19 May 2022
TI Ireland shared its views with the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach on the General Scheme of the Lobbying Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2022 (view the hearing). TI Ireland welcomed a number of reforms proposed under the General Scheme, including:
- The creation of an offence to take any action designed to avoid one’s obligations in connection with registering as a lobbyist and making returns.
- The elimination of the loophole which exempts a person who is marked on the register as having ‘ceased lobbying’ from making returns while remaining on the register.
- The inclusion of business representative bodies or coalitions of business interests, as well as non-remunerated office holders in advocacy or interest groups in the definition of persons carrying out lobbying.
- Making a breach of the cooling-off period, or lobbying during that period without the Standards In Public Office Commission’s consent, a ‘relevant contravention’ and allowing the Commission to carry out an investigation
TI Ireland noted that the Act does little to meet its first objective of preventing corruption unless there is a corresponding requirement to disclose not just the source, but the amounts of funding received or fees charged by lobbyists with the Lobbying Regulator, as well as details of any gifts, hospitality or travel provided to the targets of lobbying. This would allow enforcement agencies including the Commission and An Garda Síochána to evaluate information that could assist with any future investigation into allegations of breaches of the Act or attempts to trade in influence.
TI Ireland made additional recommendations for strengthening the Act, which included:
- Extending the standard cooling-off period to two years, but with provision for shorter or longer periods depending on the Designated Public Official’s position and the nature and/or interplay of the previous and new roles.
- The categorisation of breaches of cooling-off periods and other post-term employment regulations as offences, as is the case with other contraventions of the Lobbying Act.
- An outright ban on all members of the Oireachtas or local authorities from acting as lobbyists or receiving any income for the purpose of influencing public policy other than that provided for by virtue of the elected office they hold.