Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014: Second Stage

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

Significant progress is being made on the programme of political and legislative reform aimed at enhancing openness and transparency. The Registration of Lobbying Bill is an integral part of this programme. The key objective of the Bill is to introduce a register of lobbying to make information available to the public on the identity of those who are communicating with the Government and senior civil and public servants on public policy matters. The exclusive purpose of lobbying by individuals or groups with different interests is to influence decisions taken at political and administrative level. There is, therefore, a strong public interest in knowing "who is lobbying whom about what". The Bill is specifically designed to achieve this goal through the establishment of a web-based registration system of lobbying activity.

Vibrant communication and dialogue and close interaction and engagement between the Government and citizens are central to a well functioning democracy and vital to support informed and evidence-based decision making. Interest groups, representative bodies, industry and civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, NGOs, charities and third party professional lobbyists all provide crucial input and feedback for the political and public administration systems through communication of the views and concerns of the public to legislators and the Government. However, they also clearly seek to influence the policy and decision making process in order to align it with their own organisational or personal goals and objectives. These goals and objectives may reflect a private, commercial or sectoral interest or be represented as a wider public interest or benefit.

The aim of the Bill is unequivocally not to restrict the flow of information, opinions, perspectives or proposals feeding into policy making or legislation but rather to bring about significantly greater transparency in that flow. It is appropriate that this activity is open to public scrutiny as part of the desirable checks and balances which help to ensure any attempt to seek to exert undue or improper influence on the conduct of policy formulation and development, political decision making and preparation and implementation of legislation is discouraged.

The reports of the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals have highlighted, inter alia, the risk that the legitimacy of the political system could be eroded by the corrosive impact of secrecy and undue influence. The regulation of lobbying is one of a suite of measures the Government is taking to address, through an extensive programme of political and governmental reform, the serious concerns that have emerged in this area in recent times. The value of regulation of lobbying in fostering a culture of integrity is supported by the Organisation for Co-operation and Development, OECD, which states "...a sound framework for transparency in lobbying is crucial to safeguard the public interest, promote a level playing field for business and avoid capture by vocal interest groups". Since communication is the essence of policy making, the introduction of lobbying regulation cannot be allowed to obstruct the information channels to the political system and the public service. The international experience of lobbying regulation reassures us that regulation has not given rise to such unintended harmful effects, nor is there evidence that it has made it more difficult to gain access to key decision makers.

It is clear that the introduction of lobbying regulation in Ireland represents a significant change to the existing political culture, replacing a relatively informal set of arrangements with, I hope and believe, a more structured and transparent system. My Department's task was twofold: first, to formulate legislative proposals to meet the objective of registering lobbying activity in a transparent manner and, second, to address the cultural shift required to ensure successful implementation of regulation in this area. From the outset, therefore, my Department sought to engage with as many stakeholders as possible in the change process and tailor the legislation, based on the feedback from that consultation process and best practice and experience overseas, so as to develop a user-friendly and not overly burdensome registration process which meets the transparency objective but minimises compliance costs in terms of both time and resources.

In December 2011 advertisements were placed in the national newspapers inviting submissions from interested parties on key issues relating to options for the design, structure and implementation of an effective regulatory system for lobbying. The consultation process was based on the agreed OECD principles for transparency and integrity in lobbying which were the subject of a recommendation by the OECD council in February 2010. The response to that consultation process was positive and approximately 60 organisations and individuals initially submitted views to my Department. A number of these contributors were subsequently invited to meet officials of my Department to discuss specific issues contained in their submissions. In addition, my Department undertook a review of international approaches to the regulation of lobbying.

Research was undertaken of lobbying regulation in a number of countries, including Canada, the USA, Australia and several European countries. The regulations in place in the European Union institutions were also analysed, as were the proposals at the time for the introduction of a regulatory regime in the United Kingdom. This work was advised and informed by the work of three international experts on lobbying regulation, Professor Gary Murphy of DCU, Professor Raj Chari of TCD and Dr. John Hogan of DIT, as well as comprehensive analysis and recommendations published by the OECD on lobbying regulation. In preparing my proposals I had regard to five Private Members' Bills published on the topic of regulation of lobbying since 1999. Four of these Bills were introduced by the Labour Party, including one by me, while one was introduced by Fianna Fáil in opposition. The Fine Gael draft lobbying Bill included in its "New Politics" document, published in 2010, was also reviewed as part of the comprehensive analysis of best ideas.

In July 2012 my Department published a policy paper entitled, Regulation of Lobbying Policy Proposals. In overall terms, the paper examines what activities should be the subject of regulation through the introduction of a new register. The paper was published to communicate to the public and all interested parties, including Departments and public bodies under their aegis, the main elements of my proposed policy approach to the development of legislation in this area. The paper promoted the view that lobbying was inherent to the democratic process, in and of itself a good thing and played a very positive role in securing a more informed environment for policy making and the development of legislation. I believe there is not a Member of this House, in his or her normal clinic activities, who is not lobbied either by individuals who because of their personal circumstances look for a change in the law or by local or national organisations.

