Lobbying Act: lifting the lid on a hidden sphere

It appears some companies now do their lobbying through industry groups so that their own fingerprints won’t be on the process

Disclosures about the scale of the lobbying campaign being carried out in an effort to influence the final shape of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has lifted the lid on the kind of behind-the-scenes activity that accompanies the drafting of controversial legislation

Disclosures about the scale of the lobbying campaign being carried out in an effort to influence the final shape of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has lifted the lid on the kind of behind-the-scenes activity that accompanies the drafting of controversial legislation

 

Disclosures in this newspaper about the scale of the lobbying campaign being carried out in an effort to influence the final shape of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has lifted the lid on the kind of behind-the-scenes activity that accompanies the drafting of controversial legislation.

The fact that at least 10 former public officials are involved in the lobbying campaign, mainly on behalf of the drinks industry, shows the kind of clout that powerful interest groups can mobilise to fight their corner against government attempts to regulate their behaviour.

The positive aspect of the disclosures about the alcohol Bill is that the information has become available as a result of the Regulation of Lobbying Act of 2015. That legislation means that the public is now in a position to know who is lobbying whom and for what purpose. In the past such activity was conducted behind closed doors and it was impossible to know who was seeking to influence the outcome of government deliberations or attempting to affect votes in the Dáil.

It appears that some companies are now doing their lobbying through industry associations so that their own fingerprints won’t be on the process

The lobbying Act is a complex piece of legislation that was a long time in gestation. It only came fully into effect at the beginning of this year and is already having a considerable impact. A review of the operation of the Act, published in May, showed that about 1,600 registered lobbyists had submitted over 11,000 returns in compliance with the enforcement mechanisms which have been in place since January of this year. The strong view of the officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who carried out the review is that further legal changes are not warranted at this stage.

The review paints a relatively rosy picture, saying Ireland is now in a small group of countries with effective lobbying regulation and the prospect of uncertainty regarding the future shape of the legislation could undermine its effectiveness.

Nonetheless, there are no grounds for complacency. While the legislation has provided useful information about how officially registered lobbying works, some grey areas are beginning to emerge. It appears that some companies are now doing their lobbying through industry associations so that their own fingerprints won’t be on the process. This is evident in the lobbying activities carried out under the umbrella of the employers’ body Ibec on behalf of the alcohol industry.

Ibec director general Danny McCoy has complained that those promoting the interests of the alcohol industry are described as “lobbyists” while those making the opposite argument are described as “advocates”. There is an obvious difference between those lobbying for commercial gain and those making an argument for what they deem is in the public interest. But both are seeking to influence government policy and the public interest is best served by full transparency.

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