Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I was saying that under section 5, the exclusion of employers with ten or fewer employees would have to be redefined. I have suggested the provision should include the annual turnover of companies to reflect the fact that some companies can be hugely powerful and influential, although their staff numbers may be low. It is also necessary to take into account the fact that some companies employ varying numbers of staff at different times of the year and may declare the size of their companies or groups for lobbying purposes at a time of the year when staff numbers are at their lowest. Therefore, there is the potential for misrepresenting the size and, more importantly, influence of an organisation.

Section 5 also lists exemptions from the regulatory requirements of the Bill. We welcome the inclusion of some categories such as "information sought by public bodies" and "communications relating to Trade Unions", but we will need further clarification and discussion on Committee Stage on the inclusion of vague terms such as "international relations" and "communications between public officials".

It is obviously of great importance that all relevant communications and actions that may comprise lobbying are included in the Bill to avoid the creation of loopholes. While section 5 outlines what is meant by "lobbying", the phraseology is vague. In the interests of transparency, it is important that digital communications and records of meetings are explicitly included in the definition. This would ideally include meetings at Government Buildings and meetings held elsewhere. The European Union has a register of lobbyists for the European Parliament and the European Commission. Groups on this register receive access badges for the European Parliament buildings. However, groups can avoid the register if individual MEPs sign them in or they hold meetings off-site.

It is important that all groups are registered and that all meetings with groups on the register are open to scrutiny. Measures such as these might require changes to the Freedom of Information Acts and therefore we may have to revisit that.

I welcome that section 19 of the Bill proposes to give the commission the power to authorise an investigation, request information and prosecute those who act in contravention of the law.

Section 14 of the Bill provides for delayed publication of the register. This comes into place where the registrant feels that the return made would be expected to have an adverse effect on, among other things, business interests in general or would cause a material financial loss or the loss of a competitive position to the person to whom the information relates. While I can to some extent appreciate the reason for including a measure such as this, I am none the less worried about it. As currently drafted, it is vague. It leaves too much room for manoeuvre and, frankly, an opening for abuse of the legislation. Any exemption of this nature must be absolutely unambiguous and more explicitly defined in the legislation. Anything that is open to a subjective assessment as to what is injurious or damaging to an individual's interests must be weighed and considered very carefully. That is something I hope to return to on Committee Stage.

Given our history and our contemporary experience of political corruption and of certain individuals having a disproportionate influence on policy makers, it is imperative that this legislation provide for an adequate cooling-off period for former public officials who wish to engage in lobbying activities. Section 22 provides for a period of one year only for this purpose. That is far too short. Other jurisdictions, such as Canada, that have enacted legislation regarding the registration and regulation of lobbyists have provided for a two-year cooling-off period. As the Minister is aware, a significant number of submissions throughout the consultation process also recommend that. In the interest of transparency and to avoid any conflict of interest, this period must be increased to two years.

I have heard the Minister's argument in previous debates on this particular issue, and an exchange took place here yesterday which asserted that a longer cooling-off period would be a gross infringement of a person's constitutional right to work. I do not accept that. For people who act as public officials and for whom lobbying would represent a clear and material conflict of interest, two years is proportionate and reasonable. I do not accept that it would represent an onerous burden on them or an infringement of their constitutional rights. I cannot understand, given the experience of this State over decades and the documented evidence of wholesale political cronyism, corruption and abuse, any Minister or any State system so vigorously arguing the toss on a two-year cooling off period. I give the Minister notice that as far as I am concerned, that is a baseline requirement of this legislation.

The Minister of State, Deputy Nash, was not in the Chamber yesterday for the opening part of this Second Stage debate, which I welcome, because it is necessary that we regulate lobbyists. It is a positive move that finally we have this legislation, but yesterday I raised with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, what I believe is the alarm, concern and disgust of citizens across this State at the turn of events in recent weeks, not just the appointment of Mr. McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, but also what is now a litany of stories about political appointments to the Irish Aviation Authority and, it seems, to SOLAS. There was commentary on appointments made to the governing board of University College Dublin, all of those politically inspired and motivated.

