Lobbying law to impose year’s cooling-off period for departing public servants

Registration of Lobbying Bill may need ironing out, says Howlin

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said it would be “interesting to see how this legislation rolls out in practice”. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said it would be “interesting to see how this legislation rolls out in practice”. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Legislation to regulate lobbyists has been passed in the Dáil and now goes to the Seanad. Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said: “In plain English, it is attempting to influence decision-making.”

The long-awaited Registration of Lobbying Bill was introduced last year and the Minister said it would be “interesting to see how this legislation rolls out in practice. We will probably have to iron out a few bumps when we see it being implemented.”

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who described the Bill as “groundbreaking”, said it was “also long overdue”.

During the debate she called for restrictions for two years on post-term employment as a lobbyist for TDs, Senators, Members of the European Parliament and councillors.

She believed they should not be exempt from such restrictions, “including the requirement on a person to obtain pre-authorisation by way of an application to the Standards in Public Office Commission if they want to take up employment as a lobbyist within two years of leaving public office”.

Commercial interests

She said a two-year restriction would provide a proper time margin “to protect the public from influence-peddling for hire. I do not believe such a longer period would be excessively onerous.”

But Mr Howlin said however that a one-year cooling off period was an “appropriate and practical provision”. While it was right and proper to impose restrictions on post-term employment on relevant designated public officials,” those constraints must be proportionate, must not trample on people’s rights and must be practical to operate.

He added, however, that this “is the first time such restrictions have been brought in”.

If we feel they need to be adjusted over time that is well and good. I think this is a very good starting point.”

Fianna Fáil public expenditure and reform spokesman Seán Fleming criticised as too broad provisions that excluded communications from the legislation of designated public officials related to the functions of the public service body they are employed by.

‘Old thinking’

He believed there was still a hangover of this attitude in the planning area. “It is essentially one law for public bodies and a different law for everybody else. The essence of what is exempted should be based on the substance and not on who is making the actual communication.”

He said he would like to see the Bill more tightly drafted. “I understand it should not interfere with the proper working of the organisation, but we have expanded it too much in terms of exemptions.”

Mr Howlin said, however, that it had to be practical and he was anxious “to make sure it works”. He said they were talking about lobbying, and “not every piece of communication that happens between staff in a local authority or Government department is lobbying.”

He said that “if everything is reported, registered and so on, real lobbying would be difficult to identify”.