Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there should be greater transparency around lobbying between government and business following disclosures revealed in the Uber Files.
Responding to questions about high-level lobbying by the California-based cab-hailing firm of government and State agencies between 2014 and 2017, Mr Martin said it was important to have full transparency around the activities of companies in lobbying government ministers, senior civil servants and State agencies.
“The more transparency the better, in terms of arguments for services or any change in regulation … to always have full transparency in that regard,” he said.
The Taoiseach was reacting to the leaking of 124,000 Uber records that showed how the US multinational tried to push the Fine Gael-led government and senior civil servants in 2015 and 2016 to loosen taxi regulations that would permit the firm’s business model to work in the Republic. Their efforts were, ultimately, unsuccessful.
The files were leaked to the Guardian in the UK by Irish career lobbyist Mark MacGann, a former senior Uber executive, and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a network that includes The Irish Times, BBC and Washington Post.
‘A bit odd’
Mr Martin said he found some revelations disclosed in The Irish Times reporting of Uber’s lobbying of former minister for finance Michael Noonan in early 2016 “a bit odd”.
The files revealed how former Department of Finance secretary general John Moran, who later lobbied for Uber as a consultant in 2015 and 2016, told the US firm’s executives that he could drop company documents into Mr Noonan’s home in Limerick. Mr Moran also referred to pubs in the city that the minister frequented when an Uber executive sought private talks with Mr Noonan about its plans for its Irish business.
“I would have thought that most people in Limerick knew where Michael Noonan had his clinics, as I do most TDs in this country. I found that bit bizarre,” he said.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the disclosure that Fine Gael included text supplied by Uber about the “sharing economy” in its 2016 election manifesto suggested “a high level of corporate capture of a very major political party that is still in Government”.
Mr Murphy questioned whether Uber’s recent lobbying of Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, as reported by The Irish Times, had any bearing on the comments last month by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar about the Uber business model and that of another cab-hailing company, Lyft, being allowed into the Irish market to respond to a taxi shortage.
“It is concerning that they already have such influence that they could effectively write a section of policy of an election manifesto and that they continue to lobby,” he said.
Varadkar and Harris
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris defended the contacts between the former Fine Gael-led government and Uber, saying that it should not be suggested that lobbying in a democracy was “a bad thing”. He said it was important that lobbying is done in a “lawful” and “transparent way” and that Uber’s lobbying of Government was registered in the State’s lobbying register.
“It’s never a bad thing for an NGO [non-governmental organisation], for a business organisation or for someone else to come forward with a view and present that view to Government in a democracy,” he said.
Defending the party’s 2016 manifesto, he said the party sets out its views “as to what is best for the country”. He added that “having a viewpoint that enabling more people to provide forms of transport and public transport is not a bad idea, it’s something that we very much stand by”.
Mr Harris said Mr Varadkar had outlined that “this sort of model works very well” in many European countries and others across the world. The Minister said the Uber experience showed that the State’s regulatory structures “did their job too”.
“People come forward, people present their views to Government, Government forms views, but there are also issues that regulators independently have roles on and we actually saw in relation to this that the regulator made a view that wasn’t in favour of Uber at the time,” he said.