I have raised consistently in the House the issue of State board appointments with the Minister, Deputy Howlin, and he has told me consistently that I was making a fuss about nothing. He told me consistently that the democratic revolution had arrived and that matters were resolved. We now have irrefutable evidence to the contrary and it is now clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that not just Fine Gael but the Labour Party also regard appointments to State boards as either a leg up for their political cronies or a consolation prize for other political associates who have failed in various electoral contests.

The Minister has very belatedly brought forward a memorandum to Government, so it seems that all the responses he gave to me and others in this Chamber on this matter assuring us that all was well were far from factual and far from the truth. Unless we get that matter straightened out, and until the moment it is irrefutably the case that every appointment to a State board goes through a public process that is transparent and that appointments are made on the basis of merit alone, any talk of rooting out cronyism or corruption or of a democratic revolution is fanciful rhetoric.

I come back to this point as I finish my contribution to this debate, because I believe there must be a legislative infrastructure to safeguard public processes, to ensure there is a level playing field and fair play, and to rebuild the confidence of citizens in the democratic structures and the basic democracy of this State. However, it is farcical to trumpet legislation, whether it is freedom of information reform or this registration of lobbyists legislation, while the nod-and-wink culture is alive and well within this Government, consisting of the same people who were correctly critical of former Administrations led by Fianna Fáil for precisely this type of behaviour.

In debating, hopefully amending, and adopting this legislation, we have to do it in a context and on the basis of an understanding that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour Party political patronage must now draw to a close. It must be done, and it must be seen to be done.

I call Deputies Finian McGrath, Shane Ross and Mick Wallace, who I understand are sharing 30 minutes.

That is right. I am sharing with ##comrades Ross and Wallace.

Comrade Ross? I have not seen Deputy Ross's application.

I did not get the opportunity to congratulate the Minister formally on his recent promotion. I wish him well in his job.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this new legislation, the Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014, which I warmly welcome. If legislation comes before the House that people support, it is important that it is supported here. I welcome the legislation because it is relevant to the debate on what has taken place this week and all the cronyism that still exists in this country despite all the talk of reform during the last election. During the last election campaign, I recall clearly not only the Government parties but all Deputies telling people at their doors that they represented reform, change, accountability and transparency. Those were their buzzwords, because people had had enough. The entire system needs to be radically changed and reformed, yet we have had more of the same this week.

When debating the Registration of Lobbying Bill, it is important to focus on the positive aspects of the legislation and the broader issues. People either support a meritocracy in any democratic society or do not. If people are competent in the field, they should be nominated and supported. This should be done as a matter of urgency. I do not say this lightly because, in the past, we saw tribunals and scandals in Irish politics. This must be cleaned up. For many years, Ireland was known as the land of saints and scholars, then it became known as the land of tribunals, cronyism and scandals. This must change now. Reform, accountability, transparency and straight politics are needed in this country. This should be the priority issue for the Government and all political parties.

It saddened me to see the shenanigans with regard to the Seanad and the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA. I remarked to myself that this is the same Government that wants to organise a banking inquiry. I would not trust many people in this respect. If they cannot handle a Seanad issue professionally and objectively and cannot handle a nomination to a board, many people wonder whether people in the cross-party group will be able to handle the banking inquiry. It is something we must seriously examine.

With regard to legislation on lobbying, it is important to focus. We must be careful about the democratic, open, honest lobbying that goes on in Irish society. I came across two examples in my constituency this week. I was asked to visit a local school, Belgrove Senior Girls School in Clontarf, to meet the staff and discuss class size and education for children with special needs. It was effective lobbying and did not cost any money. The public representatives met the local teachers and parents to discuss the importance of reducing class size and stopping cuts to education. That was honest lobbying. Following that meeting, I ended up in ChildVision on Gracepark Road, which is in my constituency. It is a centre for visually impaired and blind children. I met children who were visually impaired and physically and intellectually disabled. That group lobbied me and it was an example of good lobbying.

On the other side, we have the Taoiseach's gross mishandling of the nomination of Mr. John McNulty. It is an example of a tacky scandal, cronyism and bad lobbying. This is only the tip of the iceberg. We need reform of the whole system. We must root out the insiders and bring in people who are competent. It applies to NAMA and the recent opportunity when my friend, Deputy Shane Ross, tabled legislation dealing with the Judiciary. We must examine these reforms. People must trust and have confidence in people.

