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.