Transparency Code for a “relevant body” (working groups etc.)

A critical element of public policy formulation is the availability to Ministers and Public Bodies of expertise, skills and knowledge from persons outside of the public service. Often this process is formalised by the establishment of a task force, working group, etc. to focus on the examination of a particular policy issue or set of related issues. These groups are representative of key stakeholders and experts in relation to the matters being reviewed.  

In light of the different nature of engagement between public officials and non-public servants in that type of forum, the Act does not seek to capture and register those interactions as lobbying communications where appropriate transparency arrangements are in place.

The Act, therefore, provides for an exception from the requirement to register in such cases once specified transparency criteria apply. The particular exception in the Act is for communications between members of certain types of such working groups, task forces, committees, etc. where the group in question complies with the Transparency Codeestablished by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Such groups are defined in the Act as a “relevant body”. A copy of the Code is available for reference online at https://www.lobbying.ie/help-resources/information-for-public-bodies/transparency-code/.

The exception in relation to Policy Working Groups only applies to a “relevant body” as defined in the Act. In order to be regarded as a relevant body the group must meet the following four conditions:

  1. The group is set up by a Minister or public service body[1], and
  2. Its membership consists of at least one Designated Public Official (DPO)[2] and at least one person who is neither employed or engaged by a public service body, and
  3. The group is reviewing, assessing or analysing any issue of public policy with a view to reporting to the Minister of the Government or the public service body on it, and
  4. The group conducts its activities in accordance with the criteria set out in the Transparency Code (see below).

The Transparency Code sets out the transparency criteria which relevant groups must meet in order to avail of the exemption set out in section 5(5)(n) of the Act:

Transparency criteria:

Information must be published on the Public Body’s web-site setting out the following details:

  1. Name of Chairperson together with details of his or her employing organisation;
  2. Names of Members together with details of their employing organisation;
  3. Whether any non-public servant members were previously Designated Public Officials;
  4. Terms of reference of the group;
  5. Agenda of each meeting;
  6. Minutes of each meeting;
  7. Expected timeframe for the work to conclude its work;
  8. Reporting arrangements.

This information should be in a prominent place on the website of public bodies and should be easily accessible.

[1] A public service body is defined in the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, section 7.

[2] A Designated Public Official is defined in the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, section 6.

Timeliness of Publication:

Ideally the information should be published in as timely a fashion as possible, having regard to the public interest in safeguarding the integrity of the deliberative process. At a minimum, the information on the public bodies’ website must be updated at least every 4 months in relation to each such group.

This timeframe is in line with the transparency requirements of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 for groups which are engaging in lobbying communications but are not operating in accordance with the Transparency Code.

 

Public service officials should take the following steps having regard to the Transparency Code:

  1. Consider whether any of the existing groups within their Department or Office meet the first three conditions of “relevant body” set out above;
  2. If so, consult with the Chairperson and membership of the Group as to whether the Group now wishes to operate in accordance with the Transparency Code;
  3. If the Group wishes to operate in accordance with the Code, make appropriate arrangements for the information identified above under the heading “Transparency Criteria” to be published on the public body’s website;
  4. If the Group does not wish to operate in accordance with the Code, the members of the Group should be reminded that from 1 September, 2015 they will need to consider whether any communications with Designated Public Officials who are part of the group fall within the scope of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015.