It was interesting to hear the Government running around saying that Mr. McNulty was highly qualified but got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. I challenge that. There are many good quality people in the art world who would give an arm and a leg to get onto the board of IMMA. Artists involved in the sector would give their right arms to be involved in the board. I would like to do some lobbying for such people. If there are good people in education, music and the arts, and the disability sector, they should be put onto the relevant boards involved in providing services. Many of them are doing it out of a sense of public service. They are not looking for freebies, jaunts in cars or €15,000 per year. There are many quality people who are members of boards in the State and they do a fantastic job. They do not get any money and they do it out of a commitment to public service. They want to give something back to society. Let us make sure that these people are not labelled. I have seen examples of great practice in this regard. A classic example is the directors of the Northside Centre for the Unemployed on Glin Road in Coolock, Dublin 17. They are all voluntary members and they give their time and support to the local community. They get no freebies or trips. Many good people do voluntary work and it must be encouraged. They are also very talented and the Government must wake up to this point.

Although it seemed like I was going off message, I will stick to the legislation. Ireland lacks specific legislation regulating lobbying. This came up in the final report of the Mahon tribunal, which observed that such legislation:

...is likely to decrease the corruption risks associated with that activity by increasing transparency and accountability in the policy making process. Such regulation would not however, adversely affect the positive role played by lobbyists in the political system. On the contrary, it could well help promote a more positive perception of that role.

It is important to mention that in respect of what arose in the Mahon report. One of the reasons I am supporting the legislation is the following important point. The final report of the Mahon tribunal made five recommendations about lobbying, namely, that professional lobbyists be subject to registration requirements and that professional lobbyists be regularly required to disclose at a minimum the identity of their clients, the objects of their lobbying activity, and the details of the public institutions and public officials being lobbied. It recommended that professional lobbyists should be required to adhere to a statutory-based code of conduct. These recommendations were made at the time of the Mahon tribunal.

I welcome the legislation, which is part of the process of cleaning up the system. We all received a mandate for reform at the last general election and we were also lobbied about accountability and transparency. It is important that we know and identify the people involved in the industry. I note that recent research identified 401 organisations that could potentially engage in lobbying. The research did not include or sample private firms but included business associations, comprising 37.9% of the 401 associations; NGOs, 30.2%; professional associations, 21.2%; and labour and agricultural associations, comprising 4.2%. These are the organisations directly involved in the trade. We met many of the open transparent and democratic organisations, such as farmers groups, education groups, teachers groups and disability groups that are openly and sensibly lobbying. I welcome the legislation and I would like to see more of these kinds of Bills coming before the House.

This is one of the Bills that members of the Opposition are almost compelled to welcome because the principles behind it are unarguable. The problem is whether the Bill goes far enough. We welcome the Bill because of some of its provisions but it is minimalist in its approach. Lobbyists tend to be unpopular and we tend to think of big business, the gun lobby in America, the tobacco lobby and other powerful bodies that have managed to control politicians in a way that I hope does not exist here. However, the slow welcome given by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, to the Bill is indicative of the fact that there are, within IBEC, bankers, other big businesses and monopolies that are slow to represent any restrictions on lobbyists.

I regret that and it is part of the reason this Bill does not go far enough.

I wish to address not just the issue of lobbyists for big business but the issues which have attracted so much attention in recent weeks, the issue of lobbying for jobs, a subject which for some reason is not part of this Bill. Anyone from a rural constituency will be familiar with the actions of many people who come to constituency offices or go to politicians' clinics and lobby for places in the Judiciary, who lobby for seats in the District Courts and are given them by virtue of the patronage which this Government and all Governments hold in that area. This Bill is part of a pattern which we hope will be added to when the Minister introduces his memorandum about semi-State bodies but it would have been preferable if all lobbying for State positions and in particular for positions in the Judiciary were included in this Bill. I would prefer to see that lobbying not just of politicians but lobbying by politicians were included in this Bill so that a complete record of communications made by politicians when they are looking to see that their pals receive crucial jobs, is on the record. That would put a fast end to the sort of activities we have seen in recent weeks. Why do we not see the hidden hand which controls these jobs which for decades have been given as part of the spoils of war by Ministers to their pals?