The paper sets out the policy rationale for the regulation of lobbying, as well as an overview of the proposed policy framework and recommended options for further consideration of key features of the legislation, including definitions, disclosure, exemptions, exclusions, the format of the lobbying register, the lobbying registrar, sanctions, a code of conduct, registration fees, a cooling-off period and a review of the legislation.

The publication of the policy paper was also intended to allow stakeholders to provide further views on the principal implementation issues arising from the proposed policy approach.

Following publication of the policy proposals, a public seminar on the regulation of lobbying in Ireland was hosted by my Department on 5 July 2012 with contributions from me and Ms Lynn Morrison, Integrity Commissioner of Ontario, who was the key speaker at the seminar. This provided an opportunity to have a full and frank debate with a range of interested parties on the emerging issues from the consultation process to the options for improving the regulatory system proposed. Following the public seminar, a further consultation phase on lobbying took place focusing on the issues raised at the seminar. Approximately 30 further responses were received, including from several Departments and public bodies. My proposals have been carefully framed to take account of the issues raised throughout this rather exhaustive consultation process which was important in bringing the Bill to its current stage. Full details of the consultation process, including all of the submissions received and the reports of meetings which took place with stakeholders, are published on my Department's website.

I turn to the Bill before us and will briefly go through each Part outlining the content and purpose. Sections 1, 3 and 4 deal with standard preliminary and general matters, including the Title of the Bill and provisions for commencement of the Bill. Section 2 provides for a regular review of the operation, implementation and effectiveness of the legislation. Deputies this this is necessary because we are not going to get it exactly right and we must learn from user experience as the process develops. The first review will be held no later than one year after the commencement day of the Bill. Each subsequent review should be held every five years thereafter. I am interested in hearing Members' views on whether that is too long or short a time line and I have an open mind on the matter. Reports on the findings and recommendations of each review will be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas within six months of the end of the relevant period.

Section 5 provides the definition of "lobbying". It establishes that lobbying activity is carried out by persons in the course of their business in return for payment by a client - obvious paid lobbyists; an employer or his or her employee on behalf of the employer; any person on matters of planning or rezoning of land. It defines the communications which constitute lobbying and those that are excluded. It also determines that normal citizen interaction with public representatives in a private and non-commercial capacity or communications by employers with ten employees or fewer acting on behalf of that employer will not be included in the register unless the communication is in respect of land rezoning or development. Planning matters relating to an individual's private residence will also be exempt.

This section also sets out other exemptions from the regulatory requirements set out in the Bill. Such exemptions include those relating to international relations, factual information sought by a public body or other information sought and published by a public body and matters posing a threat to the safety of persons or the security of the State. It also exempts communications between public officials acting in an official capacity. Communications between members of a group established by a Minister or a public body and including persons from outside the public service are also exempt, subject to a requirement to comply with a transparency code.

Section 6 sets out the meaning of "designated public official". This term includes Ministers, Ministers of State, special advisers, Deputies, Senators, members of local authorities and Irish MEPs. I intend that, on commencement, the Bill will apply to communications with officials at Secretary General and assistant secretary level in the Civil Service and equivalent levels in local authorities. It is my intention to extend the Bill on a phased basis and prescribe further grades within the Civil Service and other areas of the public service as designated public officials in the light of experience with implementation. Again, I am interested in hearing the views of Members opposite in that regard. The Bill requires public bodies to maintain a list of designated officials with up-to-date details on their websites.

Section 7 defines certain terms used in the Bill.

Part 2 of the Bill contains sections 8 to 15, inclusive, and details how the system of registration of lobbying communications will operate. Section 8 provides that a lobbyist must be registered before carrying on lobbying activities, unless it is that person's first time to lobby. In that case, the registration and the return must be completed before the next return date.

Section 9 provides that the commission will establish a register of lobbyists. The Standards in Public Office Commission will be the registrar.

Section 10 provides that the information to be supplied when registering or in a return will be available on the register. It provides for the commission to decide not to publish certain personal information in order to prevent misuse or to protect the person's right to privacy, for example, private email addresses. It also sets out the role of the commission should it deem that information given is inaccurate, out of date or misleading.

Section 11 provides for the registration details to be included in the register and confirmation that the details entered on the register are correct. It also allows for registrants to have their registration marked as ceased.

Section 12 provides for returns to be filed. It requires three returns per year. Anyone engaged in lobbying, in accordance with the definitions used in the Bill, must file a return for each of the mandatory return dates. It allows for a nil return to be submitted also.

Section 13 provides that the commission may require clarification or further information which must be returned within 21 days of the date of the notice. Where a reply is not received within 21 days, the inaccurate registration or return will be removed from the register for non-compliance and a notice of the removal will be issued. The registration or return will be considered as not having been made. In certain circumstances the commission may also immediately remove the information from the register.

