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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020

Vol. 1001 No. 3

Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Tá mé an-sásta an Bille seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Tá an Bille fíorthábhachtach don trédhearcacht agus chun a chinntiú go bhfuil an Dáil ag obair ar son na ndaoine. I am delighted to move what is my first Bill in the Dáil alongside my colleague, Deputy Doherty.

The topic of public standards goes to the heart of a well-functioning democratic system. The corollary of this is that poor public standards lead to a poorly functioning democratic system. Recent months alone have shown the need for increased regulation of lobbying. The Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, has long been calling for this and urgent action is needed. I hope to have cross-party support because I believe that the enacting of this legislation would be the sensible thing to do. In fact, it would be the commonsensical thing to do.

I am disappointed that the Government's amendment seeks a further review, this time of section 22, in what seems to be a case of the Government pushing the Bill I am presenting down the road. There was a review in 2016 and another in 2019. We do not need another. We need action. This is not rocket science. It is a clear and straightforward way of dealing with a problem that we as politicians face. It is time that the Dáil called "Stop" on the revolving door between political life and lobbying activities. That revolving door may have served the self-interest of some former Ministers, but it has not served the public's interest. A revolving door between politics and the lobbying industry is corrosive to democracy and undermines the public's confidence that our political system is responsive to people's needs rather than those of unelected vested interest groups. This Bill would change that.

When reviews of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 took place, SIPO, the body that ensures standards in public office, made recommendations to strengthen its hand when dealing with breaches of the Act. Our Bill would implement 13 of the 22 recommendations made by SIPO to the Government in 2019. Some of them would broaden the scope of the Act, some would make definitional changes and some would enact new provisions. The Bill would increase from one to two years the length of the so-called cooling off period that Ministers, Ministers of State, special advisers and high-ranking civil servants must wait before moving from office to the lobbying sector. This increase would simply be following best practice. People have said that this would interfere with people's right to work, but the Bill contains a provision allowing SIPO to waive or shorten the cooling off period if it believed a strong enough case had been made. The Bill would also allow SIPO to investigate and sanction breaches of the cooling off period. What is the point in having such a period if it does not need to be adhered to? Surely the commonsensical thing to do is legislate to close this loophole.

The Bill would give SIPO the power to investigate and sanction a person or body that is a lobbyist that avoids his, her or its obligations under the Act. A simple and straightforward way of stopping people from trying to avoid the requirements of the legislation would be to have an anti-avoidance provision. It would make sense and is what is contained in the Bill. The Bill outlines clearly that a designated public official must cut off contact with a person who has failed to comply with the registration of lobbying activities. Not only that, but the official would need to inform SIPO in writing. If SIPO became aware of a non-compliant person or body, it could tell a designated public official that he or she must cease all communication with that entity. It would be for SIPO to decide for how long that would apply. This is a clear and straightforward way of dealing with breaches of the Act.

The Bill would require compliance with the code of conduct by people carrying out lobbying activities whereas the Act only requires them to have regard to it. Importantly, SIPO would have the power to conduct inquiries into reported breaches.

The Bill is urgently needed in the interests of accountability and transparency. There is no point in suggesting that we must wait for another review and take another look at the issue in a number of months' time. Let us bring the Bill to Committee Stage, have a thorough discussion on it, finally give SIPO the powers it has been calling for since 2016 and work together to shut the door between government and vested interests.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this legislation, which has been tabled by my colleague, Deputy Mairéad Farrell, and me on behalf of the Sinn Féin Party. Recent months have shone a light on the revolving door that exists between private interests and government, between corporate lobbyists and the corridors of power. We have been saying that this was happening for far too long. The light has shown us that we need stronger regulations and to close the revolving door between government and vested interests.

We discussed at length inside and outside the House the fact that the Tánaiste, who was the then Taoiseach, divulged commercially sensitive and confidential information to the head of a lobby group that, as a matter of Government policy, had been excluded from contract negotiations. The president of that group just happened to be the Tánaiste's friend. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, refused as part of the Government to release all of the communications despite him, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health saying that they would be made available.

The revolving door between government and vested interests has a corrosive effect on government. It undermines public trust and reveals a system where private interests have a shortcut to the top of the table while the rest of the public have to wait in the queue. We have seen poachers turning gamekeepers. In the past three months, a Minister of State has become a lobbyist and a lobbyist has become a member of the commission that regulates lobbying. One could simply not make it up, but the Minister did because he is the person who proposed Ms Geraldine Feeney to take on that role. When the Minister for Finance sits down with the banking sector, which he is supposed to regulate, he looks across the table and sees a former Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Mr. Brian Hayes, his party colleague. In September, another Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Mr. Michael D'Arcy, became CEO of a private lobbying firm three months after he left the Department. The lobbying group - the Irish Association of Investment Managers, IAIM - lobbied him while he was Minister of State to extend generous tax breaks that reduced the tax liability of multinational executives by hundreds of thousands of euro per year. Incidentally, that tax break was extended until the end of 2020 while he was in the Department.

Mr. D'Arcy's appointment as CEO has shown the weaknesses in how we regulate the relationship between government and corporate lobbyists. According to the rules laid out in the 2015 Act, it is regulated by SIPO. Under that legislation, a former Minister, special adviser or senior civil servant should cool off for at least a year after leaving office before taking up a role to lobby the Government. However, the regulations are not working. Despite Mr. D'Arcy breaking them by becoming the CEO of the IAIM only three months after leaving office, SIPO has no power to investigate or sanction him. Was this an oversight or a loophole? Absolutely not, because SIPO wrote to the Government in 2016 asking it to close this loophole and give SIPO the power to investigate and sanction people in such cases. In 2019, SIPO did so again, but the Fine Gael Government ignored every single one of the 22 recommendations that SIPO made in 2016 and 2019. Those recommendations would have enhanced transparency and accountability. In ignoring them, that Government allowed Mr. D'Arcy to breach the regulations without any fear of consequence because that is the Fine Gael way. That is the revolving door between government and vested interests. That is what we in Sinn Féin, through this legislation, aim to close down.

The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, believes he needs more time.

We need another round of consultations. We need to listen to what SIPO has told us for four years. The Department reviewed it twice, under a different Minister. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said that there was nothing to see here and that we should not implement any of its recommendations. We have a different view.

As I said, this has a corrosive effect on the Government. For far too long bankers, the insurance industry and other vested interests have had a grip on the Government that the ordinary public could never have. This Bill should not be delayed; its implementation is overdue. We need to give the power to SIPO to act where it needs to act.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I also want to thank my colleagues, Deputies Doherty and Mairéad Farrell, for bringing forward the Bill and their offices for all of the hard work they have done to try to regulate the area of lobbying.

Given all that has happened this year, this is a very timely Bill. The Minister probably knows and should acknowledge that. Everyone in the State, with the possible exception of those who have sat on successive Government benches, knows that the problem of the cosy consensus between big business, finance and politics must come to an end. Most people know that a culture of insiders and outsiders, or a little bit of "Upstairs, Downstairs", has been created over decades. The vast majority of people are on the outside. The likes of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and their mates in the Green Party are inside the tent.

When one is inside the tent, one gets to rub shoulders with banks, big finance, multinational corporations, insurance companies and hedge funds. Those outside the tent are ordinary people who try their best and work hard. No matter how hard they work, the system always seems to work against them. When they see former Ministers and Ministers of State from the Department of Finance lobbying for investment funds, banks and large corporations, they know why that is.

With the greatest of respect to some who have made that journey, the public know that for many of them it is not for their insight, intellect or hard work that they have been hired as lobbyists by these organisations. They are being taken on to give these companies access to the corridors of power because their friends are in the Minister's chair, they have all of the Ministers' numbers in their phones and can open doors that others simply cannot. This says so much about the type of Government that exists - a Government that would facilitate such lobbying by big finance and business and say that it is not the right time now to do the right thing and that we will have accountability but not now. As I have said, the Government is allergic to accountability.

It is the same Government that ignores workers and trade unions and pushes SMEs, microbusinesses and small family-run businesses to one side. Nowhere was this more evident than during the summer when the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, visited their friend and former Fine Gael Minister of State at the Department of Finance and MEP, Brian Hayes, who is now the CEO of Banking & Payments Federation Ireland. They went to him to talk about the pillar banks, of which the State is the main shareholder in many cases. Extending mortgage payment breaks for those affected by the Covid crisis for another six months was on the agenda. Two Fine Gael Ministers met a former Fine Gael Minister of State and now banking lobbyist about payment breaks for ordinary working people. It is no wonder that the answer was "No" and mortgage holders here were not given the same protection as their peers in other European countries.

