I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 20 together.
Deputy Stanley should not forget that my Department also deals with a lot of environmental NGOs.
My Department is responsible for a number of areas critical to economic and social development such as energy, climate action, cyber and environment which are complex and cross-cutting areas. As Minister, I am required to make significant and sensitive decisions to support the effective operation of the sectors for which I am responsible. It is not possible to make correct decisions without understanding their impact on those operating in those sectors. Therefore, of necessity, it is important to meet and engage with the sectoral stakeholders, including industry, to get a better understanding of the environment in which they operate if I am to make informed decisions in areas that underpin economic and social development.
In recognition of my ministerial position, I and my officials are subject to a number of statutory requirements including requirements under lobbying and ethics legislation. The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 provides that the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, an independent body, is the registrar of lobbying. The Act is designed to provide information to the public about who is lobbying whom about what. It provides for establishing and maintaining a register of persons who carry on lobbying activities and for a code of conduct relating to carrying out lobbying activities. The registrar has pointed out that lobbying is an essential part of the democratic process which enables or facilitates citizens and organisations to make their views on public policy and public services known to politicians and public servants. SIPO has established an easily searchable and free to use online register of lobbying at www.lobbying.ie.
Public bodies have specific responsibilities under the Act. Section 6(1) of the Act provides that the following persons shall be regarded as designated public officials or “the lobbied” for the purposes of the Act, namely, Ministers and Ministers of State, Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, Members of the European Parliament for constituencies in the State, members of local authorities, special advisers appointed under section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997, public servants of a prescribed description and any other prescribed office holders or description of persons.
Section 6(4) of the Act requires each public body to publish a list showing the name, grade and brief details of the role and responsibilities of each “designated public official” of the body. The list must be kept up to date. The purpose of the list is to allow members of the public to identify those persons who are designated public officials and to serve as a resource for lobbyists filing a return to the register who may need to source a designated public official’s details.
In accordance with the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, my Department publishes a list of designated public officials which includes myself, as Minister, the Minister of State assigned to my Department, currently Deputy Kyne, and my special advisers. It also includes the Secretary General of the Department, the five assistant secretaries and the Department’s head of technical section, petroleum affairs. In addition, the Department makes available the Act itself by linking to the Standards in Public Office Commission's www.lobbying.ie website, containing all relevant information regarding the Act, requirements for public bodies, list of public bodies, designated public officials and the transparency code. My Department's information on lobbying and its list of designated public officials is accessible on the part of the Department's website dealing with compliance.
Section 5(7) of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 provides that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform shall prepare and publish a code, to be known as the "transparency code", which sets out how certain relevant public bodies, such as ministerial advisory groups, may conduct their activities in a transparent way. By adhering to the transparency code, communications within these bodies would meet the exemption from the requirement to register and report on lobbying activities. This would be actively used within my Department in relation to many groups.
Finally, while I am satisfied that I and my Department adhere to all the statutory requirements on lobbying, I have discussed the issue with my Secretary General and he will review the situation and consider whether any changes need to be made to the procedures in my Department to bring further clarity to this area.