The Cabinet will today approve new penalties for former ministers, special advisers, and top civil servants who do not comply with a one-year cooling-off period for lobbying.
Ministers, special advisers, and senior civil servants are subject to a one-year cooling-off period before they can lobby, but following the resignation of former minister Michael D’Arcy to take up a senior post in the insurance industry, the Government is introducing the new penalties.
The political system has been rocked by the departures of the likes of former ministers Brian Hayes, Dara Murphy, and Mr D’Arcy to industry lobby groups and similarly influential positions.
Former politicians retain lifetime access to Leinster House — an invaluable asset to have in the lobbying game.
Public expenditure minister Michael McGrath will seek approval from his colleagues to introduce an amendment to the 2015 Lobbying Act to make failure to comply with the cooling-off provisions a ‘relevant contravention’ and an offence under the act.
This will be backed up by civil and/or administrative sanctions, ministers will be told.
At present, there are no enforcement provisions associated with breaches of section 22 of the act.
The Cabinet memorandum states that on foot of former minister of state D’Arcy taking up a position with the Irish Association of Investment Managers, the Taoiseach announced in September 2020 that Section 22 of the act, which deals with restrictions on post-term employment as a lobbyist, would be reviewed.
Mr McGrath will also bring business representative bodies or coalitions of business interests with no employees within the scope of the act, and require that members of such bodies/coalitions be named on lobbying returns to ensure such groups do not avoid the requirement to register.
Further amendments will extend the act’s scope to include non-remunerated office-holders to capture all relevant lobbying activity, the Cabinet memorandum states.
Ministers will also be told there will also be ‘relevant contravention’ in the act, covering the taking of any action by a person that has the intended purpose of avoiding the obligations to register or submit lobbying returns to the Standards in Public Office oversight body.
There has long been criticism of the weakness in the laws around lobbying and the “cosy” relationship between former office-holders, former top officials, and current decision-makers.
Separately, higher education Minister Simon Harris will seek Government approval for 4,600 additional college places this upcoming semester.
There has been a significant increase in demand for college places this year, with an increase in mature students and students from the European Union applying.
Thecan reveal that Mr Harris will seek Government approval for an additional €24m to fund 4,620 places, including 440 additional places in health sciences, including nursing, pharmacy, and medicine, 450 in science subjects, 120 in education, and 102 in law.
There will be a significant increase in the number of places in media studies, additional places in veterinary, and increased numbers in business. The minister will also give an update on expansion in further education and apprenticeship options.
It is also understood that Mr Harris will also update Government on ongoing work with the Department of Health on workforce planning for health service and efforts to increase the number of students studying healthcare.