These practices are corrosive to democracy. They undermine ordinary people's expectations and belief that our political system is responsive to their needs rather than the needs of well-heeled and unelected special interest groups. This is an urgent and necessary Bill and Sinn Féin will seek cross-party support. Now is the right time to do the right thing.

I thank Deputies Mairéad Farrell and Doherty for bringing the Bill forward. The purpose of the Bill is to update current legislation on lobbying so that our citizens can have confidence that the political system is there to serve them and not itself. As things stand, the current legislation allows for a rather loose reading of lobbying laws which allows rules to be open to interpretation and for a revolving door between Government and big businesses to turn constantly. This is why Sinn Féin is attempting to amend the legislation, given the relationship between high finance, big business and the political establishment over the years.

The influence involved is apparent in the unwillingness of successive Governments to take on the banks or the insurance industry. I want to outline the impact of this on the people in my county. There is a severe housing crisis in Tipperary, where more than 3,600 people are on the housing waiting list. People find themselves in a range of challenging situations and are unable to get a home of their own, a local authority house or, in many cases, private accommodation. This is happening at a time when I became aware that a house was sold by a bank to a vulture fund for €40,000. Private citizens have no hope or chance of getting a deal like that. That is why people who have been approved for the housing assistance payment but cannot find a house or flat to rent contact my office daily.

This is a prime example of how vulture funds have been given permission to run amok. They snap up properties for next to nothing and sell them at inflated prices to those who can afford them, leaving those on meagre incomes to remain on housing waiting lists for years. These funds have created this situation because policies have enabled them to do so, and we wonder why we have a housing crisis.

For too long, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have allowed the use of a revolving door between politics and the lobbying industry. The optics of this are not good enough, as we have seen with certain departures from the world of politics to lobbying industries, such as Brian Hayes and Michael D'Arcy. We propose that if senior political insiders want to leave the world of policy formation to join the lobbying sector they will have to wait for a longer period of time to do so.

If we tighten up the rules, the impression that ministerial office can be used to advance self-interest may be dealt with. We hear all the time that politicians are only in it for themselves. This is a concern we seek to address. SIPO has called for legislative changes since 2016 to broaden the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015. During that time, Governments have effectively resisted these changes and instead opted to instead water them down to reviews. That is what the Government wants to do again.

If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael published a dictionary and one looked up the word "review", one would find it to find as a term similar to delay, postpone or shelve. The Taoiseach is attempting to do that now. Sinn Féin's amendments seek to bring into effect a number of recommendations made by SIPO. It will increase the cooling-off period which is the length of time that Ministers, Ministers of State, special advisers and high-ranking civil servants must wait before moving from public office to the lobbying sector. It would also get rid of a grey area in the current Act regarding the code of conduct for persons carrying out lobbying activities.

The original Act specifies that a person must have regard to the code rather than adhering to it. We are addressing that. The undue influence of lobbyists has resulted in an unaccountable insurance sector and a housing crisis that has been made possible by a hands-off approach towards the banks, insurance industry and vulture funds. When it comes to political lobbying in this country there has been a serious lack of accountability. We seek to address that. I appeal to all parties and Independent Deputies to support the Bill and make our system work for the people rather than the well-connected or well-heeled.

The original aim of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 was to make the process more transparent and accountable. It has failed to reach that threshold by a country mile. It has been said to me on countless occasions by smaller groups and activists that it could reasonably be argued that the Act was designed to ensure they are penalised disproportionately compared to professional lobbyists in an effort to keep their voices the quietest in the room – often they are not even in the room.

The lobbying Act is not fit for purpose and must be updated and amended to ensure there is real oversight of lobbyists beyond signing generic codes of conduct that include non-defined statements such as "avoiding improper influence". Describing it as regulation of lobbying implies that there is actual regulation and full transparency not only in respect of those who are doing the lobbying but also those on whose behalf they are lobbying. It implies that there are substantive consequences for non-compliance and that those who are not in compliance are held accountable.

There is a world of difference between lobbying and engagement. The Act should have been an effective mechanism to enable citizens and organisations to make their views on public policy known and on an equal basis. It should have been that way, but the public perception of lobbying is that it is a mechanism for big business which has access to the highest public offices and legislators in the land to progress their interests. It is a 21st century version of the old Punch cartoons that depicted the cosy relationship between Governments and industrial interests in the early 20th century.

I have real concerns, which are reflected by my constituents, regarding the cooling-off period of 12 months.

It is simply not sufficient to stop this perceived revolving door between politicians elected to represent the public and lobbyists employed to represent private corporations. That well-oiled highway is failing the people and needs to come to an end. It undermines confidence in politics and public trust in these Houses.

I move amendment No.1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann:

— Acknowledges that two statutory reviews have been undertaken to date in relation to the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015;

— Recognises that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has initiated a review of Section 22 of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015; and

— Resolves that the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020 be deemed to be read a second time this day nine months, to allow for, in the context of the operation of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, consideration of the SIPO recommendations for reform and the provisions of this and other private members' legislation in this area."

I thank Deputies Doherty and Mairéad Farrell for bringing forward this legislation and congratulate Deputy Farrell on introducing her first Bill of many, I am sure. Notwithstanding the amendment I have moved, I will work with her to address the issues she has raised in respect of the Bill. I acknowledge that Deputy Nash has also brought forward legislation in respect of the lobbying Act.

I propose to outline some background detail regarding the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015. I consider this important in providing an overall context to the Bill. The Act was commenced on 1 September 2015. I acknowledge the work of the then Minister, Deputy Howlin, in bringing forward that legislation in the role I now occupy. From that date, there has been a requirement for those who lobby designated public officials, DPOs, to register and report on their lobbying activities every four months on the register of lobbying. The register, which is a web-based system, can be viewed at and is overseen by the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. The lobbying website also includes a suite of information tools designed by the commission to help lobbyists, DPOs and the public to understand the Act and its obligations fully. Currently, almost 2,100 organisations or individuals have registered their lobbying activity on the register and almost 47,500 returns are available to view.

Part 4 of the Act, which provides for investigation and enforcement provisions, was commenced on 1 January 2017. The time lag between the commencement of the Act and the commencement of these provisions was to provide persons who engage in lobbying with adequate time to familiarise themselves with the new legislative requirements, in terms of both the requirement to register and the requirement to provide ongoing returns, prior to the investigation and enforcement provisions coming into effect.

Section 2 of the Act requires that the operation of the Act be reviewed every three years, as was noted earlier. The aim of this provision is to provide regular opportunities to assess the operation of the legislation and identify whether significant and substantial amendments may be required. To date, two statutory reviews have been carried out and public consultations were conducted on both occasions. The final reports were laid before these Houses. The second statutory review commenced in early 2019 and the subsequent report was published in January 2020. The review found that there is widespread acceptance and support for the legislation, with the Act and the register viewed in a positive and constructive light. The issues raised in the 27 submissions received as part of the public consultation process concerned mainly implementation and procedural matters, with a focus on a perceived need for more guidance on the implementation and interpretation of certain aspects of the Act. The proposed amendments to the Act generally concerned issues that had been examined in detail at the time of drafting of the legislation and its passage through the Oireachtas, and the Act reflects the result of that process.

The review report concluded that the amendment of the existing legislation should be considered only where a compelling business case for change is clear and unequivocal; that the relatively short period of time for which the legislation has been operational is a further consideration in the context of determining whether amendment of the Act is required; and that where issues highlighted through the public consultation process have not been dealt with, they are capable of being effectively managed and resolved on an administrative basis by SIPO without the need to amend the Act. While the report of the second statutory review did not recommend that any amendment be made to the Act, it set out a number of recommended further actions for SIPO to consider, most of which relate to the requests received in submissions for greater clarity, guidance and education.

It is clear from the submissions to both statutory reviews that the Act and the lobbying regulations it introduced have been well received and are now accepted as the norm, which is important. The Act is generally perceived to have met the intended objective of increasing transparency and accountability in respect of the lobbying of DPOs, underpinned by a register that is easily accessible and navigable. In this regard, I compliment the work of SIPO, particularly with regard to the significant volume of guidance notes, content on and information notices, as well as the tailored outreach it conducts. The next scheduled statutory review is due to commence in early 2022 and will again involve a public consultation. The review must be published no later than the end of February 2023.

