The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the “Lobbying Act”), which came into effect on 1 September 2015, introduces new registration and disclosure obligations for those involved in lobbying activities in Ireland. The purpose of the Lobbying Act is to increase transparency around lobbying activities and make information publicly available on those communicating with elected representatives and senior public officials on specific policy, legislative matters or decisions relating to expenditure of public funds (“relevant matters”) by way of a publicly accessible online register of lobbying. Those involved in such lobbying activities on relevant matters will have until 21 January 2016 to register as a lobbyist.
The Standards in Public Office Commission (“SIPO”) is the Irish authority tasked with implementing the provisions of the Lobbying Act. If a person is involved in lobbying, as defined under the Lobbying Act, they may need to register with SIPO and provide information to SIPO about their lobbying activities three times a year. There will be no cost to register as a lobbyist and members of the public will be able to view and search the register free of charge.
Lobbying activities which come within the scope of the Lobbying Act are communications (which can be oral or written and made either directly or indirectly) with a “Designated Public Official” about a relevant matter by any of the following types of persons:
- A professional lobbyist being paid to communicate on behalf of a client (where the client is an employer of more than ten full-time employees or is a representative body or an advocacy body which has at least one full-time employee)
- An employer with more than ten employees where the communications are made on behalf of the employer
- A representative body communicating on behalf of its members and the communication is made by a paid employee or office holder
- 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
- Any person communicating about the development or zoning of land
Certain categories of communication are exempted from disclosure, including any communication requesting or providing factual information, communications of a “technical nature” and communications by public officials acting in an official capacity.
Those carrying on lobbying activities will need to begin keeping records of such activities from 1 September 2015. Those carrying on activities during the period from 1 September 2015 to 31 December 2015 will need to register as a lobbyist with SIPO on or before 21 January 2016 and also provide details of lobbying activities carried on during that period by the same date. Thereafter, returns of any lobbying activities must be made in respect of the four month periods to the end of April, August and December in each year.
Every return made by a registered lobbyist must include certain information relating to the lobbying activities, to include:
- details of the public official to whom the communication was made
- the subject matter and intended results of the communication
- the nature and extent of the lobbying activities
- the name of the individual who had primary responsibility for carrying on the lobbying activities
Organisations that engage with Irish public officials will need to assess what obligations they will have under the Lobbying Act to consider what it will mean for them. Company communication policies should also now be reviewed in light of the Lobbying Act and in particular to reflect the fact that details of communications falling within the scope of the Lobbying Act will in the future be in the public domain.