Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach

General Scheme of the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2022: Discussion

Mr. John Devitt:

The legislation, broadly speaking, does a good job in making that distinction. I am a lobbyist. I hold a role as a professional campaigner for openness and transparency in public life. I am paid to do this job. I have no problem or issue with registering as a lobbyist and complying with the legislation. There is a distinction between my role as a professional campaigner or advocate and as a private citizen who might petition my local councillor on a local matter or a Deputy on something separate from my day-to-day work. The legislation in the round does a good job distinguishing between the two and avoiding posing too high a barrier to accessing one's public representatives.

I am agnostic on the point Deputy Doherty raised in respect of access to Leinster House. I do not see the need for a pass for me to access the House. If I wanted to meet with a Deputy, I would call him or her up and meet on campus or somewhere else. However, I can see why continued access to the campus for former Members creates a perception of favourable treatment that might want to be addressed.

I will address a couple of Deputy Doherty's questions. We would support the provision in Private Members' Bill for a two-year cooling-off period as a minimum requirement and the extension of criminal sanctions for failure to comply with those requirements. Like the committee, we have too many recommendations to list in full but I will highlight two or three. First, as I have noted, is the need to require lobbyists to disclose sources of income or funding. That would include not-for-profit organisations such as mine, as well as business representatives or lobby groups. This legislation was enacted in large part because of the findings of the Mahon tribunal and the prosecution that flowed from those findings. That planning tribunal centred on lobbying and the use of payments through lobbyists to public representatives. The Act still has not addressed the risk that lobbyists could be used to unduly influence public policy using their office or profession to act as a conduit for payments to public representatives or public officials.

We suggested that there be a duty to maintain records by all public officials. The onus should not just be on lobbyists to make a return to the lobbying register but also on public officials to keep a record of any contacts with lobbyists to allow for triangulation and audit of returns made by lobbyists, where required.

More minor recommendations would include provision to allow the commission to have regard to the code of conduct when determining whether there has been a material contravention of the Act and to publish the findings of any investigations or decisions in respect of section 22 and the cooling-off period, as allowed for under the ethics Acts. I could list many more but am aware of time.