I will now turn to the specific context of section 22 of the Act. This section, which restricts certain officeholders and certain public officials from engaging in lobbying in certain circumstances for a year after they leave office or employment, has been a focus of attention in recent times. In its submissions to both the first and second statutory reviews, SIPO recommended that section 22 be amended to provide that failure to comply with the section, with respect to either submitting an application for consent where required or complying with the commission's decision on an application for consent, should be a relevant contravention under section 18 of the Act and an offence under section 20 of the Act. As Deputies will be aware, the Taoiseach indicated in the House in late September that a review of section 22 of the Act was to be undertaken by my Department, and this work is well advanced.

I am committed to finding a resolution to the issues surrounding section 22. If there is a stipulation in law, there should be a proportionate penalty for those who do not adhere to that stipulation. Not having such penalties has the potential to undermine the relevance or spirit of such provisions in legislation. Reviewing section 22, however, presents challenges. While there are no enforcement provisions associated with breaches of the section, any potential legislative amendment to provide for sanctions for breaches of section 22 has to factor in issues such as the right of a person to work and the proportionality of any limitations and sanctions that may be imposed. It will also be important to ensure that any amendment to the current arrangements in respect of section 22 would not have the unintended impact of deterring participation in politics or public service roles, particularly those in positions of short to medium-term duration. On this basis, section 22 currently applies to a select cohort who are defined as "relevant designated public official[s]" under the Act.

The Bill also proposes significant changes to other sections of the Act, and not just section 22. Some of the issues covered were also raised by SIPO in its submission to both of the statutory reviews thus far conducted. Given the substantial overlap between the Bill before us, the Labour Party Bill introduced earlier this month by Deputy Nash and the previous recommendations of SIPO to the two statutory reviews of the Act, I have decided to extend the remit of the review under way in my Department regarding section 22 of the Act to give renewed consideration to the issues raised in the Bill and other matters.

As a relatively new Minister in the Department, I want to have a fresh look at the changes recommended by SIPO. I have reviewed them, and while I quite readily agree with many of them, others require more careful examination.

I will bring my proposals to Government and to the House as soon as that work is completed. I expect they will be ready fairly shortly. Amendment No. 1, which proposes a waiting period of nine months before the Bill is deemed to be read a Second Time, will give my Department sufficient time to complete this extended review of section 22 and the further issues raised in the two Bills.

More broadly, under the programme for Government, we are committed to a wider and more ambitious reform agenda. The Government will update and consolidate the ethics in public office legislation and undertake a review of electoral laws to ensure that donations and resources from outside the State are not being used to influence our elections and political process. The Government will also update our whistle-blowing legislation. Taken together, these measures will underpin public confidence in the administration of government in our country. I am committed to the Government's reform agenda and to acting on this particular matter. I look forward to bringing proposals to Government and to the House once the review I have outlined is complete.

I am sharing time with Deputies Gould, Mythen and Ó Murchú.

I commend my colleagues, Teachtaí Mairéad Farrell and Doherty, on bringing forward this very important legislation. My party was forced to propose these amendments to the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 following recent behaviour by Fine Gael politicians, in particular, which has brought to the fore the flaws in the current system. We have witnessed the former Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Brian Hayes, walk out the door of that Department and in the door of a banking lobby group. We then saw another former Minister of State at the same Department, Michael D'Arcy, resign from the Seanad to take up a job with the Irish Association of Investment Managers. There are other examples.

This cosy club of politicians and lobbyists is something with which most people are, rightly, uncomfortable. It is a revolving door that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have sought to keep open over the years. The golfgate event during the summer highlighted the problem once again. Ireland is a small place. Here was a former Minister of State, now a banking lobbyist, mingling with Ministers, Senators, a Commissioner and a Supreme Court judge at a private knees-up. It stank of the rotten politics of the past and reminded people of the problems that still exist and which must be challenged and changed. There is a clear need for a defined separation mechanism to ensure that former Ministers cannot trade on their previous insider knowledge to their own benefit or that of a lobbying organisation and at a cost to the public.

This Bill will implement 13 recommendations made by the Standards in Public Office Commission to the Government in 2019. It will increase the cooling-off period for which Ministers, Ministers of State, special advisers and high-ranking civil servants must wait before moving from office to the lobbying sector. It will allow SIPO to investigate and sanction breaches of that requirement. It will also give SIPO the power to investigate and sanction persons or bodies that avoid their obligations under the Act, such as by destroying records, emails or text messages. One must question why anyone would object to these provisions. SIPO has called for legislative changes since 2016 to increase its investigative and sanctioning powers, broaden the scope of the Act and tighten up certain definitions. We need immediate action to close the revolving door between politics and vested interests. The politics of the golden circle, the politics of the nod and the wink and the politics of who one knows rather than what one knows must end now. This Bill will go some way towards achieving that.

I thank Deputies Mairéad Farrell and Doherty for bringing forward this Bill. There has a been much anger in recent months about the behaviour by, and friendships of, certain members of the Government. Big businesses, developers and speculators have always had a direct line to Ministers and senior Government officials. I am currently helping a family of two adults and seven children who are forced to live in a three-bedroom house. Two of the children have special needs. If their case had been discussed at the Oireachtas golf outing, would they still be stuck living like this? Another woman I am working with has a child who suffered a brain injury at only eight months old. She has another child with autism spectrum disorder. She is living in seriously overcrowded conditions and it is damaging her children's mental health and well-being. If she could have sent a text to the Tánaiste asking for a house, rather than a confidential document, would an approval confirmation have been couriered over to her?

I am also in contact with a mother who has serious mental health issues that are being made worse by her living conditions. She has been on the housing list for eight and a half years and is waiting five years for her landlord to repair a leaking roof in her building. If only the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage were to become a chief lobbyist for her, as a former Minister of State at the Department of Finance did for the banks. I understand the frustration ordinary people are experiencing with the housing situation. Nine years go, I proposed that 800 houses be built on the Old Whitechurch Road in Cork - the Minister knows the location - to help address the housing crisis in the city. I put forward that proposal at a meeting of Cork City Council, not at a fancy dinner party, and, unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears.

Parents are contacting me because their children are waiting for assessments of needs and to access services. The vulture funds did not have to wait. We need to put a stop to unfair lobbying and the practice of Government cosying up to big businesses and developers. Such activity harms ordinary people. They are the people we should be listening to and for whom we should be acting.

I thank my colleagues, Deputies Doherty and Mairéad Farrell, for introducing this Bill. Any Bill that improves the accountability of Government and protects the public interest must be welcomed. The current situation of revolving doors and free hall passes for former Ministers and senior officials to move with ease between public office and lobbying roles, having gained valuable inside information, must be addressed. The consequences of fobbing off this Bill to a review will further erode public confidence in the integrity of democracy and governmental decision-making. We have already had two reviews, in 2016 and 2019, which failed in their feeble attempts to change the process. The situations of Brian Hayes and Michael D'Arcy are prime examples of that failure.

The public wants the immediate strengthening of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015. The provisions set out in this Bill will make sure that transparency and accountability are to the fore. For too long, lobbyists were able to avoid their obligations under the current legislation, including by destroying records, text messages and emails. For too long, lobbyists were obliged only to have regard to the code of conduct rather than having to adhere strictly to it. This Bill will give the power to SIPO to investigate and sanction persons or bodies that destroy records. It will give SIPO the power to publish an anonymised summary of the details of investigations of breaches of the legislation. Most important, the Bill will extend to two years the period before which high-ranking civil servants, Ministers, Ministers of State and Government officials can switch to a lobbying role for big corporations and powerful individuals.

The Bill will have a positive outcome for democracy and transparency. It will prevent the possibility of members of Government, advisers and officials seeking out lobbyists who can provide a position to justify their pre-chosen actions for the benefit of themselves or their vested interests. I would expect Members on all sides of the House to support the Bill in the full interest of the public, whom we all serve.

Many speakers referred to the belief or perception - some would call it a fact - of there being a cosy cartel between politics and developers, the insurance lobby and anybody who has connections to people in power. That perception is not helped by the situation concerning Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe and the golfgate event. There is also the situation of the former Ministers of State at the Department of Finance, Brian Hayes and Michael D'Arcy. None of that helps in any way, shape or form.

