The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 was recently signed into law and Ireland’s first Register of Lobbying was launched online on 30 April, 2015. The main provisions of the Act are summarised below, which include criminal offences for non-compliance.
Lobbyists are an important link between governments and society. However, while their activities have helped shape the laws of the land for many years, these activities have never been subject to regulation. This is all set to change, with the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (“Act”) becoming effective from 1 September next.
But who exactly is a lobbyist and what are “lobbying activities”? Also, if I am a lobbyist, at what stage in the legislative process is it too late to influence the outcome? These and many other questions were addressed at our recent Public Sector Seminar. A brief synopsis is set out below.
The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015
Aimed at making lobbying more transparent, the Act is actually quite succinct, containing only 27 sections. In short, the Act requires anyone carrying on lobbying activities to register. It is an offence to carry on lobbying activities if you are not registered. Once registered, it is an offence not to submit returns to the Registrar 3 times per year.
However, despite its brevity, the impact of the Act is extensive, as may be seen from the more detailed analysis below.
To trigger the requirement to register, a person must be carrying out “lobbying activities”. These are described as where a person:
- makes, manages or directs the making of “relevant communications” on behalf of another person in return for payment in certain circumstances;
- makes, manages or directs the making of “relevant communications” in certain circumstances; or
- makes any “relevant communications” about the development or zoning of land under the Planning and Development Acts.
The "circumstances" that may render an activity a lobbying activity are defined as where a person has:
- more than 10 full time employees and the relevant communications are made on that person’s behalf;
- one or more full time employee(s) and is a body which exists primarily to represent the interests of its members and the relevant communications are made on behalf of any of its members; or
- one or more full time employee(s) and is a body which exists primarily to take up particular issues and the relevant communications are made in the furtherance of any of those issues.
A “relevant communication” is a communication, either orally or in writing, to a “designated public official” in relation to a “relevant matter”.
In turn, a “designated public official” includes Ministers of Government, Ministers of State (junior ministers), TDs (members of parliament), senators and members of local authorities. This list may also be extended by Ministerial Order.
A “relevant matter” is defined as the:
- initiation, development or modification of any public policy or of any public programme;
- preparation or amendment of an enactment; and
- award of any grant, loan or other financial support, contract or other agreement or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds;
apart from any matter relating only to the implementation of any such policy, programme, enactment or award of a technical nature.
The Act goes on to provide that some relevant communications are “excepted communications” which do not fall within the definition of lobbying activities. For example, communications by a designated public official in his or her capacity are not “relevant communications” for the purposes of the Act.
If you carry on lobbying activities as defined above, then you must register. The Register is maintained by the Standards in Public Office Commission (“SIPO”) and failure to register is a criminal offence.
Consequences of Registration
Once registered, you will be required to make returns to SIPO 3 times each year, the first returns deadline being on 21 January, 2016. These returns must either:
- state that no lobbying activity was carried out during the period in question; or
- where lobbying activity was carried out, provide substantial information on that activity. This includes the names of the designated public officials to whom communications were made, the type and extent of the lobbying activities carried on, and, where the communications were made on behalf of another person, i.e. a client, certain information regarding that person, including his/her name, address and business/main activities.
Subject to very limited exceptions, the information in the returns will be published on the Register.
Failure to make the required returns is a criminal offence.
The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, while short in length, is far-reaching in its consequences, with criminal liability now a real possibility for those who do not comply. For those carrying on lobbying activities, the first important deadline to note is 1 September, 2015, which is the date the Act comes into effect and, therefore, the date from which you need to register and start keeping records of your lobbying activities. You must then ensure that you make your first set of returns to SIPO by 21 January, 2016.