Bill tracking lobbyists watered down

Laws aimed at helping citizens track the influence that lobbyists have on government policy have been watered down significantly from what was initially planned, according to anti-corruption campaigners.

The Transparency International Ireland group said efforts to tackle secrecy in how ministers reach decisions should go further than planned in the Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014.

A report, called Influence and Integrity, finds that corporate interests are “more or less guaranteed access to senior decision-makers and politicians” and that the influence they enjoy “has a real bearing on the lives of all citizens”.

It highlights the alcohol and pharmaceutical sectors, which it says have “significant influence over aspects of national policy”.

A public register of lobbying will be introduced in laws to be voted through the Dáil this year which, it is hoped, will help track who influences which decisions.

It recommends a two-year “cooling-off” period for former politicians or special advisors to work in lobbying. The current bill suggests a one-year period.

The group has highlighted loopholes in the bill, including a requirement that only paid lobbying is registered.

“This means that lobbying carried out on a pro bono basis for a client would not necessarily have to be recorded in the lobbying register,” it said.

“There is potential for abuse here, in that consultant public affairs professionals could attempt to flout the registration requirements by charging their clients increased fees for non-lobbying work, while conducting lobbying activities technically free of charge.”

Transparency International says the bill “is less robust in several key respects” than earlier laws which had been drafted.

Reform Minister Brendan Howlin will discuss the legislation at the Oireachtas committee today.


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