I join colleagues in commending Deputies Mairéad Farrell and Doherty on bringing forward this Bill. There is no need for a review such as the Minister has proposed. The Bill makes provision for 13 of the 22 recommendations made by SIPO itself. Its purpose is to introduce necessary transparency and accountability. It could be said that the Government requires this legislation more than we on this side of the House do insofar as it needs to sell itself and address the perception that a cosy cartel is in operation. The requirement for a cooling-off period between situations where people have ministerial office with real power and sway and finding themselves on the other side of a lobbying operation is well supported. I could probably forgive a great deal of what goes on if we had a Government and State that was delivering for everybody in terms of the provision of housing, healthcare and all the wants and needs of people in this country. I might accept it if we could all get insurance at a decent cost instead of being absolutely crippled with it, if people were not paying huge rents and could afford mortgages, and if all the other issues were addressed.

That is accepting the particular situation we find ourselves in now as regards Covid-19, which, obviously, creates logistical difficulties. While I recognise that puts added pressure on the Government, it would be much better off dealing with this than dealing with the side issues on which it has caught itself up. In its attempt to protect itself, the Government would be far better putting its hands up and having the likes of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, coming in here and answering questions, and then we would get on with it. It is as simple as that.

We want the State to work. People want the State to work. They want it to work for them. In relation to that, I will commend when the State apparatus works. I commend what happened today in Dundalk, where the Criminal Assets Bureau along with local gardaí, on work started by the local drug squad, carried out a huge operation where they seized drugs and money, and there will be a follow-up. That is not an entire answer in relation to that but it is to be commended.

We need the Government to act. We need a fit-for-purpose situation. We need enforcement powers for SIPO. That is just it. This is simple and it could be done.

I join in the Minister's earlier remarks to congratulate Deputy Mairéad Farrell on the introduction of her first legislation. No doubt it will not be the last. There will be many more.

I am glad to say that the Labour Party supports this Bill. This is a Bill that we can unite on. It is absolutely essential in terms of ensuring that there is the maximum confidence in politics and in how we govern this country.

My party has a long, proud and unique track record on ethics legislation in this country. In the 1980s we stood almost alone against corruption in local government and the poisoning and corrupting influence of big money on politics and governance in this country. In the 1990s we produced Ireland's first major suite of legislation on ethics in public life. We shone a light on how government is conducted and on how decisions are made in our name and on our behalf when we introduced freedom of information legislation in the mid-1990s. In 2015, as the Minister has graciously acknowledged, my colleague, then Minister, Deputy Howlin, after bringing in stringent limits to the amount of cash that an individual politician or a party could receive as a donation, then went on to bring in laws and regulations to govern and regulate the system of lobbying in this country.

Ireland had been, as we all know, notorious for being a country where things were done because of who one knew, not what one knew or the power or authority of the case that one made. We wanted to change not only that practice but the culture too. Of course, one citizen's lobbying is another's advocacy. For some, big businesses lobby while NGOs advocate.

Lobbying is a fact of life, and executed to the letter and spirit of the 2015 Regulation of Lobbying Act, it can contribute to a better understanding for all of us of complex issues before we make important decisions. In a republic, all citizens, even those with whom we disagree, are entitled to be heard. The point is the process needs to be conducted on a level playing field where we know who is lobbying whom, for what purpose and, indeed, how frequently, and this is what the 2015 Act sought to achieve. The legislation has to a degree served us well, as has the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, but it can only enforce the laws that this House gives it. It is timely now, after almost five years of this legislation being in existence and over three years of the operation of the Act, that we identify where the gaps are in practice and seek to plug those gaps and address the lacuna that are there. It is crucial for transparency in our system of lobbying regulation and it is critical for confidence in our political system and in our institutions.

This Bill before us this evening, as has been said by a multiplicity of contributors, is a straightforward attempt to legislate to deal with some of the shortcomings in the Act, many of which have been identified by SIPO itself in its annual reviews. I do not plan to comment on all of the measures proposed here other than to say that many are overdue and some, in my view, are more urgent than others.

There is a strong case, for example, for the code of conduct that has been referenced earlier on to be given more weight and, arguably, for it to be placed on a statutory footing. This would help in terms of enforcement where breaches occur. Changes to the scope of the Act as it applies to coalitions of business interests are absolutely necessary. Of course, this must avoid any unintended consequences such as, for example, of holding coalitions of NGOs to the same legal standards as the financial services industry or, to name another active sector on the business side, groups of fossil fuel firms.

The role of designated officials in supporting the Act is an important one and it needs attention. I have been lobbied, as has everyone else in this House, by countless organisations over the years. I remember being lobbied a couple of years ago by an organisation that everybody, even if one was not familiar with them, will be familiar with now - the National Association of General Practitioners, GPs - only to find when I checked that it did not record the engagement in its lobbying returns. For clarity, that meeting was in relation to the implementation of measures contained in the 2017 Competition (Amendment) Act, a Bill that was developed by me and my colleague, Senator Bacik. The Act certainly needs to be beefed up in this regard. The idea that designated public officials such as Oireachtas Members could be supported to bring to the attention of SIPO lobbying that does not happen in the context of the regulations we have at present, where breaches may occur or where it is unsatisfactory, is an important innovation and something we need to be conscious of. We need to be empowered to notify SIPO when we are not happen with how somebody conducts his or her business and where he or she is not in compliance, in our view, with the letter and spirit of the legislation. That would support good practice for everybody and send a message that bad behaviour would not be tolerated.

We have known, as SIPO has recorded, that section 22 is open to abuse and needs to be enhanced. The case of the recent former Minister of State tunnelling his way from these Houses three months after leaving office to a new gig lobbying for the sector for which he had policy responsibility and with no effort whatsoever to engage with the relevant authority in advance is proof, if we needed it, that our laws on lobbying and post-term employment need to be reviewed. The Minister acknowledged that and has done so time and again. The Minister has acknowledged that I published a Bill in this regard, and he referenced that earlier on. The proposed change to section 22 in my proposals would give the Standards in Public Office Commission the power to investigate and sanction former politicians who breach lobbying and ethics rules. My Bill also provides for penalties, including a class C of up to €2,500 and up to two years in prison, for anyone found to have been in breach of section 22.

There is widespread public concern, as has been acknowledged in the House time and again, at the revolving door between former Government members and the financial services sector, for example, and to what is now, in my view, a cavalier attitude to the practice of lobbying. Our experience of the 2015 Act tells us that investigatory and enforcement powers in respect of section 22 are required, that contravention of that section should be deemed to be a relevant contravention under section 18 and an actual offence under section 20 of the Act, and also that the Commission must be empowered to investigate former politicians and officials post term.

We cannot separate the issue of lobbying and ethics in public life from the question of big money in politics. The annual donations report from SIPO was published today. Mr. Michael Brennan writes this evening in the Business Post online that, "Voters will be astonished to learn that the country's political parties only managed to attract €175,000 in disclosed donations last year." Astonished, they must be. "Disclosed donations" is the operative phrase. We know now, as a result of questions I put to the Standards in Public Office Commission, that the €4 million left to Sinn Féin by the late William Hampton was expressly left to Sinn Féin in this State but was politically laundered in the North to avoid the gaze of the authorities here.

Our laws prohibit accepting any donations above €2,500. This €4 million was a hundred times more than the figure of just over €40,000 that that party declared in donations for 2019. This is a stroke that would have made the late Charles Haughey blush.

We are an all-Ireland party.

I do not say this as a political charge, it is a fact. What this practice does is lay bare the inadequacies of our political funding laws, which need to be reformed to catch up with such practices.

I very much welcome this legislation. It is an important contribution to reforming ethics legislation in this country. However, we need to do much more to ensure that not only do we deal with lobbying, but that we focus on financing of political parties. We also need reforms to how we govern elections, which is a job the programme for Government identifies for a new electoral commission. This issue needs to be addressed holistically and comprehensively in a suite of legislation that will bring up to date the laws we introduced a number of years ago to ensure they are up to speed and are dealing with the practices we have identified in this House and elsewhere in recent times. We need to address this because we have practices going on that are corrosive to politics and this democracy. They need to be addressed, and in a united fashion. I will support the work Deputies Doherty and Mairéad Farrell are doing. I will support any Member of this House who wants to that and do it honestly, openly and fairly because we need to ensure we have a level playing pitch for the way politics is conducted in this country.

I welcome the intention of this Bill and commend Deputy Mairéad Farrell on her work in this regard and on bringing it forward.

