The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 – What you need to know
When some people hear the word lobbying, their mind may conjure up images of Netflix’s House of Cards and picture smooth talking professionals performing secretive backroom deals with politicians on behalf of scrupulously rich clientele.
This perception is understandable to an extent and particularly in an Irish context, where the act of lobbying has in the past lacked required levels of scrutiny and transparency. The newly introduced Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, will address many of these misconceptions and promote the social and commercial benefits for such activities.
For the negative stereotype surrounding lobbying perpetrates a disservice to this valuable and necessary profession. The act of lobbying and public affairs ( as its often referenced with) is a fundamental necessity to a healthy and democratic society and can provide a voice to those in need or the marginalised across all sectors.
Definition of Lobbying
From a historical viewpoint, the term itself has reportedly been in existence in Britain since 1640. It simply referred to the lobbies outside British Parliament Chambers where such interactions were taking place.
Lobbying can be defined in a more modern context as any strategic action or communication designed for the purpose of influencing Government (at both national and local level) or other key decision-makers on legislative, policy, planning or regulatory matters.
It primarily involves communications and engagement with public representatives (namely TD’s, Senators, MEPs and Counsellors) and/or other decision-makers and bodies. The scale of representation covers entire sectors and industries both from a private and public perspective, and can also be carried out on behalf of single organisations ranging from powerful multinational corporations to those operating in our local community or on an voluntary basis.
Until now, there has been no legislation in place in Ireland to regulate lobbying and the core aim of this new Act, (which came into force on the 1st September this year) is not to prevent or inhibit such activity, but to make the lobbying process far more transparent and accountable.
Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015
The legislation was designed to provide the following information to the public:
- Who is lobbying
- On whose behalf is the lobbying taking place
- What are the lobbying issues
- What is trying to be achieved through the lobbying process
- Who is actually being lobbied
How will these aims be achieved?
The legislation has established the following:
- Lobbying regulator through the Standards in Public Offices Commission (SIPO)
- Publicly accessible register for those lobbying
- Code of conduct for such lobbying activities
- Time restrictions of one year on certain public representatives and officials from engaging in such activities.
What constitutes lobbying under the Act?
Section 5 (1) stipulates that one must register if they are carrying out any of the following lobbying activities:
- 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 and;
- The individual is either of the following:
- A professional lobbyist being paid to communicate on behalf of a client (where the client is an employer of more than 10 full time employees or is a representative body or an advocacy body which has at least one full-time employee)
- An employer with more than 10 employees where the communications are made on their behalf
- A representative body with at least one employee communicating on behalf of its members and the communication is made by a paid employee or office holder of the body.
- An advocacy body with at least one employee that exists primarily to take up particular issues and a paid
- Employee or office holder of the body is communicating on such issues.
- Any person communicating about the development or zoning of land.
Who are the Designated Public Officials?
Section 6(1) of the Act stipulates ‘Designated Public Officials’ include:
- Ministers and Ministers of State
- TDs and Senators
- MEPs for constituencies in this State
- Members of local authorities ( Councillors)
- Special Advisers
- Secretaries General and Assistant Secretaries in the Civil Service
- Chief Executive Officers and Directors of Services in Local Authorities
What is “a relevant matter”?
A ‘relevant matter’ has a broad definition and relates to:
- The initiation, development or modification of any public policy or of any public programme;
- The preparation or amendment of any law (including secondary legislation such as statutory instruments and bye-laws) ; or
- The award of any grant, loan or other financial support, contract or other agreement, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds;
It won’t be considered a ‘relevant matter’ if it relates only to the implementation of any such policy, programme, enactment or award or any matter of a technical nature.
Investigations by SIPO
SIPO through its authorised officers have the power to carry out investigations of alleged contraventions and can demand information, explanations or documents as part of those investigations.
The Act also confers extensive powers of search and seizure, although under Section 19(12) such information, explanation or documents do not have to be handed over if they are covered by legal professional privilege.
Offences and Penalties
Contraventions as set out in the Act include:
- Engaging in lobbying activities without being registered
- Failure to file a return
- Providing inaccurate or misleading information to the regulator (SIPO)
- Failure to comply with or obstructing an investigation
Penalties are far ranging and can include fixed fines scaling between €200 to €5,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to two years.
It’s also worth highlighting the implications for company directors and other officers, who can be now held personally liable for these offences by that company, where the consent or involvement of that director or officer was present during the committal of such offences.
The Act is a most welcome development for the profession but more importantly for the wider general public.
This legislation has provided an opportunity to legitimise and bring lobbying into the media spotlight, which in turn provides for increased awareness around the merits and needs for such democratic interaction. Because at its core, lobbying enables citizens to be heard where and when it really matters on issues of concern relative to them.
J.O.S Solicitors is one of the only law firms in Ireland, providing dedicated Public Affairs and Lobbying services for commercial businesses, trade and professional bodies, community groups and charitable organisations.
If you would like J.O.S Solicitors to assist or advise on any Public Affairs or Lobbying issue, then please contact us.
This publication is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional public affairs advice. No liability is accepted by J.O.S Solicitors for any action taken or not taken in reliance on the information set out in this publication. Any and all information is subject to change and professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this publication.