The Regulation of Lobbying Act, 2015 (“The Act”) applies to a wide range of persons, not just professional PR / communications agencies or third party lobbyists. Lobbying involves any communication with a public official made with the intention of influencing legislation, policy or administrative decisions.
The Standards in Public Office Commission (“SIPO”) is the lobbying regulator and the Act provides for the establishment of a public online Register providing certain information including (1) the identity of the designated public official to whom the relevant communication was made, (2) the subject matter and intended results of the communication, (3) the type and extent of the lobbying activities carried on, and (4) the name of the person who had primary responsibility for carrying on the lobbying activities.
Definitions - “Lobbying Activities”
For a person to be engaged in “Lobbying Activities” that person must make a “relevant communication” in relation to a “relevant matter” with a “designated public official”
A relevant communication is made when a person communicates personally, either directly or indirectly in respect of –
A relevant matter, which includes changes or developments in a public policy or programme, legislative changes or the award of any grant, financial support, agreement or authorisation involving public funds, and this communication is made to –
A designated public official, including ministers and other members of the Oireachtas, local authority members, and certain senior public servants. Ministerial Regulations identifying and designating such officials came into effect from 1 September.
Exceptions / Exemptions to the Act
There are a total of 15 exempted areas including communications relating only to the implementation of any policies or programmes, communications of a technical nature and communications requesting or providing factual information in response to a request for that information.
With the exception of relevant communications relating to the development or rezoning of land (other than one’s own principal private residence), the Act does not cover communications made by individuals regarding their private affairs, or in some cases by businesses with fewer than ten full time employees, and in such cases no registration or reporting is required.
Ministerial Regulations have also come into force which allow an appeal of a decision made by SIPO in respect of (1) an application by a person to correct what they regard as inaccurate, out of date or misleading information published in the Register, (2) an application by a person for delayed publication of information and (3) an application by a person who has been a designated public official and who has been refused consent by SIPO to carry on lobbying activities or be employed / provide services to a person carrying on lobbying activities within the “cooling – off period”.
The Act provides for penalties for non-compliance including on summary conviction the issuing of fixed fines or, on conviction on indictment, imprisonment or the imposition of a fine or both. Where an offence under the Act is committed by a body corporate with the consent of an officer of the body, that person as well as the body corporate shall be liable.
It would seem the intention is that these penalty provisions will not come into effect until after an implementation review of the Act (to be commenced after 12 months) has been conducted.
- 1 May 2015: The online Register of Lobbying established.
- 1 September 2015: The Act has come into effect. Start keeping records of your lobbying activities.
- 21 January 2016: You must have registered with SIPO by this date if you engaged in lobbying activities during the period 1 September 2015 – 31 December 2015. First set of returns to the Standards Commission to be filed in respect of the period 1 September 2015 – 31 December 2015.