The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform announced this week that there will be no changes to the Lobbying Act 2015. This is despite detailed responses to the Public Consultation on the Second Review of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 by the PRII, the PRCA, the Standards In Public Office Commission (SIPOC) and 24 other individuals and organisations in May 2019. Members of PRII and PRCA will remember being asked to contribute their views to the respective submissions.
The Second Statutory Review of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 was published on Tuesday 25 February and can be viewed and downloaded from the Gov.ie website here.
The Lobbying Act 2015 was Introduced in response to demands for greater transparency in the policy-making process and requires anyone engaged in lobbying to register at Lobbying.ie and submit lobbying activity returns three times per year. The Act also established a year-long post-employment ‘cooling off’ period for certain public officials during which time they are not permitted to engage in specific lobbying activities.
The first review of the Act was carried out in the summer of 2016 and the resulting report, published in April 2017, also recommended no changes at that time.
The introduction to the second review states that the Department believes legislation should only be amended when there is a convincing case for change. It goes on to say that issues not already dealt with through the consultation process could be managed and resolved on an administrative basis by SIPOC and that the current regime effectively ensures transparency.
The PRII, following consultation with members, submitted a total of 15 proposed amendments to the Act. Amongst the recommendations were the basing of exemption criteria on turnover rather than number of employees, the inclusion of the activity of non-remunerated directors, the removal of registration exemptions for organisations without a full-time employee and the extension of the legislation to cover lobbying of DPOs (Designated Public Officials) that takes place outside of the State. The PRII also advocated the inclusion on each public body’s website of up to- date lists of DPOs, more frequent communication of outcomes of applications for consent to negate the ‘cooling off’ period and the publication of those in breach of the regulations. The full PRII submission is available in the Member’s area of the PRII website here.
SIPOC, who made a total of 22 separate recommendations around the Act’s definitions, operations, post-employment obligations, enforcement and other issues, have expressed their disappointment that none have been adopted, and have highlighted that they are not in a position, for example, to introduce enforcement powers for breaches of the post-employment rules.
Dr Martina Byrne, CEO PRII said “The PRII have always supported lobbying regulation. We had our own Code of Practice for Public Affairs and Lobbying in place as far back as 2003 - at the time, the only such code in Ireland and one of the few internationally. We echo SIPOC’s disappointment, it’s a missed opportunity to make the Act more robust and broaden its scope. There won’t be another opportunity to review the Act until 2022”.
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