4,500 returns under lobbying rules

Over 1,300 individuals and organisations submitted more than 4,500 returns since new lobbying rules were introduced last year, it has emerged.

People who lobby designated public officials are required to register and report on their lobbying activities every four months.

In its first annual report on the Regulation of Lobbying Act, published yesterday by the Standards in Public Office Commission, it said it was pleased with the response so far.

Commission chairman, Daniel O’Keeffe, said: “The results we have seen to date are a very positive indicator that there is an acceptance of the need for openness and transparency in lobbying.”

The Regulation of Lobbying Act, that commenced last September, is aimed at making the lobbying process more transparent.

However, the commission, an independent body established in 2001 by the Standards in Public Office Act, has found some areas where confusion over the act’s requirements persists.

There was some uncertainty over determining whether a communication counted as lobbying and ensuring that returns submitted were meaningful and contained sufficient detail.

Also, there is an obligation for registrants to submit a return for every relevant period, including a “nil return” for periods during which they did not lobby.

Head of lobbying regulation, Sherry Perreault, said the report marked a significant milestone in the evolution of ethics law in Ireland.

Ms Perreault said 1,338 registrants had made 4,548 returns to date, and it was clear their efforts to build awareness and understanding had resulted in the high level of registration and returns.

“While we are very pleased with the early results, there is still work to be done to ensure that all those lobbying are aware of their obligations under the act,” she said.

The six-member commission will have the authority to investigate and prosecute contraventions of the act and to levy fixed payment notices from specific breaches later this year.

Ms Perreault said that those prosecuted under the law could be fined up to €2,500 and face two years’ imprisonment.

The register itself is a web-based system (www.lobbying.ie). There is no cost to register, to submit returns or to access information. Anyone who is lobbying must register and submit returns three times a year, covering prescribed four-month periods.

Last year, there were seven applications made to delay publication of registration details, but five were found to have registered in error due to a misunderstanding of the act’s requirements. One applicant had requested a delay in error.

A delay request by another applicant was rejected, with the registration details subsequently published.

Under the act, informal encounters that take place socially, in a business premises or on the street may be considered lobbying, just as a meeting in a councillor’s office or inside Leinster House. Texts or emails may count as lobbying, and the use of social media in certain cases.

Tweeting may also be considered lobbying if a tweet is sent to an individual designated public official or that official is tagged in the tweet. But a tweet directed at a broad audience and not targeted at someone would not be considered lobbying.

Health accounted for the vast majority of returns, followed by justice and equality, and finance.


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