The purpose of the Bill is to allow for the implementation of several recommendations made by the Standards in Public Office Commission in 2019. At the time SIPO made a number of recommendations to improve and strengthen transparency and accountability in public office. Unfortunately, the Government of the time chose to ignore these recommendations. I remember raising them with then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I was told that now was not the time to consider amending this legislation, whatever that meant. I tell the Minister there is no better time than now and I hope he will take this legislation, and indeed the comments of various Members of this House, on board.

This legislation is much-needed and already overdue, given that the original recommendations were made more than 18 months ago. We need to go much further, however. While this legislation proposes some much-needed reforms for those holding public office, Ireland still does not have an effective means of preventing, detecting and prosecuting corruption and white-collar crime. Various tribunals, commissions and Oireachtas inquiries have come and gone with few consequences for corrupt and reckless behaviour. Although this legislation goes some way towards addressing the long-standing revolving door between politics and the private sector, it really only scratches the surface when it comes to corruption and white-collar crime in this country. Anti-corruption law is spread across a range of legislation and responsibility for preventing and prosecuting corruption is likewise spread across a number of different agencies. Piecemeal reforms in recent years have fallen very far short of what is needed to protect Government decision-making from being unduly influenced by vested interests. While I welcome this legislation we need to go much further if we are serious about rectifying these wrongs.

One of the most annoying aspects of public life in this country is that when poor behaviour or suspected corruption takes place the response is inevitably to set up some kind of inquiry. There are so many different examples of various tribunals, commissions and inquiries that were established and in many cases went on for years and many of which heard evidence about serious corruption and yet because our laws have been so weak, we ended up, after spending much time and an awful lot of money, with nobody being held accountable. That really damages confidence in politics and it would have been better in some cases if nothing had been done about those breaches of standards because it really is very demoralising for people to see that kind of thing and see that there is no real appetite at a political level, certainly at Government level, to take this on. We need to learn from that and we have a responsibility to our own citizens. These problems have been highlighted on several occasions by international bodies, including the Group of States against Corruption, GRECO, and still there has been no reaction to that. Successive Governments have failed to take this issue seriously.

The Social Democrats first proposed the setting up of an independent anti-corruption agency in a motion brought to this House almost five years ago. I want to take this opportunity to stress again how badly needed this is in Irish politics and public life. Our detailed proposals are based on international best practice and cover corruption in both the public and private sphere. Without a dedicated and properly-resourced agency we will continue to see a range of laws on our Statute Book which may or may not meet international standards but which lead to few actual consequences for corrupt behaviour.

That being said, I want to express the Social Democrats’ support for the measures contained in this legislation. The Bill seeks to incorporate into its remit representative bodies which do not have full employees as well as informal coalitions which are engaged in lobbying. This is an important measure because it captures lobbying activity which may be conducted informally - on the golf course, over a few pints, after bumping into somebody or when people’s paths cross in social settings. Lobbying activity in all of these situations still seeks to influence political decision-making and that is particularly the case given the small size of this country and also the fact that there are such close connections between politics and business.

The measures in the Bill which relate to investigation and reporting are particularly important. The Social Democrats fully support the measures, which widen the commission’s ability to investigate and report on breaches of the code of conduct and contraventions of the Act. However, powers to investigate should go further and we believe the commission should be resourced fully to conduct thorough spot checks of a proportion of all lobbying returns filed. It should be enabled to name and shame lobbyists who contravene the law by publishing its investigation reports and doing that at an early date. Spot checks would give the commission, as well as the public, a better picture of overall compliance and would also ensure a better level of compliance out of fear, if nothing else.

Of particular importance are the Bill’s provisions around cooling-off periods which it extends from one to two years. Most important, the Bill makes failure to comply with cooling-off periods a contravention and it allows the commission to publish details in its annual report about any successful applications to waive a cooling-off period. Let us not forget that earlier this year a Fine Gael Senator resigned from the Seanad to lead a lobby group for financial investment companies. One could not make it up. The revolving door between politics and private businesses jeopardises transparency and accountability in politics and it is a practice which must stop if we, as politicians, expect the public to have trust in our politics. Without real enforcement powers there is no way to ensure this practise will not continue unchecked. This type of enforcement and reporting is very badly needed.

I want to touch on the provision to allow the commission to direct a designated public official to cease communication with a lobbyist or lobby group that is non-compliant with the Act. This goes back to the importance of enforceability. To date, the Act has, unfortunately, been treated by some politicians as more of a guideline than a rule. This type of behaviour is extremely harmful to public office. The stronger enforcement measures contained in the Bill would be a step in the right direction to strengthening accountability.

However, the Bill and these recommendations from SIPO are just one part of the big picture. The fact is that Ireland needs a major overhaul in how it deals with corruption and white-collar crime. There is nothing more dispiriting to law-abiding citizens than seeing people who are engaged in corruption, whether it is at the level of business, politics or the public sector, walking away scot-free, and we have too many examples of this in our recent history. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about the need for an independent anti-corruption agency, which needs to be properly resourced and enabled to oversee legislation and agencies throughout the public service. The current piecemeal approach to responsibility is just not working.

There is a lot of work to be done in this area. There is a responsibility on politicians and Ministers if they are serious about restoring confidence in public life and the public sphere. There is an onus on anybody who is serious about this to restore confidence. Unless we are prepared to show we are serious about tackling this, unless we are prepared to out colleagues in the House who contravene the existing legislation, and unless we are prepared to bring in a meaningful agency with teeth that is properly resourced, we are never going to get to the bottom of this.

It was James Connolly who wrote that governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class. He was 100% correct. He was actually popularising what Marx and Engels had written in The Communist Manifesto, stating the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. That was back in 1848. Very many things have changed about the world since 1848 but that essential truth about the role of capitalist governments remains.

One of the things that has developed since that period of time is precisely the massive industry of big business lobbying. It is immense. It is big business in and of itself. I remember from my time in the European Parliament that there are 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels. There are something like three lobbyists for every member of staff in the European Parliament. They lobby overwhelmingly for big corporations or the likes of the European Round Table of Industrialists, which is like IBEC taken to a European level. Billions of euro are involved in lobbying on specific legislation for amendments and in general.

Of course, there is lobbying by big business here too and evidently it works. These private companies that are interested in the pursuit of maximisation of profit would not spend the money on being part of these lobbying organisations if they did not feel they got a return for their investment. The way it works is, in essence, to transmit from these businesses, via these lobbying organisations or directly, the interests of big business. People can say that is great and part of the democratic process but the problem is that most people do not have that access. The ability of the vast majority of people to impact on the policy of government is either through participating in voting or by using their collective power by going on strike, organising their community, pressurising from below or demonstrating. The vast majority of people do not have the capacity to pay for access the way big business does. It is a perversion of any notion of basic democracy whenever big business lobbyists are able to have the influence they have.

We have seen the revolving door in politics, big business and lobbying spin extremely rapidly in this country over the past while. It epitomises this process. It works on a level of immediate interest but also more generally in terms of shaping the outlook of an establishment elite layer in Irish society that shares a common outlook and common viewpoint that is, generally speaking, at one with the interests of the very rich and big business in our society. Obviously, the example has been given repeatedly, because it is a very good example, of Brian Hayes going from being a Fine Gael MEP to the head of the banking lobbyists' organisation and, even more blatantly, Michael D'Arcy going from Minister of State with responsibility for the financial sector to being CEO of the Irish Association of Investment Managers. It is definitely worth asking the question as to why these people got these jobs.

It is nothing personal. I do not have any personal problem with either Brian Hayes or Michael D'Arcy and I am not casting any doubt on their talents but I do not think they got their jobs because they are the smartest people in the country. I do not think they got their jobs because they are the people with the highest level of experience in banking and investment management. I do not think that explains why they got their jobs. I do not think their CVs would suggest long experience in lobbying because obviously they do not have experience in lobbying. So why were they chosen for these, presumably, very well paid jobs? The answer is very simple. They were chosen because of their former jobs. They were chosen precisely because Brian Hayes was an MEP and a leading Fine Gael politician and Michael D'Arcy similarly. They were chosen for the access they provide and that is very literal access. Former Deputies can drive through the front gates of Leinster House and the ushers will let them in to park in the car park alongside all of the current Deputies. They can stride through the corridors of Leinster House meeting Ministers and politicians and whoever they want along the way and stop them for a friendly chat. They can go into the Dáil restaurant and the canteen and sit down and have a chat. The lobbyists get literal access to the halls of power by having people such as this. There is also metaphorical access in that these people know the people who are in power. If those people are out of power for a while then, all things being normal in Irish politics, which hopefully they will not be, they will be back in power again so they are very good people, who have the phone numbers of the people they want to be able to talk to and they are able to get access.