Section 14 provides for delayed publication where the registrant believes the registration or the return relating to the lobbying activity would be expected to have a serious adverse effect on the financial interests of the State, the national economy or business interests generally or the business interests of any description of persons or it establishes that the commission on receipt of the application will consult the relevant Ministers, where appropriate, before a decision is made on such matters. Delayed publication may also be sought where immediate publication would be expected to cause a material financial loss to the person to whom the information relates or prejudice seriously the competitive position of that person in the conduct of the person's occupation, profession or business or the outcome of any contractual or other negotiations being conducted by that person. In both cases, the commission would be required to consider whether the public interest would, on balance, be better served by refusing to grant than by granting the application. The commission may also decide to publish summary information only. All of this is an empowering provision to be exercised at the complete discretion of the registrar.

Section 15 is a technical provision and establishes that any document which the commission certified as a copy of an entry on the register is deemed to be a true copy. This is just normal legal cover.

Part 3 of the Bill contains sections 16 and 17 and deals with the code of conduct for lobbyists and guidance to be provided by the commission. Section 16 allows for a statutory code of conduct to be created for lobbyists by the commission. In developing a code the commission must consult interested organisations or individuals.

Section 17 allows the commission to issue guidance, particularly with a view to promoting understanding of the Bill. This is a new provision and from all the discussions I have had with interested groups, I know that there is concern and fear about how it will impact on normal organisations such as the IFA and trade unions in carrying out their normal affairs. It will take a bedding-in process to explain it in some detail.

Part 4 contains sections 18 to 21, inclusive, and deals with enforcement matters. Section 18 defines the contraventions relevant to the Bill. Section 19 provides the commission with the power to authorise an investigation to be carried out. The commission can appoint authorised officers to carry out an investigation on its behalf. While conducting an investigation, an authorised officer can request any information or copies of documentation deemed appropriate to the investigation and has the power to enter the premises to seek copies of documents, subject to the consent of the occupier or pursuant to a warrant. Any information in the authorised officer's possession will remain confidential, unless the Bill requires it to be public.

Section 20 provides for prosecution for serious offences under the Bill and the imposition of penalties for these offences. Section 21 establishes that the commission may serve fixed payment notices where an offence has been committed under section 20(1) in regard to the late filing of returns. A fixed payment notice will state the amount, namely, €200, and the payment method and date. Where payment is made within the timeframe, court proceedings will not be initiated.

Part 5 contains sections 22 to 26, inclusive, and covers miscellaneous and supplementary issues. Section 22 provides for certain designated public officials, notably Ministers, Ministers of State, special advisers and, on commencement of the Bill, Secretaries General and assistant secretaries in the Civil Service and equivalent grades in local authorities, to apply to the commission for approval to carry out lobbying activities in an area that might cause a conflict of interest as a result of their former roles in public employment within one year of ceasing to be designated public officials. The model proposed focuses on the particular activities likely to present a conflict of interest, rather than imposing a blanket ban on the take-up of employment. This approach allows the commission to permit, for example, the take-up of employment but to impose conditions or refuse to give consent. This will be an issue we can discuss in some detail. We have to strike a balance between not debarring people from exercising their constitutional right to work, while at the same time ensuring there is no improper use of information gleaned or garnered while holding a public position when one has moved out of that position.

Section 23 provides for appeals of decisions made by the commission. It establishes that the Minister can appoint a panel of independent appeals officers. Appeals may be made in regard to decisions made under section 10(5) relating to inaccurate or misleading information, under section 14 relating to delayed publication or under section 22 relating to post-term employment applications.

Section 24 establishes that a decision of the appeals officer may be appealed to the High Court on a point of law. This appeal must be brought within 21 days of the notice of the decision. The decision of the High Court is final.

Section 25 provides for an annual report to be compiled by the commission. It sets out the type of information to be reported on and provides for the report to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas within six months of the end of the relevant period.

Section 26 makes amendments to the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 to provide, as appropriate, for changes to the functions of the commission regarding its new role as lobbying registrar. The consultation process has demonstrated the complexity of the issues involved and the required culture change arising in the introduction of regulation in this area for the first time. I assure the House that the correct balance will be achieved between the need for maximum transparency in public policy making and the need to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens on those sectors which interact, as a matter of course and routine and as is proper and appropriate, with government. The Bill, therefore, proposes reviewing the legislation 12 months after its commencement in the light of our experience with its implementation.

I would welcome the views of Members now and in more detail when we get into the meat of the Bill on Committee Stage on any additional provision which they believe would strengthen the Bill or help to ensure it meets its core objective of casting greater light on public policy making. I will genuinely approach our discussions with an open mind. I anticipate that I will have a number of technical amendments to bring forward on Committee Stage. In addition, I intend to propose an amendment to section 5 which will have the effect of ensuring relevant communication by representative bodies and bodies established to further particular issues will come within the definition of lobbying, regardless of the number of employees in the bodies. The amendment will not change the broad policy approach adopted in section 5.

