Speaking notes for Public Affairs Ireland Conference
June 25, 2015
Good morning, thank you for introduction. I would like to thank the organizers for the invitation to speak today.
It is a pleasure for me to be here – both at today’s event, and more broadly to be here in Ireland in my new role as head of lobbying regulation.
I have been here for a month now and I am very much enjoying getting to know my new home.
I was asked to speak to you today about the plans of the Standards in Public Office Commission in regard to the implementation of the Regulation of Lobbying Act.
I was also asked to speak a little bit about the Canadian experience and what lessons it may hold for Ireland.
I am happy to do both of those things, and respond to a few questions I have received about how this new legislation will work in practice.
Enacting new legislation and putting in place a new regulatory system shakes things up. It requires that people and organizations - who are used to doing things a certain way – make some changes to how they do what they do.
Regardless of whether the legislation is needed, or how much support it has, there will inevitably be questions about how it will really work.
The Regulation of Lobbying Act is no different. Since taking on my new role, I have met with a number of people impacted by the legislation, and have noted the strong support in principle for greater transparency among those who conduct lobbying activities – professional lobbying consultants, charities and not-for-profits, business leaders and public servants alike.
This support has been critical as we try to reach out to as many people as possible that will have obligations under the new Act.
Their positive response doesn’t particularly surprise me.
Research has shown that lobbyists in other countries with regulatory regimes in place tend to be supportive of the regime – it raises awareness of their role, and validates and legitimizes the activity.
However, people conducting lobbying as well as those who are being lobbied are understandably interested in how the regime will really work in practice, and how they can prepare for the commencement of the legislation.
To address this, I would like to give you a bit of background on the Act itself, and how we at the Standards in Public Office Commission have been preparing for the commencement of the legislation ourselves.
Regulation of Lobbying Act
The Regulation of Lobbying Act provides that anyone conducting lobbying must register as a lobbyist, and file a return three times a year on their lobbying activities.
Lobbying as defined in the Act as communication between a lobbyist and a designated public official on a relevant matter.
For the purposes of the Act, lobbyists are defined as:
- A professional lobbyist being paid to communicate on behalf of a client;
- An employer with more than 10 employees where the communications are made on the employer’s behalf;
- A representative body with at least one employee communicating on behalf of its members and the communication is made by a paid employee or office holder of the body;
- An advocacy body with at least one employee that exists primarily to take up particular issues and a paid employee or office holder of the body is communicating on such issues; or
- Any person communicating about the development or zoning of land.
To trigger the requirement to report activities, not only must the individual or organization fall within the above definition of lobbyist, but must also be communicating with a “designated public official” (that is, Ministers and Ministers of State, members of the Dáil, the Seanad, and the European Parliament, members of local authorities, special advisers and senior civil servants) about a “relevant matter”.
Relevant matters are those which relate to the initiation, development or modification of policy, program or legislation, the awarding of any grant, loan, contract, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds, or any matter involving the development or zoning of land.
Matters involving strictly the implementation of a policy or program are exempt.
If a person or organization conducting lobbying meets all these definitions, they must register as a lobbyist and file returns of their activities at the end of each relevant period (that is, every four months) in the online registry.
The return must contain information about the person or organization doing the lobbying, who it was they lobbied, what the subject matter was, what the intended result of the lobbying was, and what type of activity was undertaken – email, phone call, in-person meeting .
It does not matter whether the interaction was formal or informal, whether it took place in a Minister’s office or down at the pub – if it is lobbying, it must be reported.
Preparing for Commencement
As mentioned by Chairman O’Keeffe, the Act will commence on September 1.
It is scheduled to be reviewed at the one-year mark, and then every three years thereafter, to ensure the legislation is structured appropriately and has no unintended consequences.
To prepare for commencement, we have taken a number of steps:
First, we established an advisory group of stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to help ensure effective planning and implementation.
This very useful forum has served to inform communications, information products and the development of the online registry itself.
And it is a fine example of how the Commission and stakeholders can work together to ensure the regulation of lobbying is successful.
Second, a competitive process was held to appoint a Head of Lobbying regulation. I am delighted to have been chosen and I and my team will manage the system within the Standards in Public Office Commission Secretariat.
Next, we developed and continue to implement a communications and outreach strategy to raise awareness and understanding of the regime.
We are also currently in the process of developing and publishing guidelines and information resources on the website to make sure the system is understood.
These materials include:
o An information Leaflet and general guidelines on Act.
o Guidelines specific to designated public officials and elected officials are also nearing completion
o Guidelines on Planning, Zoning and Development have been finalized will be available on the website shortly
We hope to have all guidelines published by early to mid July.
It is worth noting that the introduction of this new legislation involves a cultural shift - it is new for government, public and elected officials, and for those lobbying.
As such, it is a learning experience for all of us - we will provide guidance and advice, and will continue to refine it as we gain more experience administering the regime
The Guidelines will therefore be evergreen, meaning we will continue to update them as needed. They will be maintained online, where you can access them at any time.
I will also commit to continuing to identify needs for additional information, and we will continue to develop information tools as required and add them to the website.
In terms of other information material, we have launched a more targeted outreach campaign through letter mail, and recently issued a letter and information leaflet to over 2,000 bodies identified as potentially carrying out lobbying activities.