I am unable to envisage the legislation which it appears is about to be introduced in November or the new rules to tackle this particular problem. I can see that it will address it cosmetically and I am not reassured at this stage by the words of the Minister yesterday when he said that criteria would be published on the website, that weightings would be applied and names published and that the process would be in the hands of the public advertising system which is being set up. The problem is not being addressed at all. The problem so obviously apparent but not recognised in what the Taoiseach or the Minister said yesterday is that we can no longer trust Ministers to make the choice of appointments. We know that and we know also that we have seen totally and utterly cosmetic systems put up by the present Government to disguise the fact that all the old rackets are still going on, that it is still appointing people ad nauseam, not just to semi-State bodies but to other bodies. It is not sufficient for people on the Government side to say in the media, "We have appointed 200 people through the public appointments system, the new public application and advertising system". I do not think I am in order to name people but some of them turn out to be former Fine Gael Deputies; they go through the system but they are still chosen because the Ministers make the choice. I was alarmed when I heard that the Ministers will get a list from which they will then choose someone who is experienced enough and has the expertise, as decided by politicians who have disgraced themselves in this particular field in the past.

It is not just semi-State bodies that should be attacked but it is also the Judiciary. I could name but I will not do so-----

That is a good decision, Deputy Ross.

I could name candidates for the European Parliament, other well-known politicians, who have recently received-----

For the record of the House, the rule is that a Member shall not name or in any other way describe a person in a defamatory fashion who might be identified in the course of a speech in the House. That is the rule.

I will not describe anyone in a defamatory fashion.

There is nothing defamatory in what the Deputy is saying.

No. For the benefit also of Deputy McDonald, a person who is not present in the House cannot reply and as such, Members of the House and members of committees are advised as I have just advised.

That is perfectly reasonable and I am perfectly happy with that ruling. It is the case that people who happen to be running mates of people holding the highest office in the land have ended up in the Judiciary as have people who have been Members of the European Parliament. This is not acceptable if it is not done transparently and it is not being done transparently. The proposed measures appear to be restricted to semi-State bodies or agencies. I do not believe they will attack that problem which is deeply embedded in one of the most sensitive areas of this State. Judicial appointments should no longer be part of the spoils of war; they are and they have been.

What about appointments such as to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the EBRD? That is one of the plum jobs which are handed out by successive Governments. It has been ruthlessly used to promote politicians who have no experience of banking but who usually have retired from this House while one or two of the others have been identified exclusively with the political party in power. The most recent appointment carries a salary of £172,000 per year which is taxed at a preferential rate. There was no interview. I do not know whether that job involved lobbying but it was given to someone who could not be described as a sympathiser with anybody on the Opposition benches but to someone who had a record of being an adviser to several Ministers in a rainbow Government. That practice will continue unless we take appointments of this sort - not just to semi-State bodies - out of the political arena. As Deputy Finian McGrath referred to in his contribution one has only to note the response to Private Members' Bills brought forward by both Sinn Féin and Independents, from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and Labour, to realise that they intend to keep their hands on the lever of cronyism, even if they intend to disguise it with well camouflaged legislation and rules in the future.

I welcome that on foot of the recommendations from the Mahon report that the lobbying of public officials, Ministers and their Departments is to be regulated in this Bill. The public will be able to see which individuals and interests are lobbying which Departments and the specific individuals in each Department, as well as being able to examine the motivation for the lobbying and the extent to which it is carried out. However, the legislation does not guarantee that particular lobby groups will not be able to unduly influence Departments contrary to the wider public interest.

The legislation falls far short of what the Government promised in the programme for Government which stated that there would be a cooling-off period of two years before any former Minister or Government official could lobby former colleagues still employed as public officials.

Instead, the legislation provides for a one year cooling off period during which an ex-Government official can still work for an interest group which lobbies the Government. However, he or she will be obliged to apply to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, for an exception to be made in order to allow him or her to lobby ex-colleagues still working within government during the cooling off period. If the ex-Government official is dissatisfied with the decision of SIPO, he or she will have the right to appeal. Surely the integrity of the legislation would be strengthened if there was a complete ban, in all circumstances, on former Government officials carrying out any lobbying work for the two year period promised by the Government when it entered office.

The non-governmental organisation Transparency International has expressed concern to the effect that, despite the new regulatory regime, there will be no actual disclosure of information shared between the Government and individuals from lobby groups. This calls into question how effective SIPO will be in delivering the highest standards of transparency in the relationship between special interest groups and the State if the records of such meetings are not open to public scrutiny.