The intention is that the Bill will be enacted during this session. I hope it can be passed safely by both Houses in that timeline. A period of time will then be required prior to commencement of the legislation to enable the development of the IT and information systems which will support the registration process. My Department is working closely with the Standards in Public Office Commission on these issues. We are also discussing resource issues. It is intended to establish an advisory group shortly, comprising relevant experts and key stakeholders who will be in a position to provide information and guidance to assist in the smooth implementation of the Bill once enacted. Of course, the timeframe for the regulatory provisions of the Bill to be brought into operation will depend, in the first instance, on the time it takes for both Houses to pass the Bill. All going according to plan, however, I anticipate commencement of the Bill by the summer of 2015.

I will be happy to expand on any of the provisions included in the Bill during the course of the debate, if Deputies wish to raise particular issues, if there are new proposals or anybody has examined international best practice and can add to the Bill. I will approach the debate with an open mind. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Deputies and hope the House will support the passage of the Bill, secure its speedy passage on Second Stage, have a detailed debate on Committee Stage to meet the timeline I have set out for having the Bill as the law of the land, with all support necessary through the Standards in Public Office Commission, by the middle of next year.

We are discussing the Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014, the timing of which is most relevant and interesting. Before I debate the specifics of this important legislation, we need to examine the background. Essentially, the citizens of Ireland want to know who has the inside track. Many believe a small group of people have the inside track and can get their point of view across and have it accepted by the Government or other public bodies, as the case may be, and that the majority are excluded from this track.

When I read the Bill, I asked myself a simple question: would the Bill, if enacted in its current form, show who had lobbied the Taoiseach on the appointment to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art? If the Bill leads to that question being anwered, it is a good one. That will be the acid test. I would like to know where in the Bill these issues are addressed.

The Minister has had to rush and brought a memo to the Cabinet today on appointments to public bodies. That is all well and good and cuts across the area of who lobbies Ministers and Taoisigh on board appointments. However, the issue of board appointments is not discrete; it has a wider impact across other issues. We are here to discuss the issue of lobbying the Government, Ministers and those in decision making capacities. The Minister may be able to explain at the end of the Second Stage debate or on Committee Stage where in the Bill we can find a clear answer to the question as to which section refers to the lobbying of the Taoiseach or a Minister on an appointment to a State board.

I refer to that issue because it is a current example of what is going on and it is not just the Taoiseach but the Minister of the Taoiseach's own party. The Taoiseach was forced to admit today that the Minister had been given CVs by officials of her own party.

This leads to another important distinction which we might have to include in the legislation. I refer to the Jesuitical distinction the Taoiseach made a couple of hours ago in the Chamber when he distinguished between his role as Taoiseach and his role as leader of the Fine Gael Party. It was as if to say, "They are two separate issues." Technically, they are, but he is the one person. It is not good enough to say that when he was looking at the CVs of the various people nominated in Fine Gael for their suitability for the Seanad, he interviewed the particular man in question in his capacity as leader of Fine Gael. Yes, he has that role, but when the role as a leader of a political party impacts on public bodies, the distinction is no longer valid.

I do not mind if the Taoiseach is out canvassing in Tallaght tonight and dealing with issues as leader of Fine Gael from a Fine Gael perspective. He may be asked about issues relating to Government policy, but he cannot take decisions as leader of Fine Gael that affect Government actions. There must be a distinction. The distinction the Taoiseach drew this afternoon is capable of driving a coach and four through this legislation. It will allow him to say, "In my capacity as Taoiseach, I never met that person." The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht can say, "I never met that person." The Minister for Finance can say, "In my capacity as Minister for Finance, neither I nor my officials met that person. It so happens as a member of Fine Gael, I met him." The same applies to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as a member of the Labour Party. There is a lacuna that must be closed in some way because the public will not accept that loophole in the legislation when passed. I accept that the roles are distinct, but where they collide, there must be legislation to cover the registration of lobbying. The legislation will mean nothing to the public if we can have a repeat of what happened in the last fortnight in six or 12 months time. The issue must be addressed and the gap must be closed.

Only a few short hours ago going into the Cabinet meeting, the Minister opposite, Deputy Brendan Howlin, was recorded as saying he would vote for Mr. John McNulty. He said he had a problem in getting legislation through the Seanad and that it was important that he vote as a Government member for Mr. McNulty to assist in getting legislation through in the next 18 months. Does the Minister stand by this? Mr. McNulty who has shown a degree of integrity we did not see from the Taoiseach or the Minister does not have a legal mechanism to take his name off the ballot paper. There could be a case for cancelling the election if people were serious about it. Perhaps, it cannot happen in a democracy once an election is taking place. I remember that during the local elections a Fine Gael councillor, unfortunately, died the day before or on the morning of polling and the election was held over for three weeks. There must be some exceptional provision to allow an election to be held over.

