It is fair to say and history now proves it that there has been much lobbying of public officials in this country down through the years. Some very important changes have taken place in this area in the last number of months with the signing into law in March of this year of The Regulation of Lobbying Act, 2015. On the 1st September last the Act came into effect.
It is designed to provide information to the public about who is lobbying, on whose behalf lobbying is being carried out, the issues involved in the lobbying and the intended result of the lobbying. The new Act provides that an individual/organisation is a lobbyist when making a relevant communication to a relevant official if it is a company with more than 10 full time employees or any person communicating in relation to planning and development that is not related to their principal private residence.
The Act does not aim to prevent lobbying. It does aim to make the process more open and it aims to do this by providing for;
- The establishment of a publicly accessible register of lobbying.
- The Standards Commission to be the Regulator of lobbying.
- Obligations on lobbyists to register and to provide information regularly about their lobbying activities including in the case a professional lobbyist’s information about their clients.
- A code of conduct in the carrying on of lobbying activities.
For anybody involved in lobbying therefore, it is necessary to register on the Register of Lobbying website which is maintained by the Standards Commission at www.lobbying.ie and provide information to the Standards Commission about lobbying activities three times a year. There will be no cost to register as a lobbyist and members of the public can view and search the register free of charge. This is a very useful facility for individuals and communities in relation to business and activities in their area.
Therefore under the legislation, you must register if you are carrying on lobbying activities. It is provided under the legislation that you are lobbying if you are communicating either directly or indirectly with a designated public official and that communication is about a relevant matter and that communication is not specifically exempted. Designated public officials include Ministers and Ministers of State, T.D.’s and Senators, M.E.P.’s, members of local authorities, special advisers and chief executive officers and directors of services in local authorities.
As an example a petition on behalf of a major tour operator to the Minister for Tourism on retaining a VAT rate for the tourism sector may be registrable under the new legislation. The same petition for a small operator with less than 10 full time employees may not be. The same petition to Failte Ireland will avoid registration as it is an entity not covered by the legislation.
It is fair to say that this area is becoming more and more regulated. One of the more important aspects of the legislation is that any person communicating about the development or zoning of land is required to be registered. This is of course in response to so much controversy and difficulties arising in this area in the past and for which the State has paid a high price in terms of tribunals. The legislation is certainly a far remove from what was previously an area that was unregulated.