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:

I am nodding in agreement with much of what the Vice Chairman said. To return to the findings of the Mahon tribunal, it made recommendations in respect of standards in public life and measures aimed at addressing abuses in many different functions across national and local government. Notwithstanding the fact that the dual mandate was removed more than ten years ago now, a risk remains, despite the fact that the vast majority of public officials act with integrity and in the spirt of public service. There will always be a risk of abuse. We see it in every sector, whether it is the public, private or not-for-profit sector. Where the incentive and opportunity arise for somebody to abuse that position, he or she may do so where circumstances collide.

It is for that reason we need measures in place to address those risks, one of which relates to public contracting. Public officials have a great degree of discretion in awarding public contracts. Notwithstanding the guidelines and European Union regulations around public contracting, we see in neighbouring countries how those contracts have been awarded, sometimes to close associates of political representatives. We need to guard against that risk as well. It is for that reason we might consider extending the definition of a lobbyist, not just by virtue of the size of the company for which he or she works, which is currently set at ten employees. If it is engaged in lobbying, a company with ten employees or more must make a return and must register. However, perhaps because of the size of the public contract, for instance, a company is bidding for, an individual working in a partnership or small company may be bidding on a public contract for services worth significant sums. In those circumstances, we suggest that individual should fall under the definition of a lobbyist too.

To address the Vice Chairman's point about GDPR, I fully agree it has been used or misused, in many cases, to withhold information that ought not to be withheld.