It will make a mockery of integrity and honesty if members of the Government parties go ahead and vote Mr. McNulty into the Seanad on 10 October, the weekend before the budget. He has said, "Do not vote for me," but the Minister has said he is voting for him. The Minister might clarify whether he will comply with Mr. McNulty's request. It will make a joke of every member of the Government if they continue to say they still think Mr. McNulty is the most suitable person on the ballot paper and that they have no option but to vote for him. If he takes his seat in the Seanad, it will make a mockery of the whole process, which brings me back to my first question. Who lobbied the Taoiseach and will the legislation cover that scenario? It is a very important question. I never like to get personal, but there is some family connection to canvassers of the person involved or something like that. The legislation excludes social contacts. There is significant scope to get around the legsislation, which is my difficulty.

Fianna Fáil produced a Bill in January 2012, as the Minister did previously. It has been around a while and there is no getting away from it. Our problem with the timing of the legislation - I have a problem with the content also, but we will talk about how it can be improved - is that it was promised in the programme for Government in 2011. We gave the Government 12 months and in early 2012 published our own Bill.

Having voted mine down twice.

That is right, but Fine Gael and the Labour Party were the one that were going to have a democratic and political revolution.

We did and it is there.

To test the promise made, we brought forward the legislation which, it goes without saying, the Minister has not taken up. We brought the Bill forward because at that stage the Government was talking about the sale of State assets. It has since privatised the national lottery licence and parts of Bord Gáis and its customer base and meters, which has a resonance for the other subsidiary of Bord Gáis in relation to Irish Water. There is nothing except a Government majority preventing that from happening at a later date. The Government has set up NewERA and Irish Water and none of us knows who lobbied who during these processes. That is why we wanted the legislation to be brought forward before all that was done. The financial decision on setting up Irish Water will be one of the larger ones the Government will have taken in terms of new legislation, new State bodies and the sale of various State assets, as I have mentioned, yet all of that was neatly got out of the way before this legislation came to pass.

What most concerns me about the legislation is the mammoth number of omissions. The first thing that needs to be included in the legislation is consultants employed to carry out work on behalf of public bodies. I go back to the national lottery licence. The Minister rightly pointed out that he was not involved and that consultants were employed to deal with it. He was hands off. Believe it or not, consultants are human too, although some people might not think so. People could have lobbied these consultants on the sale of State assets. They might lobby any consultant brought in to modernise any Department or State body. Unless the consultants who are being paid by the public body are brought under this legislation, it will be woefully inadequate. There must be a mechanism for to do this. The Government can outsource a decision to a consultancy firm and people can lobby the consultants. The result can be the one desired by the lobbyists and the Government can state, "But nobody lobbied us." That is not good enough and we must deal with the issue.

We must also consider, as the Minister suggests in the last paragraph of his speech, the provision regarding employers with fewer than ten employees. I come at this from a couple of points of view and most of what I say will work its way into amendments which the Minister will receive. We will go back over my script and the Minister's officials will have time to consider from where I am coming. The ten employee provision appears, on the face of it, to be fine to avoid tormenting small companies in trying to lobby for something simple. However, many businesses are run through shelf companies. Some of the largest construction contracts handed out through public procurement processes go to developers with few or no employees. We are tired of talking about main contractors who pass jobs on to subcontractors who pass them on again. The main contractor for the job may be a shelf company taken on for a specific project worth tens of millions of euro. While the intention in the ten employee provision is good, we must capture more people than that number. Many of the largest companies in the country have shelf companies within their organisational structures. One could have a holding company in which all decisions are made and which has no employees. It may just be a chairman, the secretary and a board with no staff. We must have a mechanism to catch all of these.

The Minister referred to the issue of the representative bodies. How many times have I been lobbied by RECI or electrical or security contractors with only two or three employees? However, they are big organisations when they get going. One might have to consider turnover, as well as issues such as representative bodies in terms of the group of which a company is part. I acknowledge that this is getting complicated, whether it be €5 million or €10 million, but if there are companies in the market for large contracts, there must be a mechanism to capture them. The requirement in respect of having ten employees is too narrow when it comes to business transactions. An example would be companies liable to be audited. They must have a certain turnover and be of a certain size. I am not saying the exact figure that should apply, but that size is closer to the scale of a company about which Revenue will want to know. I am trying to be helpful by making some suggestions other than about the employees, but I understand the Minister's position.

The Minister might clarify where all this legislation will fit in under the freedom of information legislation. I presume the Standards in Public Office, SIPO, is subject to the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act but there are references in the report to the effect that it can issue summaries of reports etc. There is no point in inserting that in the legislation if the full report is capable of being got under FOI-----

It will be a matter for SIPO.

It is not a bone of contention but we might clarify that.

I have an open mind on one of the contentious issues in this legislation. I do not have a fixed view, although some people have fixed views on this issue. The Minister nailed his colours to the mast in the programme for Government about the two year cooling off period. The legislation refers to one year. I know some people believe strongly the period should be two or three years, or that the person should never work in the area again. Some people will always go to the extreme and if the Minister is introducing such measures for somebody who leaves a public body, the issue of compensating that person who cannot work again in an area in which they have expertise must be examined. The popular view is that the period should be two years, the longer the better, that we are all pariahs and we should not have interaction between the public and private sectors. I take the opposite view. Part of what is wrong with Ireland is that there is an undue suspicion between the public and the private sectors. The more regulated interaction, the better. More interaction is better for both the public and the private sector but I accept that we must regulate it. I am not just sure whether the legislation should provide for a period of one or two years.

