The Lobbying register: facilitating transparency or allowing policy influence ‘under the radar’?

By Nuala Haughey
Almost fifteen years after the idea was first proposed in a Labour Party private members’ Bill, Ireland is due to get a mandatory lobbying register.
The online database will capture information about the efforts of interest groups and professional lobbyists alike to influence policy and legislation. The database is provided for in the Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014 which is currently before the Oireachtas. Groups and individuals who lobby will have to register with the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) and file lobbying returns three times a year.
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Reform proposals don’t target corruption

By Iain McMenamin (30 March, 2011)

The Moriarty Tribunal’s report details an exchange between a politician and businessman, the like of which cannot easily be targeted by political reforms. Politicians have a demand for cash and can supply lucrative private goods to business, such as a mobile phone licence. The political demand for cash in Ireland is already limited compared to other countries such as the USA and Australia because paid broadcast advertising is not allowed. The Criminal Assets Bureau has great potential to recoup illicit cash from politicians. Continue reading

ReformCard: a tool to help voters decide

The editors and contributors behind have teamed with a large volunteer team of project managers, web designers and others to produce ReformCard a measurement tool to rank each party based on the quality of their policies on political reform.  We hope this will prove a critical instrument in informing the election 2011 debate. It provides the 25 proposals for political reform in Ireland which we believe provide the best possible combination to transform the political system and ensure it is fit for purpose in the 21st century. Continue reading

Is a proper register of lobbyists finally on the way or is this the politics of the long finger?

by Gary Murphy (July 29 2010)

It seems that the Minister for the Environment John Gormley is ready to move on implementing a register of lobbyists. Speaking at a meeting of Green Party members in Limerick last weekend, he said that he intended to change the way politics was funded and to curb the influence of lobbyists, when the Dáil returns in September. Gormley said that his planned reforms on corporate donations to political parties would also involve the introduction of a register of lobbyists to regulate their activities. Strongly criticising the influence of lobbyists in the political process, Gormely noted:

“These individuals or companies who are paid handsomely by companies to achieve certain policy objectives have ready access to those in power. Many of them have previously been involved in political parties and know the system and the personalities. They also know the journalists and opinion formers. The influence of lobbyists is pervasive and at times pernicious. This is why we need a register of lobbyists to regulate their activities. It would immediately allow the public to identify these individuals and the causes they espouse.”

And for those of us who have been calling for such a register for a number of years, we might say hurrah for John Gormley. Continue reading

Is a register of lobbyist enough?

There is a practice for UK prime ministers to be asked in the Commons about their engagements that day before the supplementary questions would come in and start asking them what really was meant to happen. It always seemed to me to be an odd tradition and I couldn’t find or see the logic to it. Recently reading Matt Cooper’s book Who Really Runs Ireland, it occurred to me that maybe it isn’t such an arcane practice and one that we might actually want to think about adopting in some form. In his book he outlines meeting between then serving Taoisigh and businessmen at which it seems obvious policy was effectively ‘sold’. He shows that after one meeting where a businessman made a contribution to Fianna Fáil and in return he was given a line in a Finance Bill which saved him over a million Euros in taxes. The policy change was one for which he was effectively the only beneficiary.

It seems to me that a register of lobbyists would hardly have stopped such meetings take place nor indeed is it likely would the lobbyists even have been on the register. The register wouldn’t work because it is just about the formal lobbying that takes place, but informal lobbying can be much more effective and commonplace.  It would make it easier if we knew and had a record of everyone that ministers and Taoisigh met, and not just in formal meetings. These could be put up on websites the next day. It might be thought of an invasion of the politician’s privacy, but we could argue they’re well paid for it and we can think of them as public property. It would make it easier for journalists to look for connections between decisions and make it more difficult for underhand lobbying of ministers.

Voluntary registration of lobbying is worthless

By Gary Murphy

Harry McGee the political correspondent of the Irish Times had a very interesting article in Saturday’s paper  Irish political lobbying: who’s who and how does it work

In it he notes that despite the current government pledging in its revised programme for government to introduce a register for lobbyists, so far there have been no movers to make good on that commitment. More worryingly he states that ‘according to sources, the growing preference within Government is for a voluntary register’.

If lobbying is about gaining access to decision makers, all a voluntary register will do, if anyone could even be bothered to sign up to it, is  simply tell the public who the lobbyists are. By not making such lobbyists reveal whom they are in effect lobbying, or what they are lobbying on, the public is none the wiser as to the pressures being brought on decision makers by paid lobbyists. Accordingly, accountability is less likely to be ensured in any such voluntary system.

There was a lot of bleating at the Green party conference last weekend about the corrupt influence of corporate donations with one delegate going so far as to suggest that corporate donations equalled corruption. Well one way of trying to remove the influence of money in politics is by implementing a proper mandatory register of lobbyists. A register of lobbyists should try to capture the information of who is accessing whom, what for, and what monies, if any, change hands. In principle lobbyists should not be against having such a register, and governments should want it, as it should keep transparent what is a legal entity; lobbying of government. In that context what is being regulated is behaviour by interests who have potentially the money to have their expectations met by the access they have.

Registering lobbyists is not about regulating speech, but about preventing undue influence, including abuse of dominant financial position of some interest groups, including private companies. The key is to ensure that what is written into the regulation does not hinder the average citizen from doing what they have always done which is lobby their respective representative. The whole point of a register is to have a system as transparent as possible. This benefits the lobbyist, the legislator and the citizens. Regulation should be something that gives all stakeholders confidence in the system and in that context it must initially be kept simple and not overburden lobbyists with legislation. Finally enforcement of legislation is the key. Any such register should be controlled and monitored by an agency such as the Standards in Public Office Commission. This should ensure public confidence in the process.

Fine Gael’s New Politics document provides a good, if not perfect, framework for a register of lobbyists. Why for instance don’t Fine Gael include politicians, particularly former ministers, as in the case of Tom Parlon, in their cooling off proposals which state that former officials cannot join private companies for at least a year if that company works for, or with the State, in a way that relates to the former official’s work.

Nevertheless Fine Gael’s mandatory register, which is similar to the Labour party’s proposals, would, if implemented, be an important step in showing that the Irish state is serious about informing its citizens as to who has access to decision making and decision makers. If the Greens sign up to a voluntary code they will have missed a glorious chance to make a difference to transparency in the Irish public policy and made a mockery of their own complaints about corporate donations.