Lobbying bill falls short of expectation

Long-awaited measures to regulate the lobbying of government and senior civil servants has been met with a mixed reaction.

The proposals, it was claimed, do not match the promises the Coalition made when it took power.

Farmers and business representatives yesterday said the proposed Registration of Lobbying Bill could be an excessive burden and any register of lobbyists needed to be flexible.

The Government had vowed the legislation would essentially show who was speaking to whom in government, and about what.

Under the changes, there will be an online record of lobbyists, including records of interest groups, trade unions, and lobbying firms when they try to influence government policy.

It will leave a paper trail for the public but may only record meetings as opposed to all details of conversations and issues discussed.

However, the bill falls short of promises made in the Programme for Government. As opposed to a two-year ban on former government officials working for lobbying groups, the cooling-off period is only a year. Furthermore, the legislation will only apply to secretary generals or assistant secretary generals and not to principle officers who also work at high levels in departments.

The Irish Farmers’ Association said it remained opposed to the bill, saying it would now have to list all contacts between IFA officers and staff and public representatives or officials. This would be “impractical, unworkable, and prohibitively costly”, it said.

Employers group Ibec said it was concerned that the register would involve an “excessive administrative and regulatory burden”.

DCU academic Gary Murphy, who helped advise the Government on the bill, said the register and lobbying system would have to be properly resourced.

“Those of us who watch these things will at least know whether decision was made after pressure or not,” he told RTÉ radio.

The register will come into force by the middle of next year, said Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, and activities will have to be disclosed at the end of every April, August, and December.

Transparency International said its main concern was that, despite the register, there would be no actual disclosure of information shared between officials and lobbyists.

Under the system, a lobbyist will have to provide personal details to the new register and reveal the names of officials or ministers they have lobbied, the reasons and aim of the lobbying, and the extent and type of lobbying that took place.

The State’s ethic watchdog SIPO will oversee the implementation of the register, monitor how it is used, and advise of any breaches.

More in this section