When the banks are sitting down and negotiating with the Government they think it is very helpful, and I suspect they are right and that is why they pay for it, to have a politician on their side of the table who knows the politicians on the other side of the table and, therefore, there is a rapport and a willingness to listen to each other and take each other seriously as opposed to a more formal relationship. Again, I emphasise the fact they pay for this for a reason and make these choices for a reason and it is not explicable, in my opinion, without that point of access.

People generally got a glimpse behind the curtain in terms of how the establishment operates in this country over the past number of months. The immediate issue with golfgate was the outrage of people at the behaviour of these people at the time of a pandemic, which was undermining the public health effort, but people also got a sense that this is how power works. At Oireachtas golf society events there is dinner afterwards were people drink, eat and enjoy themselves, and who is there at these tables but politicians, lobbyists and judges all there together. It is not to suggest there are some brown envelopes or something going back and forth but that is not how it has to work.

It is the formation of a common viewpoint whereby these people view the world in a certain way together and have a class identity together which, in my opinion, is counterposed to the class interest of the majority of ordinary people. At the core of that is the elevation of private profit of the banks, of the corporations and of the others who are represented there.

There are other examples. The #leotheleak scandal also demonstrated a different kind of way that access works, whereby the head of the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP, was able to get access to a document that the current Tánaiste agreed he should not have had access to. It was a confidential document, as was very clear, in my opinion. However, he got access to it because of who he was and how he knew the then Taoiseach.

At the very same time that took place, the paramedics organised in the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, were on a picket line to try to be recognised and be formally negotiated with. They did not have any special access whatsoever - nothing like that - and they had to fight for it. It highlights the difference between being an insider and being an outsider and having to fight to be heard.

Adding insult to injury is what has happened around the appointment of Geraldine Feeney to the Standards in Public Office Commission. Again, it is nothing personal. I do not know Geraldine Feeney and I do not have any reason to doubt her sincerity, impartiality or anything else like that. However, it is fundamentally extremely problematic. I have made a complaint to SIPO. I believe that the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, was in clear breach of the codes of conduct for Deputies and office holders. I presume that is the first, second or third complaint, or certainly an early complaint, on the desk of SIPO to investigate. Then, a person is appointed to the board after the board was left sitting two people short for a period of months. It was the case that finally - great - the positions were being filled, but then, it is someone who was formerly a lobbyist for the NAGP, the organisation that is due to be investigated. It is just incredible. It is mind-blowing stuff, in my opinion. Even if we look at the rules of SIPO, it is not possible for her to recuse herself from the investigation. She has to step aside from all the work of SIPO while the investigation is going on, and someone else will have to be appointed in any case if she is not to participate. I do not see on what basis that can happen.

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward the Bill, which I support.

Deputy Pringle is sharing time with Deputy Connolly.

"Power and the money, money and the power, minute after minute, hour after hour" - Coolio might have been rapping about a "Gangsta's Paradise" back in 1995 but he could just as easily have been referring to politics around the world, including Irish politics and lobbying. Power and money tend to go hand in hand. We used to see it in the Galway races tent, and we still see it at fancy Covid restriction-breaking golf dinners and in the golden circle, the inner sanctum, and the revolving door of politicians, lobbyists, Attorneys General and Supreme Court judges.

It is all about who knows who, and who can influence policy. It is such a shame, is it not? Politics was supposed to have become more transparent and accountable. The days of the brown envelopes were supposed to have been behind us while corporate interests were expected to document and detail their meetings with public officials when seeking to influence policy. Unfortunately, many loopholes exist in the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, an Act that is yet another example of the Government paying lip service to an important issue without giving it the teeth to impose sanctions and prosecute for breaches of the Act. If a group does not have any paid staff, it does not have to complete the thrice yearly lobbying returns. If a chairperson or director undertakes the lobbying, they do not have to report it at all.

With all legislation, we should welcome the opportunity to review it once a period of commencement and implementation has passed. We should be willing to reflect critically on the positives and the unintended consequences and to address any loopholes that were uncovered from commencement. It is ridiculous that we are still so reactive and have to wait until a story hits the media before we do something about it.

The recent case is that of Michael D'Arcy from Wexford. A former long-standing Fine Gael politician, Michael D'Arcy lost his seat in the general election in February 2020 and he was subsequently successful in his bid for a seat on the agriculture panel in the Seanad. Previously, as a Deputy, Michael D'Arcy was a member of the Oireachtas banking inquiry committee and he was also a Minister of State at the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, with special responsibility for financial services and insurance.

As a Member of the Twenty-sixth Seanad, Michael D'Arcy spoke on a number of items of legislation, including the Investment Limited Partnerships (Amendment) Bill 2020. On the Second Stage of the debate on this Bill, on 23 September, the then Senator Michael D'Arcy opened his speech by saying:

Sometimes we describe a Bill as a very technical piece of legislation or as boring. Unfortunately, this type of thing is boring, but we have to get through it, and the devil is very much in the detail in this case. We are talking about the private equity sector in respect of financial services for Ireland. As the Minister of State will be aware, the financial services sector is quite a large employer, of about 16,000 people currently. The sector has been arguing, for about four and a half to five years, that without this legislation it cannot advance the private equity side of investment in Ireland.

On Monday, 28 September 2020, just five days after his Seanad speech, the Irish Association of Investment Managers, IAIM, announced that it had "appointed former Minister of State with Responsibility for Financial Services, Michael D'Arcy as its new CEO". It was not so boring then. The official statement on its website states:

Mr D'Arcy will work closely with IAIM Chairman, John Corrigan, on the development of the IAIM strategic plan in the context of the challenges and opportunities facing the investment management industry. In his role as CEO, Mr D'Arcy will be responsible for re-setting the IAIM agenda and priorities, given the changing landscape post-Brexit.

When the expected furore happened over this appointment, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste said that Michael D'Arcy probably should have contacted SIPO, the Standards in Public Office Commission, to speak to it prior to resigning his post as a designated public official and taking up a chief executive role. He also should have adhered to the one-year cooling-off period before taking up such a post. The Taoiseach has ordered a review of the legislation to be carried out and Michael D'Arcy said he would not be involved in lobbying for his first year on the job. In response, Sinn Féin has brought forward this welcome Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020.

This is not just about Michael D'Arcy as there are many instances of concern. Even more recently, the Government appointed Ms Geraldine Feeney to the board of SIPO. Ms Feeney was previously a lobbyist for the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP. We all remember that name as it was the NAGP's former president, Dr. Ó Tuathail, who was sent confidential documents by then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. We can see why people talk about revolving doors and golden circles.

I welcome this Bill and I will be supporting it. The Bill seeks to amend the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 and will amend a number of sections of that Act. These amendments will provide for the implementation of some of the recommendations set out in the second legislative review of the Act by SIPO. Sections 11, 16, 18, 22 and 25 of the 2015 Act will be amended and a new section will be inserted relating to the duties of designated public officials. Of the 22 recommendations put forward in SIPO's second review, this Sinn Féin Bill would provide for the implementation of 12 of them. It is a pity that not all of the 22 recommendations are being brought forward. However, it is more disappointing that many sections of the SIPO review which was published in May 2019 state that these recommendations were put forward previously in its first review. Again, why must the Government always govern in a haphazard way? In this case, is it to wait and see what it can get away with, without being held to account?

I thank Deputy Mairéad Farrell, my colleague in Galway West, and Deputy Pearse Doherty for bringing this legislation before the Dáil. I will certainly be supporting it.

I want to refer to the second statutory review of the Regulation of Lobbying Act. The Minister's predecessor said we did not need to do anything, and that was in January of this year. If the current Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, is to bring in another approach, I welcome that, but it is November and it was only in January last that it was said there was no need to change the legislation.

That is particularly worrying because the then Minister in January talked about bringing transparency, and he stated "that transparency of interest representation is key to allowing citizens to track the activities and potential influence of those who lobby". Later in the document, he said there was no need for any changes and stated "the amendment of any legislation should only be considered where a compelling business case for change is clear and unequivocal". I presume the current Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, does not agree with that. It was only in January of this year that the Department and the then Minister said they did not need change and that the few changes that are required could be done on an administrative basis. That was a blatant denial of what SIPO said in its second report and its first report.

