The aim of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the Act), signed into law on 11 March 2015, is to create an online Register of Lobbying. The Register will be publically available and will provide information on who is communicating with public officials regarding policy and legislative decisions. Under the provisions of the Act, anyone carrying out "lobbying activities" must keep a record of such activities and submit them to the Register every four months. Failure to provide this information may amount to an offence.
A person is deemed to carry out "lobbying activities" where they make a "relevant communication", to a designated public official, and the person doing the lobbying falls into one of the following categories:
- A professional lobbyist paid to communicate on behalf of a client (where the client is an employer of more than 10 employees or is a representative body or an advocacy body which has at least one full-time employee);
- An employer with more than 10 employees where the communications are made on employer's 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; or
- Any person communicating about the development or zoning of land.
Key terms explained
A "relevant communication” means any oral or written communication to a designated public official in relation to a relevant matter. The current list of "designated public officials" includes Ministers, TDs, Senators, Irish MEPs, local authority members and special advisors. Provision is also made in the Act for other public office holders to be added to that list.
A "relevant matter" is defined as the initiation or change of any public policy or programme; the preparation or amendment of an enactment; or the award of any grant, financial support, contract or licence involving public funds.
There are a number of listed excepted communications which will not be regarded as "relevant communications" for the purposes of the Act. These include communications by an individual relating to their private affairs (apart from development or zoning of land other than their Principal Private Residence), communications in the context of diplomatic relations; communications requesting or providing factual information in response to a request; communications made in proceedings of an Oireachtas Committee; or communications by a designated public official in his/her capacity as such.
Who does this impact?
Anyone involved in petitioning for planning and development issues (including submissions on draft Development Plans (including in relation to changes in the zoning of lands), Local Area Plans, SDZs and the like) should be aware of their obligations under the Act.
Larger employers should also be aware of the new Act, because lobbying by employees of public officials on the company's behalf, so long as managed or directed by the company, will constitute lobbying activities and should be registered. Failure to do so could leave the company vulnerable to prosecution.
The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) has been designated as the Registrar of Lobbying under the Act and is the body tasked with implementing its provisions. An application must be made to SIPO for inclusion on the Register through the website www.lobbying.ie/.
A return submitted to the Registrar should state:
- The designated public officials who were lobbied;
- The subject matter of the lobbying and the results it was intended to secure;
- The type and extent of the lobbying activities carried on;
- The name of the individual in your organisation who had primary responsibility for carrying on the lobbying activities; and
- The relevant information about your client where you were lobbying on behalf of another person.
This information will be required to be submitted to the Register within 21 days after the end of each four month period. The Act commenced on 1 September 2015 and first returns will be due to be submitted to the Register by 21 January 2016.
Under Part 4 of the Act it will be an offence to:
- Carry on lobbying activities without being a registered person;
- Fail to make a return in the manner required under the Act;
- Provide any information known to be inaccurate or misleading to the SIPO;
- Fail to comply with a requirement imposed on a person by an authorised officer of SIPO for the purpose of carrying out an investigation; or
- Obstruct an investigation by SIPO.
The penalty for committing these offences ranges from a €200 fine to a 2 year jail term. Section 20 does allow a defence where a person took all reasonable steps to avoid the commission of the offence.
Part 4 of the Act has yet to commence. The Information Guide provided on the SIPO website states that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform does not propose to bring it into effect until a review of the Act's implementation is conducted after the first year.