On 1 September 2015, the Irish Regulation of Lobbying Act came into effect. Its main goal is to increase the transparency of the lobbying process. People involved in lobbying need to register on the Register of Lobbying portal and provide updates on their activities three times a year.
Last summer, the Register of Lobbying was awarded "star" status by the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP's evaluation report makes a connection between the impact on Ireland of the 2008 global financial crisis on the one hand, and excessive risk-taking coupled with a lack of transparency in the country's financial sector on the other.
By publishing the register online, citizens now can see who attempts to influence whom in government. This can be a powerful tool in preventing abuses of power and in restoring public trust in government.
Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015
On 1 September 2015, the Irish Regulation of Lobbying Act came into effect. It has been created to provide information to the public about:
- who is lobbying,
- on whose behalf the lobbying is being carried out,
- the issues that are the subject of the lobbying,
- the intended results, and
- who is being lobbied.
The main goal of the Act is to increase the transparency of the lobbying process by:
- establishing a publicly accessible register of lobbying;
- making the Standards in Public Office Commission (The Standards Commission; SIPO) responsible for regulating lobbying;
- placing obligations on lobbyists to register and provide regular updates on their lobbying activities, including, in the case of professional lobbyists, information about their clients;
- creating a code of conduct on how lobbying activities should be carried on; and
- introducing a "cooling-off" period during which some former officials may not carry out any lobbying activities.
As a result, anyone involved in lobbying needs to register on the portal and provide updates on their activities three times a year. There are no charges involved in this.
Part of democracy
At the same time, the regulator acknowledges that lobbying is an essential part of the democratic process. Lobbying allows citizens and organisations to make their views on public policy and public services known to politicians and public servants.
Organisations such as interest groups, representative bodies, industry and civil society organisations, NGOs, charities and third-party professional lobbyists all provide necessary input and feedback to politicians and public servants through communication of their views and concerns. The aim of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 is not to restrict the flow of information or views on policy or legislation. The intention is to bring about significantly greater openness and transparency with respect to lobbying activities.
Description of target users and groups
Under the new law, people and companies are deemed to carry out lobbying activities if they meet the following conditions:
- they communicate directly or indirectly with a "designated public official"; and
- that communication is about a "relevant matter"; and
- that communication is not specifically exempted; and
they are one of the following:
- a third party being paid to communicate on behalf of a client,
- an employer communicating on its own behalf,
- a representative body communicating on behalf of its members,
- an advocacy body that exists primarily to take up particular issues,
- any person communicating about the development or zoning of land.
This is the list of designated public officials:
- Ministers and Ministers of State,
- Members of Parliament (TDs) and Senators,
- Irish Members of the European Parliament,
- Members of local authorities,
- Special Advisers to the government,
- Secretaries General and Assistant Secretaries in the civil service,
- CEOs and Directors of Services in local authorities.
Specific definitions of "relevant matters" and "exempted matters" can also be found on the portal.
Anyone who is not sure whether they should register can take a three step test.
Every registered lobbyist must arrange to record all communications that might fall within the scope of the Act and identify the key personnel involved. These records must be compiled into a summary that is submitted to the portal three times a year (the "return").
Each return should contain information on:
- the public officials who were lobbied and the public service body they represent;
- the subject matter of the lobbying and the results it was intended to secure;
- the type and extent of the lobbying activities carried on;
- the name of the individual carrying on the lobbying activities;
- information about the client(s) on whose behalf the activities were carried on; and
- the name of any lobbyist who is or has been a designated public official under the terms of the Act.
Main results, benefits and impacts
Last summer, the Register of Lobbying — a commitment from the first Irish OGP Action Plan 2014-2016 — was awarded "star" status by the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The evaluation report 'Star Reforms in the Open Government Partnership' list commitments from OGP Action Plans to which the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) awarded star status in its latest reporting cycle. These showcases represent exemplary reforms that have a potentially transformative impact on citizens in the country of implementation, note the authors of the report.
The report makes a connection between the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis on Ireland on the one hand, and an excessive risk-taking coupled with a lack of transparency in the country's financial sector on the other. The authors say that the historical opacity and "backroom deals" in Irish politics were contributing factors that worsened the impact of the financial crisis and gave certain special interests disproportionate influence on policy. This is a failure of governance, they say, whose solution requires making politics and policymaking in Ireland to be made more transparent and accountable.
By publishing the register online, citizens now can see who attempts to influence whom in government, the report states. An innovative feature of the register is that it allows citizens to search the register by dates of registration, policy area, lobbying organisation, and specific public officials by name.
Disclosing information on people attempting to influence public policy can be a powerful tool in preventing abuses of power and in restoring public trust in government. By publishing a register of lobbyists, Ireland is bringing much-needed transparency to the policymaking process. This approach signals a shift away from developing public policy behind closed doors. It also enables greater public oversight of policymaking and influence peddling, which are particularly important in the post-financial-crisis context.