I appreciate the Minister's bona fides on this matter.

In his contribution he moved on a little from the position in September where he was simply reviewing section 22. He is now reviewing more of that, which is welcome, but that has been brought about by the Sinn Féin Bill before the House. That is very upsetting when the Minister talks about learning and doing things differently. We set up SIPO, which I would not describe as ultra-radical. Would the Minister? It is moderate, reasonable and rational and it produced a detailed report containing 22 recommendations. It set out where the legislation was inadequate and asked for changes to that. It said that it had already pointed that out in its first report and that it was pointing it out again, and so the Department, with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, ignores it all. It took a Sinn Féin motion tonight to bring forward some of the recommendations. I thank that party's Members for using their Private Members' time for that.

It has to be asked why we have to rely on an Opposition party, with the fewer resources available to us, to bring a Bill like this before the House when SIPO has clearly pointed out the absolute necessity for the Bill and the different recommendations, some of which were extremely basic, to allow it the right of investigation in respect of non-compliance with the code of conduct, to lay a code of conduct before the Dáil, to publish some reports and the details of some reports in the interest of fairness and in the interest of people who have been cited in the media of contravening the code when they have not? SIPO has pointed out clearly the downside of not publishing things. One would think that if a proactive Department and a proactive Minister were serious, they would deal with that.

When we look at what is being asked in the different recommendations, as I said, they are extremely basic. In a 2019 submission SIPO stated:

Earlier this year the Commission became aware of a possible breach of section 22 of the Act. Following correspondence with the person and the employer concerned the Commission was satisfied that section 22 of the Act had been contravened. The commission had no authority to investigate ... this breach of the Act. The above breach brings into sharp focus the lack of power to enforce the Act's post-employment provisions, or to impose sanctions for persons who fail to comply with these provisions.

That is directly in regard to the revolving door and so on. We have a review that says we did not need any changes whatsoever. My time is up but there are many issues here. At this point all I can say is that if the Minister is going to do things differently he should remove the nine months. I always think of nine months as a pregnancy. We do not need another nine months to review this. We need the Minister to read the two reports from SIPO and the practical recommendations it made and to act on them.

I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, is sharing with Deputy Richmond.

I thank Deputy Mairéad Farrell for introducing what is her first piece of legislation. I hope it is the first of many. I also thank all the other Deputies who contributed to the debate.

The Bill before us provides for the amendment of six sections of the 27 sections of the Act. They are section 5 on the meaning of carrying on lobbying activities, section 11 on the details to be supplied by applications for inclusion on the register, section 16 on the code of conduct, section 18 on the relevant contraventions, section 22 on restrictions on post-term employment as a lobbyist, and section 25 on reports by the commission. The Bill also proposes the introduction of a new section to the Bill on the duties of designated public officials, DPOs.

I will address section 22, restrictions on post-term employment as a lobbyist, first. Under section 22 of the Act, specific categories of DPOs, entitled relevant DPOs, are subject to a one-year cooling-off period during which they cannot engage in lobbying activities in specific circumstances or be employed by or provide services to a person carrying on lobbying activities in specific circumstances. The relevant DPOs covered by section 22 are Ministers of the Government and Ministers of State; a special adviser appointed under section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997; the grades of Secretary General, second secretary, deputy secretary, assistant secretary or director level in the Civil Service, together with equivalent professional and technical grades; and the posts of chief executive, assistant chief executive and director of service in local authorities. In respect of others who are defined as DPOs under the Act but are not covered by this section 22 provision, that is, TDs, Senators, MEPs and local authority members, the one-year cooling-off period does not apply to them.

The cooling-off period applies for a full one year unless the relevant DPO applies to the Standards in Public Office Commission for consent to waive or reduce their cooling-off period. At the time, this approach was considered to represent a proportionate response to deal with the matter case by case rather than placing a mandatory blanket prohibition on relevant DPOs taking up particular roles which could be open to legal challenge by a person, for example, moving from a relevant DPO post in the public sector to a specific post in the private sector.

The approach taken, as mentioned by the Minister, also sought to ensure that the measures would not have the unintended impact of deterring participation in politics or in public service roles, particularly those in positions of short to medium-term duration. It is a responsibility of the relevant DPO to seek consent from Standards in Public Office Commission to waive or reduce his or her cooling-off period prior to taking up an offer of employment or to provide relevant services in circumstances where such employment or services may be or may be perceived to be encompassed by section 22. The commission may decide to give consent unconditionally or give consent with conditions attached. The commission may also refuse to give consent for all or part of the cooling-off period. A relevant DPO who is unhappy with the decision of the commission may appeal.

The Bill being discussed is proposing a number of amendments relating to section 22. It proposes, first, to make a contravention of section 22(1) of the Act relating to the cooling-off provision a relevant contravention under section 18 of the Act; second, to extend the cooling-off period from one to two years; and, third, to extend the scope of section 22 to include public bodies and DPOs with whom a person may have had significant involvement, influence or contacts. Such proposals raise complex issues. For example, as noted by the Minister in his opening statement, any potential legislative amendment to provide for sanction for breaches of section 22 has to factor into account issues such as the rights of a person to work and the proportionality of both any limitations and any sanctions that may be imposed. Longer cooling-off periods also raise issues around people's right to earn a living, proportionality and so on.

Some other non-section 22 related proposed amendments in the Bill before us also give rise to complex issues. For example, the proposed amendment to section 5 relating to representative bodies provides that any business representative bodies or coalitions of business interests, irrespective of the number or status of employees, are within the scope of the Act where one or more of the members of the body or coalition would be within the scope if they were acting themselves. The Bill also provides that members of the body or coalition should be required to be named on returns to support increased transparency. At present, while representative bodies with one employee are captured by the regulation of lobbying legislation, where the representative body has no employees it is not required to register. The purpose of this exemption for no employees is to allow for small local groups such as a residents association to discuss local issues with a DPO without the requirement to register. It would be difficult to carve out these other sectoral representative bodies or coalitions without inadvertently bringing smaller local groups into the requirement to register.

Other proposed amendments in the Bill before us, such as in regard to section 11, may be capable of implementation on an administrative basis by the Standards in Public Office Commission. As referenced earlier by the Minister, the Taoiseach indicated in the House in late September of this year that a review of section 22 of the Act was to be undertaken by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. This work is under way. In addition to consultations with the Office of the Attorney General, the review will include the following: consultation with and consideration of the views of the Standards in Public Office Commission; review of recent Private Members' Bills published regarding the matter, including the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020 being discussed and the issues raised by Members; and reflection on relevant proposals made in public submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the context of either the first 2017 or the second 2020 strategy reviews of the Act.

As noted by the Minister in his opening statement, given the substantial overlap between the Bill and the previous recommendations of the Standards in Public Office Commission to the two statutory reviews of the Act, he has decided to extend the remit of the review currently under way regarding section 22 of the Act to give renewed consideration to the range of issues raised in the Bill and all the contributions of Members here this evening. The proposed time-limited amendment of nine months to the motion that the Bill be read a Second Time will provide the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with a sufficient period to complete this extended review, which, as has been outlined, requires the consideration of complex issues.

The Minister has stated his commitment to acting on the matter and, once the review is complete, to bringing forward proposals to the Government and then to the House. The Minister and I are therefore seeking an amendment that the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020 be deemed to be read a Second Time this day nine months to allow for, in the context of the operation of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, consideration of the SIPO recommendations for reform and the provisions of this and other Private Members' legislation in this area. The Minister and I oppose the completion of Second Stage should amendment No. 1 not be accepted.

That is shameful from the Green Party. Disgraceful.

Deputy Doherty, please.

I rise to speak in favour of the Minister's amendment to this Private Members' Bill. Before I do so, I commend Deputy Mairéad Farrell on presenting her first Bill. It is something that I hope to do in due course. It is not exactly Deputy Doherty's first Bill but I extend that to him.

I was struck by Deputy Farrell's earlier contention in a Sinn Féin press release that Fine Gael and this Government have done nothing in this area. I remind the House that it was indeed a Fine Gael-led Government that introduced the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 that is in operation now, an Act that I am quite familiar with as someone who used to give courses and lectures on this for another institution, before I was in elected politics or indeed in this House. As part of that, it was a Fine Gael Government that established a lobbyist register which is seen as the best model across Europe and has been copied by many member states of the European Union.

