Minister Donohoe announces commencement of new measures to update and improve lobbying activity 

31st May, 2024

Failure to comply with ‘cooling off’ period could result in penalty of €25k and ban on lobbying

 

Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, has today (Friday) confirmed that the remaining provisions in the Regulation of Lobbying and Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) (Amendment) 2023 Act, which relate to new sanctions, including those relating to contravention of the section 22 post-term employment cooling off provisions, will commence tomorrow (Saturday, 1st June 2024). 

Minister Donohoe had previously signed S.I. 531 of 2023, the commencement order for the 2023 Act, on 7th November 2023, with provisions that relate to the updating and improving of the lobbying register commencing on 1st January 2024. 

The main provisions that will be introduced on 1st June 2024 include:

  • Introducing a new ‘relevant contravention’ in the 2015 Act covering the taking of any action by a person that has the intended purpose of avoiding the obligations to either register or submit lobbying returns to the Standards in Public Office (SIPO); and
  • Amending the 2015 Act to make failure to comply with the cooling-off provisions of section 22 of the 2015 Act a ‘relevant contravention’ under the 2015 Act. A system of civil and administrative sanctions, to be operated by SIPO, will be introduced in this regard. This system will involve minor or major sanctions.  The sanctions will include: a caution or reprimand, a monetary penalty of up to €25,000 and a prohibition from lobbying of up to 2 years. 

Minister Donohoe said; 

“The 2023 Act amends the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the 2015 Act) to build on the existing strong legislative foundation and further strengthen Ireland’s lobbying laws, thus ensuring that the regulation of lobbying framework remains up to date and fit for purpose.  

“Lobbying is an essential part of the democratic process.  It plays an important role in policy formation.   It is essential, however, that this activity is transparent and open to public scrutiny. The public need to be able to monitor the potential influence that interest groups and representative bodies have on public policy issues and decisions. 

“Essentially, it must be clear who is lobbying whom, about what and why. This transparency is a key driver of trust in Government. The Lobbying Register has, from its introduction, proved to be an outstanding example of best practice in using this driver to greatest advantage. 

“By strengthening our regulation of lobbying regime even further, the 2023 Act ensures it continues to deliver on the objectives set for it.  In particular, the part of the 2023 Act that has now been commenced will promote compliance by ensuring proportionate sanctions are in place where obligations are not met.” 

ENDS

 

Additional Information 

The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the 2015 Act) was commenced on 1st September 2015. From that date, there has been a requirement for those who lobby Designated Public Officials (DPOs) to register and report on their lobbying activities every four months on the Register of Lobbying (the Register). The part of the 2015 Act that provides for investigation and enforcement provisions was commenced on 1 January 2017.  

The 2015 Act and related statutory instruments can be viewed at https://www.lobbying.ie/about-us/legislation 

The Register, which is a web-based system, can be viewed at www.lobbying.ie and is overseen by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO). There are currently 2,635 organisations and individuals who have registered on the Register, and over 91,000 returns have been submitted and are available for viewing.[1] 

There is no fee to register as a lobbyist and members of the public can view and search the Register free of charge.  

The website, as well as including the online Register, also has a suite of information tools designed to help lobbyists, DPOs and the public to fully understand the 2015 Act and its obligations. 

The purpose of the 2015 Act is to provide appropriate transparency on “who is lobbying whom about what”. In this context, the 2015 Act 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;
  • the intended result of the lobbying; and
  • who is being lobbied. 

The 2015 Act aims to do this by providing for: 

  • the establishment and maintenance of a publicly accessible Register of Lobbying;
  • SIPO to be the regulator of lobbying;
  • obligations on lobbyists to register and to provide information regularly about their lobbying activities, including, in the case of professional lobbyists,             
  • information about their clients;
  • a code of conduct on the carrying-on of lobbying activities; and
  • the introduction of a ‘cooling-off’ period during which lobbying activity may not be carried out by some former public officials. 

Section 22 of the 2015 Act provides that certain DPOs are restricted from being engaged in lobbying in certain circumstances for a year after they leave their employment or office unless they get permission from SIPO – in effect, they are subject to a “cooling-off” period.  The DPOs concerned are Ministers and Ministers of State, special advisers and prescribed public servants. The 2015 Act refers to these persons as “relevant DPOs”. 

Others who are DPOs for the purposes of the lobbying registration requirements are not covered by this provision, that is, TDs, Senators, MEPs and Local Authority members. 

Relevant DPOs who are covered by this provision may not: 

  • Carry on lobbying activities in certain circumstances or
  • Be employed by, or provide services to, a person carrying on lobbying activities in certain circumstances. 

These circumstances are where the lobbying activity: 

  • Involves any public service body with which the relevant DPO was connected, that is, employed or held any office or other position in the year prior to the relevant DPOs leaving, or
  • Is to a person who was also a DPO connected with that public service body in the year prior to the relevant DPO’s leaving. 

A relevant DPO may apply to SIPO for consent to engage in such lobbying. SIPO may decide to give consent unconditionally or give consent with conditions attached.  SIPO may also refuse to give consent for all or part of the cooling-off period. 

A relevant DPO who is unhappy with the decision may appeal. 

SIPO has published additional guidance for the benefit of any persons seeking to apply to waive or reduce their cooling-off period.  See  Guidance note on section 22 of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 

The key elements of reform in the Regulation of Lobbying and Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) (Amendment) Act 2023 (2023 Act) allow for the following changes to be made to the 2015 Act:

 

  • extend the time period between statutory reviews from three to five years to allow for the impacts of any policy/legislative changes to become clear; 
  • bring certain business groups, regardless of number of employees, within the scope of the 2015 Act and require that members of such groups be named on lobbying returns to ensure the groups do not avoid the requirement to register; 
  • extend the 2015 Act’s scope to include non-remunerated office-holders to capture all relevant lobbying activity; 
  • provide for an exemption for registration for communications made by political parties to their members who are DPOs (Designated Public Officials) only in their capacity as members of the party; 
  • introduce legislative provisions to improve the operation of the Lobbying Register; 
  • introduce a new ‘relevant contravention’ in the 2015 Act covering the taking of any action by a person that has the intended purpose of avoiding the obligations to either register or submit lobbying returns to SIPO; 
  • amend the 2015 Act to make failure to comply with the cooling-off provisions of section 22 of the Act a ‘relevant contravention’ under the 2015 Act. A system of civil and administrative sanctions, to be operated by SIPO, will be introduced in this regard. This system will involve minor or major sanctions.  The sanctions will include; a caution or reprimand, a monetary penalty of up to €25,000 and a prohibition from lobbying of up to 2 years; and 
  • set out clear timelines in the 2015 Act for the processing of section 22 applications made to SIPO by former relevant DPOs. 

SIPO has notified all relevant parties of these changes and details on the new measures can be found on their website at  https://www.lobbying.ie/about-us/legislation/the-lobbying-amendment-bill-2023/ with further information available at  

https://www.lobbying.ie/media/6333/c20240215-lobbying-amendment-act-key-information-latest.docx  and 

https://www.lobbying.ie/media/6336/open-house-presentation-29-february-2024.pdf  

The 2023 Act can be viewed at https://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2023/act/15/enacted/en/print.html 

[1] Figures correct at 24 May 2024

 

ENDS