The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) was deeply concerned that a draft government report seemed to be blaming it for a lack of guidance on how lobbying legislation works.
In February, the Department of Public Expenditure decided there was no need for a review of the law on lobbying despite 22 separate recommendations for legislative change from Sipo.
Internal correspondence has shown how Sipo was worried a draft report seemed to suggest it was its fault some people and groups remained unclear on how the law worked.
In a letter addressed to a senior official of the department — and copied to Minister Paschal Donohoe — Sipo’s head of ethics and lobbying regulation, Sherry Perreault, said the draft suggested a “deficiency” in its work.
She wrote: “[The draft report makes] several comments as to ‘the need for further assistance and clarity in relation to the interpretation and implementation of certain aspects of the Act’.
“Indeed, the response to most issues raised by stakeholders in the review is to recommend further guidance from the commission, even where such guidance already exists.
“This gives the impression, whether or not intentional, that there is a deficiency in the guidance and outreach provided by the Commission, or that these concerns could in fact be addressed solely through further guidance.”
Sipo said it had engaged in significant outreach, published extensive guidance and sample returns, instructional videos, information notes, and frequently asked questions.
It said the guidance was constantly monitored, updated, and expanded according to the needs of clients.
Sipo said it had undertaken advertising campaigns to promote the launch of the lobbying register, commencement of legislation and enforcement provisions, and a code of conduct.
Internal email exchanges also detail how Sipo believed the draft report “comes across as critical and implies that not enough has been done to date”.
Ms Perreault wrote in one email in January: “We would therefore suggest some modification to the language of the foreword to mitigate that impression and note the significant amount of guidance already provided.”
She added: “The commission is disappointed that there are no plans to amend the legislation on foot of its recommendations, and remains of the view that certain recommendations should be a priority.”
Among the changes Sipo was looking for was stronger legislation around “cooling off” periods for certain public officials who quickly go to work in the private sector.
It also wanted a requirement that government officials would cease further communications with people who failed to comply with lobbying legislation.
Asked for comment on the exchange with the department, Ms Perreault said Sipo had already made public its disappointment that none of its recommendations had been adopted.
A department spokeswoman said they had been in close contact with Sipo throughout the process and that comments on the draft report were taken on board.
She said: “Sipo was subsequently notified of specific amendments made to the draft review report which sought to address points raised by Sipo, including where Sipo felt that the report as draft might be interpreted as critical.
“It is to be noted that the original text drafted by the department was not intended to appear critical of the work undertaken by Sipo in providing guidance and information, and in its general interaction with stakeholders.”
The department said its “strong view” was that amendment of legislation should only be considered where a “compelling business change is clear and indisputable”.
It said there was widespread acceptance and support for the legislation and that a third statutory review would take place in late 2022.