Calls to ‘name and shame’ non-compliant lobbyists

PR industry believes legal and other professions have not reported lobbying activities

Legal firms engaged in lobbying activity are not thought to be complying with the legislation to the same extent as public relations professionals. Image: iStock

Legal firms engaged in lobbying activity are not thought to be complying with the legislation to the same extent as public relations professionals. Image: iStock

 

Organisations that do not comply with lobbying legislation introduced last September should be “named and shamed”, the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII) has suggested.

“The lobbying register should be given clear powers to name and shame organisations that do not comply,” said PRII chief executive John Carroll.

Legal firms engaged in lobbying activity are not complying with the legislation to the same extent as public relations professionals, the PRII believes.

“We would have particular concerns that while people in the public affairs and public relations community have stepped up to the mark, others don’t appear to have done so,” Mr Carroll said.

The representative body for PR professionals has called for the Regulation of Lobbying Act to be strengthened as part of the one-year review due to occur later this year.

“Reputational damage would be far more powerful” than the current financial penalties, Mr Carroll added.

The second round of returns to the register, covering the period from January to April 2016, are due to be made by Saturday.

The PR industry is worried that its traditional clients may seek to approach Ministers “behind closed doors”, rather than paying for the services of a professional lobbyist who is complying with the register.

Mr Carroll, speaking at a public affairs event held by the PRII at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, reiterated the PRII’s position that the Act is “perverse” as it requires the lobbyist and not the person being lobbied - “the person with the power in the relationship” - to report details of conversations to the register.

Senior civil servant William Beausang, who is head of the central expenditure policy division at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, said there was little evidence to date of any “chilling effect” on how public officials engaged with lobbyists.

“As a senior public servant, you don’t have the luxury of saying to people ‘I’m not going to meet you, because I don’t want to see my name on the register’.”

Despite the fact that the obligation to report meetings and conversations to the register falls on lobbyists, the legislation promotes “good practice” among Ministers and other designated public officials (DPOs) covered by the Act, Mr Beausang said, because it encourages them to seek out contrarian views.

“You don’t want to speak to people on one side, and not the other.”

Between the lobbying rules and Freedom of Information legislation, “everything you do, you have to act on the basis that it will come out”, he added.

Laurie Mannix, director of public relations firm MKC Communications, said there was a need for ongoing education in the public sector to ensure lobbyists did not lose access to officials for the purposes of “legitimate” lobbying.

The PR industry had sought for the Act to oblige Ministers to publish their diaries, “so it was very clear who they met, when they met them and where they met them”, Ms Mannix said.

Lobbyists should not be the de facto “guardians of ethics” in the Government and public sector, she said.