Companies and organisations based in Ireland spent more than €12.5 million in Brussels lobbying at the European Union level last year.
Lobbying and PR firm Hume Brophy had the highest declared spend of between €1.25 million and €1.5 million last year, and employed 18 full-time staff in Brussels.
Clients the firm has lobbied for at the EU include EirGrid, the Irish Government, the Dublin Airport Authority, Thomas Cook tour operatorand Irish property developers Michael Flynn and Patrick McKillen.
Facebook spent between €1 million and €1.25 million on EU lobbying efforts in the last financial year.
The social media multinational firm held 71 meetings with European Commission cabinet officials and commissioners in the last three years, and employs five full-time lobbyists in Brussels. The amount each registered lobbyist spent is published in an online EU transparency register.
Kerry Group spent more than €600,000 and business representative group Ibec spent more than €400,000.
Red Flag consulting spent more than €200,000; their clients included the London-based British American Tobacco company, one of the largest tobacco producers.
Ryanair spent between €200,000 and €300,000, and held 27 meetings with high-ranking European Commission officials. The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) held 28 meetings with officials, employed two full-time lobbyists, and spent more than €200,000.
Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture has regularly met with the IFA and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, to discuss issues such as common agricultural policy (CAP) subsidies, according to the register.
The returns register can also include any grants received from EU bodies, which have to be recorded, which can inflate the overall figure for non-governmental organisations.
Front Line Defenders, a human rights group co-founded by businessman Denis O’Brien, recorded a return of €750,000 on the EU register last year. A spokesman pointed out, however, that the cost of running their Brussels office last year was €270,548, and the group received an EU grant of €725,229 from the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.
Shift towards Brussels
Prof Raj Chari, a professor of political science in Trinity College Dublin who specialises in lobbying regulations, said there was a shift among lobbyists towards Brussels as the EU’s decision-making powers increased over recent decades.
Lobbyists’ aims will be to try shape policy towards their interests, or to try maintain the status quo when it comes to existing favourable policy, he said.
Prof Chari said more and more major policy issues were decided at the EU level, including “the big ones” such as competition law, single market issues, some economic policy and the common agricultural policy. This leads to most major lobbyists and firms employing a “dual strategy” of lobbying their domestic political system, as well as at the European level.
Prof Chari said there was a negative perception of lobbyists and “behind closed doors” deals sometimes associated with the profession. But the “professional lobbyist is a legitimate actor in the democratic state”, he said.
Irish regulations require lobbyists to sign up to a register, and disclose any contact or meetings with politicians and senior Government department officials, and the issues discussed at the meeting. The online register, lobbying.ie, was introduced as part of reforms undertaken by Brendan Howlin TD, during the previous Fine Gael – Labour Party coalition.
Prof Chari said the new Irish regulations are well-regarded internationally. The reforms were a “strong effort” to introduce more transparency in politics “to prevent the Galway tent culture” returning, he said.
The Galway tent was a controversial fundraising event Fianna Fáil ran at the Galway Races, which was frequently attended by property developers and businessmen during the Celtic Tiger.
Labour Party leader Mr Howlin said the register has “shone a light on the amount of work undertaken to influence policy and legislation in Ireland”.
Ibec have made 743 lobbying disclosures, the most of any firm or group since the register was introduced in 2015. The IFA made the second most at 552 disclosures, followed by the Macra na Feirme (217), and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (194). Overall 6,069 lobbying approaches have been made to TDs and senators since the legislation was brought in.
Mr Howlin said the requirements to disclose lobbying efforts should be extended to cover junior officials in government departments. He said there was also a need to ensure the rules were being applied fully at local authority level to establish “whether all developers are declaring their interactions with councillors”.
* This article was amended on Friday, January 5th 2018