Departments clash on lobbyist register proposal

Two departments in the Government have clashed over proposals for a register of lobbyists which would prohibit former ministers from engaging with policy makers after leaving office.

A two-year “cooling off period” for former ministers along with an independent overview of the lobbying system are part of proposals by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which intends to introduce new laws by the start of next year.

However, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation says legislation may not necessarily be required to regulate lobbyists and “a code of good practice may suffice”.

In a submission as part of a public consultation on the issue, the Department of Enterprise warned “any regulatory system should not be over-onerous on lobbyists”.

It suggested new rules could be introduced on a “phased basis” with an initial code of conduct which would require each government department to publish details of dealings with all representative groups.

The operation of this system should be then reviewed in five years’ time “with a view to determining if legislation is required to achieve the desired objectives”, the department said in a submission signed by the secretary general, John Murphy.

The Programme for Government contained a commitment to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, and rules concerning the practice of lobbying.

About 60 submissions were made during a public consultation process on options for an effective regulatory system for lobbying in Ireland. They showed broad support for a registration of lobbyists but many said this should not hinder interaction with interest groups and Government.

There were varied views on what detail should be gathered by the register, including dates and descriptions of meetings, details of funding sources and the amount spent on lobbying.

Brian Hayes, junior public service reform minister, said a policy position would be produced in autumn and new laws enacted by the start of 2013.

“People need to know who is talking to who and what they are talking about,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers Association said the onus should be on public representatives to give annual statements of who they meet. It said there should be a clear distinction between those lobbying for commercial gain and those representing the interests of members in a particular group.


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