Nash moves legislation in Dáil to close lobbying loophole
- Proposed change to law gives Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) the power to investigate and sanction former politicians who breach lobbying and ethics rules
- Recent Fine Gael & Sinn Féin controversies shows need to strengthen the public office watchdog and promote transparency in politics and big business
- Bill provides for penalties including a Class C fine of up to €2,500, and up to two years in prison.
Following the controversy over the appointment of former Minister Michael D’Arcy as CEO of the Irish Association of Investment Managers, Labour spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform Ged Nash has today moved legislation in the Dáil that would address the lobbying loophole.
Deputy Nash said:
“The conduct of then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in passing important documents to a friend in April 2019 and the controversy over the political laundering of €4million by Sinn Fein in order to sidestep strict political funding limits in this jurisdiction has again brought into sharp focus concerns about ethics in public office and in the conduct of politics in this country.
“There is widespread public concern at the revolving door between former government members and the financial services sector, for example, and the cavalier attitude to the practice of lobbying.
“The seamless move by former financial services Minister Michael D’Arcy to a top lobbying job with the Irish Association of Investment Managers (IAIM) just a matter of weeks after he left the Department of Finance is just the most recent case in point.
“The Bill I formally moved in the Dáil today aims to give SIPO the teeth and the power to enforce existing regulations and to sanction former politicians who may in the future be found to have breached the rules.”
Deputy Nash continued:
“Section 22 of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 imposes restrictions on ‘post-term’ employment as a lobbyist that apply to persons who have served in certain sensitive positions.
“Essentially, there is a one year ‘cooling-off’ period for senior and junior Ministers, special advisers and senior civil servants. That means for one year from ceasing to hold such a position, the person may not, except with the formal consent of the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO), carry on lobbying activities, or be employed by a person carrying on lobbying activities, that involves the Government Department or other public body in which that person served during his or her last year of office or employment.
“In the case of former Minister for Financial Services Michael D’Arcy we know that no permission was sought from SIPO. Instead we are to believe that he and the IAIM will not engage in any lobbying for a year. This stretches credulity.
“The 2015 Act does not contain any enforcement powers in relation to section 22, nor is contravention of that section an actual offence. The purpose of this Bill is to regularise the situation, so as to enable section 22 to be properly enforced as the public would expect.
“The Bill I have brought to the Dail today defines what the clear contraventions would be and empowers SIPO to authorise an investigation. Anyone found to have contravened the section would be guilty of an offence. My proposed amendment would use the punishments already in the Act that provides for a Class C fine of up to €2,500 on summary conviction in the District Court. If a case was to proceed to a jury trial in the Circuit Court, the punishment available on conviction would include a fine or imprisonment for up to two years depending on the severity of the offence.
“While the government has committed to a review of SIPO legislation on this matter, it is essential that it acts quickly. Confidence in politics depends on it.
“The Regulation of Lobbying Act was already in the middle of review since the end of 2019 but we have yet to see the outcome of that process.”
See copy of Bill here: https://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/regulation_of_lobbying_post-term_employment_as_lobbyist_bill.pdf
See outline of bill here: https://www.labour.ie/news/2020/09/29/nash-publishes-draft-legislation-to-tackle-lobbying-loophole/