Thousands of lobbyists will need to declare on online register

Groups required to register under Regulation of Lobbying Act from September 1st

Thousands of companies and organisations will be required to declare on the new online register of lobbying which has been launched by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

The web-based register, lobbying.ie, was formally launched on Thursday in Dublin by Mr Howlin, Mr Justice Daniel O'Keeffe, who is chair of the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO), and the new head of regulation of lobbying, Sherry Perreault.

The new register is underpinned by the recently enacted Regulation of Lobbying Act which allows for the setting up of a register of lobbying, which will show who has lobbied; the issues involved; the beneficiary of the lobbying; its intended result; as well as identifying the senior public officials or politicians who have been lobbied.

Mr Howlin has campaigned on this issue over many years and in his speech said: “It is the secrecy which has characterised some of the lobbying in the past that has been problematic.”

All the speakers said lobbying was an essential part of a democratic system but its activities should be open to public scrutiny.

"Transparency has always been the cornerstone of accountability," said Ms Perreault, who has previously worked in this area in Canada.

When asked, Paddy Walsh, the secretary of SIPO, said it was very difficult to second-guess how many would register, saying one could say 10,000 or 20,000.

“It will be large and there will be large numbers registering,” said Mr Walsh.

Mr Howlin said that the law strove to achieve a delicate balance between the obligation to disclose information on the one hand, and not putting too onerous an administrative burden on groups and companies.

“The information to be registered takes account of the need to minimise the administrative burden so not every meeting, phone call or email has to be listed individually.

“Rather the focus is on capturing the subject matter, who was contacted and the results intended to be achieved.”

One of the provisions of the Bill that attracted some criticism was the decision to reduce the “cooling-off” period when senior public servants and politicians were prohibited from lobbying from two years to one year.

Mr Howlin said there was a lot of debate around this question and there was a need to balance the length of the period with people’s constitutional right to work.

He said he did not want a situation where people walked out of the public service or politics and immediately began lobbying but at the same time, there was legal advice received that seeking a two year period might raise a question in relation to people’s constitutional rights.

He said that the one year period was seen as the most appropriate.

The online register will operate on a trial basis until September 1st, after which the Act will come into effect.

Those are carrying out lobbying activity will need to start keeping records and will be required to register with the Standards Commission by January 21 of next year.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

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