The introduction of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 on 1 September 2015 was a significant development in transparency reforms in Ireland and was the subject of significant media coverage. Now that we are in the second reporting period for the purposes of the Act, it is appropriate to reflect on the first few months of its operation.
To date, 1,193 entities have registered as lobbyists, and these registered entities have recorded 2,742 lobbying communications. Some interesting statistics emerge as follows:
- “Health” has by far been the most lobbied public policy area, with 315 returns;
- “Health” has also been the industry area most commonly identified with by registrants with 98 organisations registered;
- When the public policy areas of “Economic Development and Industry”, “Tax”, and “Finance” are considered together, there have been 322 communications the subject of a return; and
- 63 organisations consider themselves to be “lobbying organisations”.
In addition, the Advisory Group which advised in relation to the drafting of the Lobbying Act and which remains in place to advise on amendments to the Lobbying Act, has met four times since 1 September 2015. Some points of note from their discussions are:
- The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Standards in Public Office Commission ("SIPO") are considering the application of the Lobbying Act to communications which take place outside the Irish jurisdiction. We understand that formal guidance on this issue may be issued by SIPO in the future.
- SIPO is developing processes for situations where SIPO receives a report of potential lobbying activities which have not been registered.
- Concerns had been raised regarding whether a charity might lose its charitable status by engaging in lobbying. SIPO has clarified that an organisation does not risk its charitable status simply by registering as a lobbyist. However, charities may still have to satisfy Revenue and / or the Charities Regulatory Authority that their lobbying communications are keeping with their primary objectives. Charities should bear this in mind when communicating with designated public officials.
- The strict wording of the Lobbying Act requires that submissions to a public consultation process must be the subject of a return notwithstanding that those submissions will in any event be published as part of the public consultation process. However, SIPO has clarified that if submissions to a public consultation process are to be published, the communications are not required to be the subject of a return, even if they have not been published by the end of the relevant reporting period.
We recommend that organisations put in place policies and procedures to effectively track their communications with public officials and consider whether these communications constitute lobbying. Where such policies and procedures are already in place, we encourage organisations to develop and amend these on the basis of their experiences to date. Where registration and returns are required, we would be happy to guide you with respect to the information and level of detail that must be contained in the registration and return, and of course any clarifications you require regarding how the ongoing operation of the Act generally may impact your business.