I will give an example, and the Minister might respond that it is good for the company involved. A senior official in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine who was excellent in terms of the dairy or the beef industry retires at whatever age he is entitled to retire. It could be beneficial for the country for that person to be employed by one of our major international co-operatives to help our food exports. Some might say he should go home and watch DVDs or play golf for two years and that he should not be allowed take up a position that could help the industry, employment and exports. I believe we must reconcile that issue. I may be going a little too far but I can see a situation where a retired public servant, and we are talking about different grades of people, through the talents and knowledge he or she has built up, being used in the international sphere for the good of the country, and he would be getting paid for it - there is no argument about that. I would be concerned that we would take the simple line that he could not do that. It is complicated, and conflict of interest issues arise, but it is an issue we have to tease out. I do not subscribe to the strict demarcation line between the public and the private sectors. Exchange of staff between the public and private sectors can be good for all concerned. The question I have to ask is who lobbied for that change since the programme for Government was agreed.

It was part of all the dialogue and part of the communications, and all that is on the website.

That is fine, but I have an open mind on the issue. I want the best result for Ireland, once it is properly regulated.

I move on to the areas that have been excluded, and I will start with the semi-State monopolies. We have had this argument previously. Bus Éireann is in competition with other Irish operators but I look at the monopoly. Irish Rail is a monopoly and Irish Water is a monopoly. In some aspects of the market An Post is a monopoly.

It does not make policy though.

No. I refer to other public bodies that I believe should come under this legislation. EirGrid should come under it because it has a massive impact on people's lives. A director of Sustainable Energy Ireland is a director of one of the companies promoting the big wind farm projects - I refer to Brendan Halligan, a former colleague of the Minister. That has come up time and again, and I have heard the Minister's Oireachtas colleagues criticising that apparent conflict of interest between a person who is a director of Sustainable Energy Ireland and also a director of one of the companies promoting wind farms. EirGrid and such organisations that deal with this area should be included.

In terms of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, a definition of what is and is not covered should be included. I refer also to the Irish Aviation Authority, which I accept is a niche area. I came to mention the Minister's colleague in Clare who was put onto that board. We have had a good bit of that discussion in the past few days. I mention the Private Security Authority and Tourism Ireland also. Many hotel groups, bed and breakfast establishments and a wide variety of people in the tourism industry want to lobby Tourism Ireland for funding and projects that will be beneficial to them. Such people have a very big impact. Waterways Ireland is another one.

I read in one of the briefing notes here in the Oireachtas that what is excluded is the implementation of public policy. I know it must stop somewhere. The Minister said that some of the companies I mentioned did not make public policy but those that implement public policy, such as the organisations I mentioned including Tourism Ireland or EirGrid, must be covered under this legislation. There is a gap in that regard. Sometimes those organisations can have far more practical power and influence in terms of people's daily lives and the direction in which the country is going than the officials in the Department who drafted the legislation that set them up.

Principal officers and assistant principal officers have to be included in the legislation. Principal officers are on higher salaries than Oireachtas Members and the salary grade-----

No. We do not get increments and they do. That was taken off us in the last general election.

But the Deputy is on the top of the scale.

I am at €86,000. I do not know the scale they are on-----

They get incrementally to that level.

I have to defend them.

I am told principal officers and assistant principal officers regularly accompany Ministers to the Dáil and have a key interaction with what is going on, and they should be included also.

There is a suggestion that the private secretaries to Ministers should be included also because they can have a key role in setting up meetings, encouraging meetings to take place or discouraging meetings. I was never a Minister. I do not know how strong a private secretary can be but I am sure some private secretaries can get their Minister to meet an individual if they believe it would be worthwhile to his or her Department. There is a case to be made in that regard.

I refer to all the people who are lobbyists but who do not have to list their social contacts. The Minister excluded the Frank Flannerys of this world from the legislation. I come back to my opening sentence about the inside track. The people want to be assured there is not an inside track for the 1% of people concerned as opposed to the other 99%. He had an inside track. I will not demonise the man but the case was publicised. I mention him because the Minister's former ministerial colleague, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, said about him earlier this year that he was always around the corridors and that he could lobby in a non-lobby kind of way. He would chat to one and tell one what he wanted done. He would say he was not there to lobby one but one would get the point he was making. The former Minister said Frank Flannery was capable of lobbying in a non-lobbying kind of way. It is a lovely phrase. It is probably an Irish way of putting it but everyone understood that. It might not be the Queen's English but Irish people understood what that meant. We have to deal with that.

