Penalties for non-compliance with the Regulation of Lobbying Act to be activated
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has signed regulations providing that the penalties for non-compliance with the Regulation of Lobbying Act (“the Act”) will come into effect from 1 January 2017. This follows the release on 28 June 2016 of the first Annual Report by the Standards in Public Office Commission (“SIPO”) in regard to the Regulation of Lobbying in Ireland (“the Report”).
The Act, most of which came into force in September 2015, introduced new legal obligations for organisations and individuals communicating with public officials. The Act is broadly drafted and many individuals and organisations who would not have instinctively thought of themselves as lobbyists fall within its remit. When the Act was introduced, there were concerns with how it would apply in practice. In light of these concerns, it was decided to delay the introduction of penalties to allow time to generate awareness of the Act.
What is lobbying?
For a person to be engaged in “Lobbying Activities” that person must make a “relevant communication”, either directly or indirectly, in relation to a “relevant matter” with a “designated public official”.
Where a person or organisation has lobbied they are required to register online and make three returns to SIPO per year setting out details of their lobbying activities. The register is accessible to the public. For further information on who is required to register, please see our article published in October 2015 here.
Penalties for non-compliance with the Act
From 1 January 2017, SIPO has the power to investigate and prosecute any breaches of the Act.
Where a lobbyist has filed a late return, they may be liable on conviction to pay a Class C fine (a fine not exceeding €2,500) or alternatively SIPO may serve a fixed payment notice of €200.
For other offences under the Act, a lobbyist may be liable on summary conviction to a Class C fine or if convicted on indictment to a fine or imprisonment (not exceeding two years) or both.
Key issues identified in the Report
It is important for all lobbyists to familiarise themselves with their obligations under the Act. SIPO has offered additional guidance on some of the key areas of concern identified in its Report which include:
The grace period under the Act is now coming to an end and organisations should be aware of their obligations and ensure they are fully compliant with the Act before the penalties come into force in January 2017.
We recommend that organisations ensure they have:
The next key date for filing a return under the Act is 21 September 2016 and returns setting out details of lobbying activities for the period from 1 May to 31 August 2016 must be submitted by this date.
If you have questions on any of the above, please contact our partner, Mark Pery-Knox-Gore.