Finally, we have overseen the design and development of online registration system, which was launched May 1 in order to allow people to pre-register and familiarize themselves with the site and the registry prior to the coming-into-force of the legislation on September 1.
I will just put in a plug for the website www.lobbying.ie, which is a key source of information on the Act and its implementation.
It contains the online register and guidelines that we have developed, and also contains helpful information on how to determine whether what you are doing constitutes lobbying for the purposes of the Act.
Instructional videos are being added to the site, and it will continue to be populated with information as we go on.
The online system has been developed to be user-friendly and intuitive.
It will allow for online completion of returns rather than paper, and includes online help tutorials to assist in making returns.
It includes a simple-to-use but multi-faceted search facility.
And it provides details of returns, explanatory text and the ability to report inaccurate information.
People may pre-register now to get into the system and get familiar with it. None of the information entered right now will be viewable by the public, so it is a low-risk way to test it.
Dozens of individuals and organizations have already pre-registered, and we expect that number to continue to grow over the summer.
We envision as much interaction as possible with registrants through the online system, although of course we are available to answer questions or concerns, and to provide advice.
Enforcement and prevention
In addition to setting out rules and obligations, the lobbying legislation also provides for the establishment of a Code of Conduct for lobbyists, and sets out a suite of enforcement provisions, including sanctions for non-compliance.
It is our intention to wait until we have gained sufficient experience in the administration of the Act before we move to develop a Code of Conduct. When the time comes, we will of course be undertaking stakeholder consultations.
The enforcement provisions of the Act are scheduled to come into force one year after the registration provisions.
They include sanctions ranging from a 200 euro fixed penalty for late filings of returns, all the way to imprisonment for more egregious breaches of the legislation.
While obviously the presence of enforcement provisions is a necessary and useful tool to have, our preferred approach is to undertake education, outreach, advice and guidance in order to promote compliance and prevent contraventions.
Ireland in the international context
In developing this system the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, who had the lead in developing the legislation, has been able to benefit from the experience of other jurisdictions who regulate lobbying.
They consulted with a number of international practitioners to identify common approaches and best practices, determine what works, what doesn’t, and what is adaptable to the Irish context.
I know that officials looked closely at several Canadian models of lobbying regulation, both federal and provincial, to identify any lessons for Ireland. Perhaps I can comment briefly on the Canadian model of lobbying regulation.
Canadian model of lobbying regulation
In Canada, there is lobbying regulation at both federal and provincial levels.
Lobbying legislation at the federal level in fact dates back to 1989, with the introduction of the Lobbyists’ Registration Act – so at the national level, Canada has been regulating lobbying for over 25 years.
Most provincial jurisdictions in Canada, with the exception of Prince Edward Island and the three northern territories, have passed lobbying legislation, although I note that SK and NB have not yet implemented their regimes.
And some municipalities also have systems in place, most notably Toronto (a city of over 4 million people) and Ottawa.
At the federal level, the Canadian model has evolved over time, and today it features:
- an independent lobbying commissioner who reports directly to Parliament, and
- a Lobbying Act that clearly defines what lobbying is and who is a lobbyist
The Act requires registration of individuals who are paid to lobby, and where lobbying constitutes 20% or more of their activities.
People who lobby on a voluntary basis or who lobby less than 20% of their time are not required to register.
Registered lobbyists must file monthly returns on their activity, containing much the same information as the Irish register (subject matter, desired outcome, who was lobbied, method etc).
The lobbying commissioner has the authority to draft and administer a lobbyists’ code of conduct, and may also investigate and produce public reports of breaches of the Code. She may refer breaches of the Act to the RCMP for investigation and charges.
This is not to imply that Canada has the holy grail of systems – there are issues that create challenges for both the administrators and the lobbyists.
That said, the system generally works well, and is seen as a solid model on the international scene. It works, is seen to work, and has promoted transparency in terms of how public policy is made in Canada.
While I cannot speak to the intent of the legislative drafters here in Ireland as to why they chose some elements of some international models and not others, what I can say is that no model is perfect, and any approach must be adapted to the specific context of the country – no “one size fits all” approach would work.
While Ireland’s lobbying regime is tailored to the Irish context, it is clear from the international landscape that lobbying regimes can and do work.
They have not created an undue chill effect on lobbying activity, nor has the increased transparency resulted in detrimental effects on policy-making processes or impeded the day to day interactions that citizens have with their elected officials.
I expect the same will hold true in Ireland. However, one of the hallmarks of the new legislation is that it allows for review at the one year mark and then every three years thereafter – which will ensure that any unintended negative consequences can be dealt with through amendment or clarification.
In conclusion, I would like to underscore the point that lobbying is a legitimate and important part of the democratic process. The exchange of information is vital to effective decision-making.
However, a healthy democracy also relies on the accountability of those in whom we place the public trust. And transparency is the cornerstone of accountability.
The lobbying register will enhance public confidence in the system by shining a light on lobbying and providing information as to how decisions are informed and made.
We at the Standards in Public Office Commission are committed to ensuring that the legislation is administered fairly, effectively and at all times with regard to the public interest.
For those in the room today who will have obligations under this new legislation, I encourage you to become familiar with the website and the tools provided there – and to take advantage of the trial period to pre-register and get to know system.
One last message to leave you with – we are here to help facilitate compliance with the Act. So please do not hesitate to contact us with questions or challenges in using the registry.
Now, I will look forward to our discussion and any questions you may have. Thank you for your time.