Former Government advisors asked ‘cooling off’ periods be waived or reduced

Move can effectively clear path for working in organisations previously involved in lobbying

Eight former special advisors to the Government requested their formal “cooling off” periods be waived or reduced following last year’s general election, according to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).

The move, which is formally applied for, can effectively clear their path for employment in organisations previously involved in Government lobbying.

The number of applications set a new annual record, according to the 2020 report on the Register of Lobbying, produced by Sipo and designed to bring transparency to interactions between Government officials and third parties.

Last year, Sipo said the Covid-19 pandemic had brought about a “quite significant” increase in the number of persons registered to conduct lobbying activity.


However, it noted that because of it being an election year, many of those employed as special advisors left their jobs – generally tied to the duration of governments – and sought employment elsewhere.

The law requires that they, as well as ministers, ministers of State and senior public officials, be subject to a one year “cooling-off” period after they leave office.

During this time they cannot engage in lobbying activities in specific circumstances, or be employed by, or provide services to a person carrying them out, without the consent of the Commission. Eight such applications were made either for a waiver or a reduction in that time frame.

‘No consequences’

The report also noted two instances where the Commission became aware of former public officials who it felt should have sought consent to take up a particular employment but did not, and has sought greater legal powers to apply sanctions in such circumstances.

“There are no powers under the Act for the Commission to investigate or prosecute breaches of these provisions. There are no consequences of non-compliance,” the report noted.

“Without appropriate investigation and enforcement powers, these provisions of the Act are essentially voluntary and carry no real weight.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pandemic prompted an increase in lobbying activities. The Commission noted that registered returns - or details of activity in individual cases - “increased quite significantly for the second and third returns periods of the year, bringing the total number of returns to just over 11,600”. They include 1,378 returns specifically referencing the pandemic.

"It has prompted unprecedented volumes of lobbying in virtually all policy areas - health care, economic development, recreation and sport, social supports, mental health and more have been the subject of Covid-related lobbying," said the Commission's head of ethics and lobbying regulation Sherry Perreault.

"Businesses, advocacy groups and associations impacted by the pandemic have sought to influence decisions on restrictions, funding supports and procurement. It has spurred into action people and organisations who have never before lobbied, and given a new focus for those who have done so for years."

In 2020, the Commission carried nine investigations into possible non-compliance with the law over from the previous year and launched three new ones. Four files proceeded to prosecution.

Most prosecutions come in cases where a registered party fails to make a return regarding lobbying activities. Last year, it issued 150 warning notices signalling a willingness to prosecute, although only one case was ultimately pursued legally.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times