Revolving Door No More: Proposals for Reform of Lobbying Rules
The recent publication of the General Scheme of the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2022 (the “General Scheme”) paves the way for the reform and strengthening of lobbying laws in Ireland through an expansion of the definition of lobbying, improvements to the functioning of the lobbying register functions and the enhancement of the enforcement regime to address the so-called ‘revolving door’ practice whereby former Office Holders and Designated Public Officials (DPO) take up lobbying roles in the private sector shortly after leaving those positions.
The cornerstone of the existing lobbying regulatory regime is the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the “Act”) which was introduced to provide a comprehensive framework for the regulation of lobbying in Ireland. Two statutory reviews of the Act have been carried out since it was enacted and the outcomes of these reviews along with other learnings have identified certain deficiencies in the current framework which the General Scheme seeks to address.
Enhanced enforcement to curb lobbying by former office holders / officials
- There is currently a 12 month cooling off period beginning the day on which a person ceases to be a relevant DPO during which time former Office Holders and other former DPOs cannot engage in lobbying activities in specific circumstances, or be employed by or provide services to a person carrying on lobbying activities. The General Scheme proposes to enhance the enforcement regime for breaches of these rules by introducing (i) a new anti-avoidance clause to prevent individuals from circumventing this rule and (ii) a new maximum fine of up to €25,000 and/or a prohibition from lobbying activities for up to two years for those found to be non-compliant with this requirement under the Act. Unlike other contraventions under this section of the Act, however, this new penalty will not attract a criminal sanction.
- The General Scheme also proposes that after conducting an investigation which finds that a person has not complied with the cooling off provisions stipulated under the Act, the Standards in Public Office (SIPO) must give notice to the person setting out the reasons why they believe the legislation has been breached. Along with giving notice, SIPO must also give the person concerned a reasonable opportunity to be heard either by means of an oral hearing or a written submission.
Expanded scope of the Act
- 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 Act due to the fact that they do not have any employees. The General Scheme proposes to address this lacunae in the law by amending the definition of lobbying to bring those groups within the scope of the Act, regardless of the number or status of employees they have.
Greater flexibility regarding information requirements
- The General Scheme proposes to amend the Act to allow a person seeking to be included on the register to provide the address at which they carry on their ‘main activities’. At present, a person wishing to be included on the Register has to provide their principal address where they carry on business, or if there is no such address, where they are ordinarily resident. This reform will allow people not in business but carrying on lobbying activities greater flexibility in terms of the address they provide.
Speaking on the publication of the General Scheme, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath T.D. stated, “The legislative proposals detailed in the General Scheme will help to strengthen our regulation of lobbying regime even further and ensure it continues to deliver on the objectives we have set for it.”
The Bill (the next step in the legislative process) is listed under priority legislation under the Government’s Legislative Programme for publication and drafting this session (Spring 2022). We will continue to monitor developments and will provide a further update once the Bill is published.
In the meantime, if you would like to discuss any of the matters discussed herein in more detail, please get in touch with any member of our Corporate Crime Group.
We would like to thank Alan Harney for his contribution to this article.