Ethics watchdog issues hundreds of fines to lobbyists

The State’s ethics watchdog has confirmed that it has brought prosecutions against those who have failed to abide by lobbying laws.

Ethics watchdog issues hundreds of fines to lobbyists

It has also confirmed that it has issued hundreds of fines to lobbyists who failed to submit returns on their activities on time.

The Irish Examiner can reveal that the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has levied more than 500 fines to lobbyists who failed to submit their returns on time, under powers granted last year by the Regulation of Lobbying Act.

The law makes it an offence for lobbyists to lobby politicians without registering with Sipo, fail to make their returns on time, provide Sipo with misleading or inaccurate information, or obstruct or fail to comply with an investigating Sipo officer.

While the Act was introduced in 2015, its powers were rolled out on an incremental basis in order to afford lobbyists time to register with Sipo and meet the new legal requirements.

However, as of January 2017, the act armed Sipo with powers to investigate and prosecute contraventions of the new law.

A spokesperson for Sipo confirmed that it has now “initiated several prosecution proceedings in the District Court against registrants who have failed to comply with their obligations”.

“I cannot comment on individual compliance matters or investigations,” said the Sipo spokesperson.

“What I can say is that the Commission has, since the commencement of the enforcement provisions, levied more than 500 fixed payment notices in respect of returns filed after the relevant deadline.

“If a person submits a return after the deadline, they may be levied with a fixed payment notice of €200, and if it is paid, no prosecution will ensue.

“If it is not paid, the contravention may be prosecuted on a summary basis.”

The fixed payment notice is issued only in cases where returns are filed late.

“Where the Commission has information about other possible contraventions, including lobbying without registering or failing to make a return, the Commission does undertake to investigate,” Sipo said.

Such violations of the act can result in a €2,500 fine at District Court level, however if found guilty on indictment, the sanction can result in a prison sentence of up to two years.

Sipo also said it will reveal details of the cases brought to the District Courts when it issues its 2017 Regulation of Lobbying Annual Report sometime later this year.

Last year’s annual report revealed that there was a total of 1,565 lobbyists registered with Sipo. These registrants made 8,314 returns across 2016.

Lobbyists must file their latest returns, covering their activities from September to December 2017, by 21 January 21.

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