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Lobbying Reform Coming Into Effect

In our most recent update on the Regulation of Lobbying and Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) (Amendment) Act 2023 (the "2023 Act") we outlined the key reforms to be introduced by the 2023 Act once it came into effect.  The Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform has now signed the Regulation Of Lobbying And Oireachtas (Allowances To Members) (Amendment) Act 2023 (Commencement) Order 2023 (the "Commencement Order"), which will bring those reforms into effect in 2024.

As discussed in our previous update, the main reforms introduced by the 2023 Act to the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the "2015 Act"), are:

  • The expansion of the definition of lobbyist to include business representative bodies.
  • The closure of a loophole whereby representative bodies with no full time employees but who conduct lobbying activities could avoid the requirements of the 2015 Act.
  • The introduction of a requirement to include the names of members of representative bodies on both the Lobbying Register and on each lobbying return.
  • The introduction of a comprehensive administrative sanctions regime for breaches of the 12 month 'cooling-off' period by former designated public officials ("DPOs") seeking to take up a position as a lobbyist or being employed by a lobbyist, and where that individual seeks to lobby the public service body where they previously held the role of DPO.  This new regime will introduce additional investigative powers for the Standards in Public Office Commission ("SIPO") and former DPOs can face civil fines of up to €25,000 together with restrictions, subject to Circuit Court confirmation.

On 1 January 2024 all such provisions, with the exception of the provisions relating to the administrative sanctions regime, will come into effect.  This means that from 1 January, there will be increased information required on the lobbying register, including for lobbying returns which are due on 21 January 2024 for the period 1 September to 31 December 2023.

On 1 June 2024, the remaining provisions relating to sanctions, including the Circuit Court confirmation process, will come into effect.  The Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform has stated that the additional time will "allow SIPO time to develop the processes to ensure the efficient operation of the new sanctions and to conduct awareness raising activities with lobbyists and relevant designated public officials" SIPO may look to the Data Protection Commission's processes for confirming sanctions for certain breaches of Irish data protection laws when developing its own processes.  It is clear that the strengthened oversight of lobbying in Ireland is a priority for both the government and SIPO and we expect to see heightened activity in this space.

[1] The provisions relating to the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Act 1992 (contained in section 24 of the 2023 Act) came into operation upon enactment of the 2023 Act and so are not included in the Commencement Order.