In a way, because of what is omitted, the legislation is a bit of a fig leaf because it is narrow. I have listed the areas I want included, and the people will see that. They want high standards and ethics in politics. I have been canvassing in the by-election in recent days and people are shocked. They thought we had a change in Irish society but they said that when it comes to this issue this crowd are worse than us.

That is a damning indictment.

I never thought we were that bad but the Minister gets the point I am making. What we have seen in the past week has shattered some people's confidence. Some people had a low opinion of politics to start with. Their confidence was not shattered but those people who had a decent interpretation of ethics in politics felt let down. We need a proper and full registration of lobbying Bill, not what is before the House. A great deal needs to be included in this legislation and if the Minister accepts our amendments, we will have good legislation that will be fit for purpose.

I seek clarification on a number of points.

If there is lobbying on broader issues then this should be included. The Minister might clarify where the other social partners fit in. He made a reference to the IFA, IBEC, charities, voluntary groups, sporting organisations and organisations helping the homeless. Groups are set up around the country and might have to hire a legal person if they are opposing a wind farm or organising a campaign to save the local post office. People are afraid they could be trapped by this legislation. Some of the organisations have well over ten paid staff.

I am trying to understand the consistency of the view of Deputy Sean Fleming. Should a former politician or a former party official be able to lobby on the issue of wind farms?

It is complicated and we will get into it in more detail. Some of the organisations, like the IFA or the GAA, have many paid officials. More often than not we meet the local voluntary chairman who is here on behalf of the person who sent him with a very good briefing note. The latter was from an organisation with more than ten people. That can happen in sporting organisations. I have covered various aspects of the Bill.

I refer to some of the specifics. I am dealing with section 5(k). I have an issue in respect of communication between public servants. The story goes that Ryanair wanted to put an airport at Baldonnel and the civil servants who would be living under the flight path on the south side of the city conspired and decided it was not a good idea. Public servants dealing with organisations other than their own should be brought into this. The organisation has a function in its own right and these matters may not always be in the public interest. I refer to commercial bodies, semi-State bodies and some of the regulators I mentioned.

The Minister has omitted the regulators from this legislation. The energy regulator, the National Transport Authority, the health insurance regulator and perhaps the Financial Regulator must be brought in under the legislation. They are key people in implementing Government policy. Section 5(l) refers to semi-State companies. It is okay if they are dealing with the Minister in the ordinary course of business, such as day-to-day activity or monthly or annual reporting. When there is a bigger issue to be dealt with, they should not be exempt from the legislation.

Section 5(7)(c) refers to relevant matters and the authorisation involving public funds. Is it voted funds? The matter has been raised in this House before. Are moneys that go to section 38 or section 39 organisations public funds? It has come out of the public purse and has passed onto a private body. Some of the organisations are mammoth and have a major influence on the delivery of key health services. We must tease out this matter.

Section 14 deals with delayed publication. I can understand that there might be a reason for it but an annual report should refer to where items are subject to delayed publications. Details do not need to be given but people should know whether there are matters of concern. Local authorities must be addressed. The Minister has included local authority members for planning and zoning issues.

What underlines this legislation is that people must be paid to do the lobbying. There is crossover between people in a company and volunteers working for the same company who are a front for the same organisation but are not being paid. That must be addressed.

I refer to factual information that has been requested. Statistics are factual information but in every organisation there are lies, damn lies and statistics. The same factual information can be presented in different ways depending on the point of view one is trying to get across. We must specify what factual information means because it normally means that people draw conclusions when looking at a graph.

With regard to grassroots lobbying, the Minister mentioned that the key aspect is the reference to managing or directing the making of relevant communications. A paid organisation can be directing the relevant communications even if the people involved are not doing it themselves. This deals with representative groups and associations.

With regard to the regulatory impact statement, I noted that we made provision in the Estimate of €350,000 for SIPO to get ahead with this. The Minister might tell us where we are now in that regard because the legislation will not be enacted before Christmas. Will that need to come back to the Department and be given to SIPO in next year's Estimate?

The principle of the legislation is welcome but my main concern is the level of admissions. Much of what is in there, in respect of the role of trade unions and investigations, is good. People cannot just walk in with a warrant from a District Court.

I will not deal with what I have not referred to because those elements are okay. They are necessary and I have no argument with the drafting. Fianna Fáil will table a number of amendments to broaden the scope of the legislation rather than its detail. I look forward to discussing it in detail on Committee Stage.

I welcome the introduction of the legislation, which has been a long time coming. The legislation comes on the back of decades of political corruption and cronyism. Members in the Dáil and beyond are familiar with the corruption scandals of the 1990s to 2000s that exposed corrupt practices. In summary, the legislation is designed to rebuild trust in the political system. It is welcome and necessary. It is unfortunate that, at a time when we discuss this landmark legislation, it is against a backdrop of some of the most outrageous displays of stroke politics. As recently as today in the Dáil Chamber, we heard the Taoiseach give an incoherent and garbled account of communication and decision-making between his political party, his decisions as leader of Fine Gael, and his communication with a fellow member of Cabinet, Deputy Heather Humphreys. The Taoiseach has acknowledged responsibility for some wrongdoing but he has, as yet, fallen short of identifying the sequence of events and what he is apologising for. In discussing the legislation, it is not a platform for us to focus on the issue but it is important that in dealing with legislation such as this, we understand the depth of the malaise and the lack of public confidence in individual politicians or political parties but also in the political process and system. It is a serious state of affairs and we must be sure the legislation goes substantially along the way to address some of the issues.