We do not need to take lectures on such matters from Sinn Féin. The irony of Sinn Féin of all parties prematurely introducing this Bill should not be lost on anyone. The political opportunism is richly on display. Why is Sinn Féin so vociferous about pushing this Bill while it is so weak on it in Northern Ireland, where it opposed the Functioning of Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill? Why did Sinn Féin introduce legislation similar to this in Northern Ireland in 2017 but suddenly withdraw it? Why is Sinn Féin parading itself as the champion of transparency and public standards in Dublin when the opposite is true in Northern Ireland?

However, such political duplicity from Sinn Féin when it suits it is nothing new. We still need to know who William Hampton was. Why did he leave Sinn Féin €4 million for political use in the Republic and where is Sinn Féin's justification for bypassing this State's donation laws by funnelling that money through its Northern office? Can Sinn Féin Members, in their remarks after this, confirm why they have not declared the use of Northern resources to pay for online advertising targeting Border counties such as Monaghan and Louth to SIPO?

There is a murky history of political financing across this island. Fine Gael has proactively done something to end this scourge through the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012, which places strict donation limits on individuals and corporate entities, as well as requiring registration with SIPO. What is the real purpose of tonight's Private Members' business? Is it really to implement reform and improve our political system or is it yet another opportunity for Sinn Féin to score cheap political points, while stonewalling on its own shortcomings where it is in power on this island? I commend the Minister's amendment and the continuing approach of this Government to review and improve this legislation as appropriate.

The Minister ignored it for four years.

Power and influence are the two things that define governments and access to them. We recently had a vivid reminder of how it works, with the favour sought and given in the ever-decreasing circles around the Taoiseach, the most powerful office in this State. The man who now holds the office declared full confidence in the man who used to hold the office, who leaked confidential Government information. It seems that Government formation is an elite game to be played by elite players, decided on and chosen by themselves and each other. Lobbying can be a game in itself. It can be an extremely confusing game because the politician being lobbied today can be the person doing the lobbying tomorrow, especially when it comes to Fine Gael's Ministers of State at the Department of Finance, who can turn on a proverbial sixpence, as exemplified by Brian Hayes and Michael D'Arcy. It is a revolving door, going from running the Department of Finance to lobbying the Department of Finance on behalf of the banks that we bailed out.

People need to be able to make a living after politics but they should not and must not be able to make that living immediately after coming out of the privilege of the contacts, experience, information, influence and access granted through working in government. Such activity demeans the idea of public office working equally for all people, not just the favourite few. It undermines any sense of equality of access to people and their offices when they make Government decisions and policy by which we, the citizens of this Republic, must live, but it is all right here. It is done brazenly in the face of the people. We do not have to make it up. Sinn Féin wants tighter controls on lobbying than currently exist. I commend my comrade, Deputy Mairéad Farrell, on her first Bill, which will implement the recommendations from SIPO. The old boys' club has been found out. The old way of saying that is how we do things around here must go.

On 8 February, when voters went to the polls, a large proportion of them voted for a new direction. They voted for a new direction in housing policy. They voted for universal healthcare. They voted for the age of retirement to be maintained at 65. Above all, they voted for change. Part of that change undoubtedly meant a break from the old, stale insider politics that defined successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments. Following the election, those two parties, rather than recognising the appetite for change, came together to deny it. Far from breaking with the practices of the past, from the golden circles and the revolving doors, the practices of the past have instead become the hallmark of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael present. From the appointment of judges to the refusal of Ministers to hold themselves accountable to this Dáil, from the backroom deals with the bankers, vultures and insurance industry, to the sideroom deals that see some lobbyists get confidential documents from the heart of Government, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are carrying on as they always carried out, but now they are doing it together and arguably more blatantly than ever. Tonight, we can see that in plain sight.

The Bill proposed by Deputies Mairéad Farrell and Pearse Doherty seeks to prevent a situation whereby Fine Gael Ministers of State at the Department of Finance can move seamlessly into lobbying roles for the bankers and vultures that they were supposed to regulate. It calls for a cooling-off period of just two years, hardly a punitive measure but vitally important if citizens are to have confidence that the decisions made by the Government are made in the public interest. In fact, this Bill provides for measures that the Standards in Public Office Commission has been calling for since 2003 in some instances. There have been several promises, pledges, considerations and reviews in the intervening years. The Government's response tonight is to have yet another review. It is not good enough. The Minister can try to obstruct and deny change and might even succeed for a while, but it will only be for a while, because the appetite for change has grown since February and will continue to grow every day until every revolving door has been shut and the rotten, shady, insider deals are brought to an end. I commend this Bill to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an bplé a rinneamar ar an mBille anocht. Tá sé go maith le feiceáil nach bhfuil aon pháirtí i gcoinne na leasuithe seo ach is mór an trua é nach bhfuil an Rialtas sásta an Bille seo a chur i bhfeidhm láithreach. I welcome this debate and the fact that not one Member of the Oireachtas has opposed this. I am delighted that we have drafted legislation that goes across the political divide, with representatives agreeing that these changes must take place. I am also glad that this Bill will go to Committee Stage, although it will take another nine months if the Government's amendment passes tomorrow. The importance of this legislation and the public need for these changes has meant that we have not had a dissenting voice. That speaks loudly by itself.

I welcome what the Minister said earlier, that he will be extending the review and not just focusing on section 22. I believe that we need to act on this right away and I suggest that the next step is pre-legislative scrutiny. If the Government lets it pass to pre-legislative scrutiny, then we are willing to work with the Government and it would not go any further while the Government is conducting that review. I ask the Government to consider that. I thank my Sinn Féin colleagues who have supported this tonight, as well as other Deputies across the House.

I am glad to see that Sinn Féin is still living rent-free in Deputy Richmond's head.

What about the questions I asked?

I would like to say to Deputy Richmond that that absolutely came from a Fine Gael Government. Have former Fine Gael Ministers been benefiting from loopholes in that Act ever since?


Is that correct or not? That is absolutely correct. I want to go back to tonight's Bill. This should not be delayed any further. We saw a review in 2016 and we saw the SIPO recommendations. There was a review in 2019 and there were SIPO recommendations, but nothing was done. Fine Gael ignored it in 2016 and again in 2019. In February this year, Fine Gael again ignored it. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published its review, which called for more education and guidance as, apparently, there was no convincing case for updating these laws.

Following this, SIPO released a statement stating that it was disappointed that none of its recommendations to enhance transparency and accountability were adopted. Since then we have seen major incidents which show the drastic need for change with regards to lobbying in this country.

Another matter upon which I have written to the Ceann Comhairle, and I was grateful for his reply, is in respect of something that has been mentioned here earlier during this debate and concerns the fact that a former Member does not require an invitation to the Dáil for the purposes of lobbying. They can just use their swipe card to come and go as they please whereas another organisation, without that so-called privilege, would require an invitation. That is complete madness and once again creates an inequality and an elite which needs to change. Nobody, after having been elected to the Dáil, should get some sort of privilege which gives them greater access than another person when they leave this office.

We now have a situation where the Government wants another review. I urge the Minister to take on board the consideration that we discuss this further and let this Bill be brought further than this today. The question is why. We have already had two reviews and SIPO’s recommendations on what additional powers it requires. What we have not had is a proper enactment of the kind of recommendations that have flowed from these reviews.

Deputy Shortall said earlier that we need so much more anti-corruption measures. I see this Bill as a first but very important step in that regard. I would like us to work together to bring about those recommendations because they are essential, even just for public confidence in political life, which is so important. The last thing we need now is another can-kicking exercise which tries to avoid taking any actions by riding out the current new cycle and hoping that the public will forget all about this.

We need immediate action and to close the revolving door between vested interests and government and not more grease on the wheel. Unfortunately, it is the public who are left to carry the cost of this influence-peddling as our democratic process becomes corroded. We have a very reasonable Bill here that will deal with this and we are willing to work with the Minister on it. I urge him to reconsider his position to allow us to move this Bill on to pre-legislative scrutiny. Gabhaim buíochas.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. Mar aon leis na Baill uilig a labhair roimhe seo, ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil léi as an gcéad píosa reachtaíochta a bheith aici anseo os comhair na Dála.

Is é an chéad jab eile atá le déanamh againn anois ná ár n-aird a dhíriú isteach ar an leasú Uimh. 1 in ainm an Aire Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe.

Amendment put.

De réir Buan-Ordú 70(2) tá an vóta curtha ar atráth go dtí tráthnóna amárach nuair a bheidh na vótaí ar fad á dtabhairt againn.