How Ireland tightened lobbying rules (and why)

Likelihood of this happening here – zero. All that happened here was the opposite – charities were banned from criticising the government:

“Two years after Ireland introduced some of the strictest laws in the world on lobbying transparency, the reforms are being held up as the gold standard for policymakers looking to shine a light on the often murky world of influence peddling.

Calls for transparency are growing louder across Europe, especially in Germany, where a series of scandals have put a spotlight on the car industry’s close ties with senior politicians.

Ireland’s experience, say proponents of the law, has dispelled worries that tough lobbying rules would cripple the industry or limit the ability of politicians to do their job — as MEPs in Brussels resisting similar obligations have argued.

“Transparency is catching hold,” said Sherry Perreault, head of lobbying regulation at Ireland’s Standards in Public Office Commission, who’s traveled across Europe to showcase the Irish reforms. “To see this catching fire outside of Ireland is really terrific.”

The Irish reforms are simple. Any individual, company or NGO that seeks to directly or indirectly influence officials on a policy issue must list themselves on a public register and disclose any lobbying activity. The rules cover any meeting with high-level public officials, as well as letters, emails or tweets intended to influence policy.

For those in the business, the impact of the register and its requirements are primarily about the way the industry is perceived — and, broadly, they’re happy about it.

“I’ve not heard anybody suggest the Lobbying Act has impacted in any way the willingness or the ability to influence [policymakers],” said Conall McDevitt, CEO of Hume Brophy, one of Ireland’s largest lobbying firms. “It’s always better in our industry to have transparency, we’re all the stronger for it.”

Indeed, the push for more transparency is often advocated by lobbyists themselves, eager for legal clarity and happy to present themselves as fulfilling a vital role in modern democracies through the information they provide to policymakers.

“Lobbying has got a very bad name because of the actions of some individuals,” said Cian Connaughton, president of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland. “What the register has done is clarify to people what is happening, who is doing what.”

“It means people can’t say, ‘God knows what’s going on there,’” he added. “The fact that [the] new regime has hopefully increased people’s trust in the system, it’s a big plus.”

Popular revulsion

The tougher laws have their origins in the 2008 financial crisis that brought the Irish economy to its knees. The country’s travails are widely regarded as a consequence of the close relationships between politicians from the Fianna Fáil party, in power at the time of the crisis, and Ireland’s property developers.

“The fact that we had gone through this economic collapse [and that there was] a broadly held belief that influence had been peddled, there was such a ground swell of support for reform,” said Brendan Howlin, currently leader of the Labour Party and minister for public expenditure and reform between 2011 and 2016.

Popular revulsion at corruption had been building for decades. Several inquiries — including one into Ireland’s planning system that found widespread corruption had taken place in the 1980s and 1990s — had concluded that underhand payments had become endemic in the country.

To write what would become the 2015 Regulation of Lobbying Act, Howlin looked at existing rules across the world, including Canada’s, whose government first introduced transparency requirements in 1989 and subsequently strengthened them four times.

“There wasn’t much opposition to the concept,” Howlin said.

The law uses one of the broadest possible definitions of a lobbyist: anyone who employs more than 10 individuals, works for an advocacy body, is a professional paid by a client to communicate on someone else’s behalf or is communicating about land development is required to register themselves and the lobbying activities they carry out.

That means NGOs and other civil society organizations are just as much subject to the rules as groups representing multinationals or local industries.

Failure to register or filing incorrect information can result in a fine of up to €2,500 and a two-year prison sentence. …”

One thought on “How Ireland tightened lobbying rules (and why)

  1. This would be great in the UK where the Conservative Party seems to have had complete amnesia about who they are supposed to be working for i.e. us, the people, and has been rigging the (now non-) democratic system in their favour for years.

    Not only have they banned charities from lobbying (to improve things for us) whilst allowing big business to lobby them for changes which will be to their benefit and our detriment, but …

    They have stopped Unions from funding the labour party whilst allowing big business and ultra rich billionaires to fund their own Party without constraint. Just how fair and democratic is that?

    (And don’t get me started on the secret agendas – like privatisation of the NHS and Education – which have never been stated in their manifesto and which are being introduced under fake names without debate. Just how democratic is that?)

    Tory Party – sponsored by the ultra-rich, run by the rich, for the benefit of the rich without being transparent about their agenda.
    Labour Party – “For the many not the few” – up front with their plans.

    P.S. As far as I can tell, all but the richest 1-2% of the population would actually be better off under Labour – so why they keep trusting and voting for the Conservative party, and in particular for MPs like Hugo Swine who takes no real interest in East Devon, I have no idea.


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