I am glad there is a review provision after 12 months. I am concerned about the five-year period thereafter. It is rather long and perhaps we will revisit this aspect on Committee Stage. I may suggest a three-year period but we can debate the matter. I share the concerns raised in respect of designated persons. There is a difference between an outside organisation or group lobbying a public official and the internal communications of public officials.

I accept that these are qualitatively different things. None the less, if this legislation fails to capture the lobbying that does happen between public officials of one sort or another, be they of high rank in the Civil Service or at ministerial rank, we leave a very big and gaping hole in the legislation. The events of the past week or more involving the Taoiseach's interaction with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on the matter of the appointment to the board of IMMA clearly reflect the need for transparency and for a light to be shone on those interactions. I do not propose that this would intrude on matters of Cabinet confidentiality but the Minister must consider and have an open mind on Committee Stage. I do not believe that the Minister, no more than I, wishes to see, much less preside over, a situation where lobbying can occur in that manner and can have such a negative consequence in terms of public confidence and public perception.

I am interested to see the meaning of this transparency code referred to in section 5 and what it might look like. I know it is not proposed to incorporate the transparency code within the primary legislation but I suggest that we could have a very useful and, I hope, fruitful conversation on Committee Stage on that concept and what form and shape it might take.

This time of the year is very busy for lobbyists. The budget will be announced in a fortnight and Oireachtas Members have spent a lot of time in recent weeks attending briefings on the budget and considering budgetary submissions from various organisations, companies and charities. Given the very great and often crippling effect that budgetary decisions can have on individuals and families, it is very important that all interest groups have equal access to policy-makers. We need to redress the imbalance between those organisations that have the resources to fund slick public relations campaigns and those that do not enjoy such a level of resources. We must ensure, inasmuch as is possible, that equal access is afforded to groups that are broadly representative of society and not just of large commercial interests. We must make space for and acknowledge smaller community group lobbies and charities.

The Minister referred to the consultation process. I welcome that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform undertook this process with interested parties as part of the drafting process. It was very important that we had access to a range of opinion and expertise on the subjects of lobbying and advocacy. I acknowledge the work carried out within this process by organisations, individuals and community groups who took part in that consultation process and by the Department and its officials. It is disappointing that we have had to wait so long for the Bill to reach Second Stage. It perhaps reflects that this matter was low on the list of priorities for political reform for the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government.

The Minister will recall that Fine Gael promised to implement sweeping political reform under the now fabled banner of the democratic revolution. This week has shown us that it is business as usual in so far as stroke politics and jobs for the boys are concerned. It is sobering to see how little has changed since the arrival of the new Government and the scant regard that Fine Gael and, it seems, the Labour Party, have in real terms for the project of political reform. No matter how many political scandals are exposed and investigated in this State, lessons are not learned and the cycle continues. On a note of optimism, the debate, consideration and passage of this legislation, as amended, will mark something of a sea change in that attitude within what I will call the political class.

The intention of regulating lobbyists is to level the playing field in order that all stakeholders have equal access to decision-makers in matters of policy-making or in the drafting of legislation. The worst outcome for this legislation would be that groups would be excluded from its remit. It is important that regulation does not present any barriers to small groups or to citizens accessing representatives or policy-makers.

I draw the Minister's attention to section 5 and the fact registered charities are not mentioned. The Minister will be aware that charities are entitled to tax exemption if registered with the Revenue Commissioners. Under Revenue guidelines, an organisation that engages in lobbying cannot be registered as a charity. I hope that at the more interactive forum of Committee Stage we can tease out this matter and have a discussion about lobbying and advocacy and the role of charity groups and protections for such groups within that system. We cannot leave a situation where charities engaging in advocacy might lose their status as registered charities due to any lack of clarity in the Bill.

I am pleased to note that the register proposed is to be made available online, public and free of charge. This is the correct course of action. I am also pleased that a range of information to do with various types of lobbying will also be available in the online register. It is very important that the most comprehensive information possible is available to the public. This might entail amendments to the Freedom of Information Act if meetings and other activities which are currently available for public scrutiny are to be included in the register. We will need a discussion on and some clarification of this part of the legislation.

I am pleased to note specific protection for normal citizens in their interactions with public representatives in the matters of their private affairs has been included in the list of exemptions. There are a few questionable inclusions in this section. While I appreciate the positive sentiments behind the exclusion of communications by employers with ten or fewer employees, it might be prudent to redefine this subsection to include the annual turnover of companies. The Minister might be open to a discussion and an amendment along these lines.

Debate adjourned.