 December 2015. The first return must be submitted to SIPO by 21 January 2016.
SIPO has issued a Quick Guide to the Act and a Three Step Test to help interested parties decide whether an activity is covered by the Act. However, it may not always be clear whether an activity is caught under the Act and advice should always be sought where there is any doubt.
Consideration should also be given as to how internal processes may need to be adapted to comply with the new requirements. Given that details contained in the register will be publicly available, they will undoubtedly be of interest to the media and competitors. Care should be taken to avoid any unnecessary registrations.