Reform of Lobbying Laws Edges Closer
Reform of the regime for the regulation of lobbying activities in Ireland is drawing closer with the publication of the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2022 (the “Lobbying Bill”) which proposes to expand and strengthen Ireland’s lobbying laws.
In announcing the Lobbying Bill, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform commented that its publication marked a “significant step forward in the regulation of lobbying in Ireland”, with the changes proposed “incorporating the learnings of the last six years”.
The Lobbying Bill follows the proposals outlined in the General Scheme of the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2022 (the “General Scheme”) examined in our briefing earlier this year. It is currently passing through legislative scrutiny and is expected to be enacted in 2023
Key Changes to Ireland’s Lobbying Laws
Lobbying activities are currently regulated under the Regulation of Lobbying Act, 2015 (as amended) (the “2015 Act”). The key changes proposed to reform and strengthen lobbying laws in Ireland are:
An Expanded Scope
At present, certain types of organisations, for example, business representative bodies and coalitions of business interests, which have been formed to lobby as a group do not fall within the scope of the 2015 Act where they do not have any employees. The Lobbying Bill proposes to expand the definition of lobbying so as to include bodies without employees that primarily exist to either advocate: (i) on behalf of members; or (ii) for specific issues, regardless of the number of employees they have.
New Anti-Avoidance Provisions
Under new anti-avoidance measures, anyone who attempts to avoid or circumvent certain key obligations will be guilty of an offence that is punishable on prosecution by an unlimited fine, a term of imprisonment of two years, or both. The obligations to which the anti-avoidance measures relate are:
- to register to carry on lobbying activities;
- for registered individuals to make returns; and
- the one-year cooling-off period under which designated public officials are prohibited from taking up certain lobbying roles.
An Enhanced Enforcement Regime
A new enforcement regime will be introduced that provides for the imposition of ‘major’ and ‘minor’ sanctions by the Standards in Public Office Commission (“SIPO”) for breaches of the anti-avoidance measures and cooling-off periods.
Under the new rules, SIPO will be able to impose any of the following penalties when imposing a ‘major’ sanction: (i) a financial sanction of up to €25,000; (ii) a prohibition on lobbying activities for up to two years; (iii) a prohibition on making a lobbying return to the Commission; or (iv) any combination of these.
SIPO will be required to take into account the circumstances of the contravention for which it intends to impose a ‘major’ sanction and may have regard to:
- the need to ensure that sanctions are “appropriate and proportionate” to the breach and if applicable, will have a “sufficient” deterrent effect;
- the “gravity and duration” of the breach;
- the extent of any failure by the person concerned to cooperate with the investigation, as well as any excuse offered for such a failure;
- any repeated occurrences of the breach or any continuation of the breach after being notified of the corresponding investigation;
- the “extent and timeliness” of any steps taken to end the improper conduct and/or remedy the consequences of the breach in question; and
- any precedents that have been set in respect of similar contraventions by either the Commission or the courts.
In contrast, the proposed new rules under the Lobbying Bill do not require SIPO to have regard to any specific considerations when imposing a ‘minor’ sanction for a breach of proposed rules on anti-avoidance and cooling-off periods. Under the proposed new rules, SIPO can issue any of the following penalties when imposing a ‘minor’ sanction: (i) advice; (ii) a reprimand; (iii) a caution; or (iv) any combination of these.
Changes to the Lobbying Register
The functioning of the lobbying register will be improved by allowing those seeking to be included on the register to provide the address at which they carry out their ‘main activities’, or, if there is no such address, the address at which they ordinarily reside. This will provide greater flexibility to those enter onto the register and engage in lobbying activities.
Additionally, a new requirement for registered persons to notify SIPO in writing as soon as possible of any change in the information provided for inclusion in the register will be introduced.
The Lobbying Bill must now complete its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) before ultimately being signed into law by the President of Ireland. While an exact timeframe for the enactment of the Bill has not been provided, it was listed as a legislative priority in the Autumn Legislative Programme and is expected to be enacted in 2023.
We will continue to monitor developments and will provide a further update once the Bill is enacted.
In the meantime, if you would like to discuss any of the matters discussed above in more detail, please get in touch with Deirdre O’Mahony or any member of our Corporate Crime Group.
We would like to thank Fionn Henderson for his contribution to this article.