The independence of SIPO is to be questioned. Last year I lodged a complaint with it in respect of the "Prime Time" programme on which the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, might have breached the code of behaviour for public office. It proved extremely difficult to obtain satisfaction from SIPO. Essentially, the commission found that it did not believe the matter was one of significant public importance and, thus, what had occurred was not a specified act which came within its remit for investigation. Sadly, it interpreted the legislation in a very timid way and this allowed it to defend the then Government Minister in the process. No reasons were given as to why the commission did not see the matter as one of significant public importance. Surely this is unsatisfactory, particularly as it is a fundamental principle of law that one is entitled to a clear, reasoned decision. If this was not the case and reasons were not provided, no one would ever be able to challenge a decision as being unreasonable or irrational. When I telephoned Mr. Brian McKevitt of SIPO, he informed me that I was not entitled to a copy of the report on the inquiry into the matter.

The Deputy should stick to the debate on the Bill.

Point taken. Subsequently, SIPO would not supply a copy of the inquiring officer's report.

The Deputy must stick to matters relating to the Bill.

I asked if I could send a letter requesting clarification of the reasons the matter was not one of significant public importance and was informed that SIPO would not be providing any information.

That matter is not relevant to the substance of the Bill; neither could it be contemplated by the Bill's provisions. I ask the Deputy to stick to the Bill.

In view of the fact that SIPO is being granted certain powers under the Bill, I believe it is relevant.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has stated his intention "to strengthen the degree of openness and scope for public scrutiny of the interactions and engagements between all sectors of society with the political and administrative systems. This legislation will allow the wider public to reach informed evidence-based judgments about the extent to which different interest groups are accessing key decision makers across the political and public service systems." Members of the Government have previously expressed such sentiments in even harsher and more combative tones. In 2011, not too long after coming to office and in the context of the findings of the Moriarty tribunal, the Taoiseach stated he would "sever the links between politics and business once and for all and, in so doing, achieve three fundamental goals: stop the further pollution of our society; re-establish a moral code and order regarding public life; and, through that, restore public confidence in politics and government." In view of recent episodes and what we have learned of late, these words seem to ring hollow.

Later in 2011, instead of cutting the links between politics and business, the Taoiseach seemed to strengthen them when he and the Government invited Mr. Denis O'Brien to attend the Global Ireland Forum. This is the same Mr. Denis O'Brien whom the Moriarty tribunal revealed had made a series of payments-----

The Deputy knows well the rules of the House. It is not in accordance with the rules to name people outside the House who are not in a position to defend themselves. This is not a court of law in which the Deputy can say what he wishes about an individual outside.

I will not name him again.

That is the end of it. I thank the Deputy.

The Moriarty tribunal revealed a series of payments to representatives of Fine Gael who had assisted the gentleman in question to win a lucrative mobile phone licence contract for his company Esat Digifone. The profits from that contract assisted the individual to whom I refer to become a multimillionaire. This link between business and politics was still awaiting severance when the Taoiseach was photographed with the same gentleman at the New York Stock Exchange in 2012. It is doubtful whether the legislation will do anything to allay the suspicion that this individual's close political links were instrumental in buying Siteserv, the company that won a State company to install water meters on behalf of Irish Water.

While the Bill purports to provide a veneer of commitment in respect of openness and transparency, there lingers in the air a feeling of old politics, whereby well connected political allies are appointed to public positions and powerful businessmen with close ties to the establishment end up profiting from decisions made by Government or semi-State bodies. The very means by which the gentleman to whom I refer gained possession of Siteserv are questionable. He did a deal with IBRC under which €100 million of debt-----

I apologise, but I must again interrupt. I remind the Deputy of the rules of the House.

I have not mentioned anyone's name since the previous occasion on which I did so.

The Deputy cannot mention a person outside the House in such a way as to identify him or her. The way in which the Deputy is proceeding is out of order. He is aware of the rules.

How often was Fine Gael's proposed candidate for the Seanad by-election mentioned in the House this week?

The Deputy may be right or he may be wrong in that matter. However, the point at issue is that he is not in a position to pass judgment on anyone outside the House in a derogatory fashion which would reflect poorly on his or her name. The Bill does not require the Deputy to make such judgments.

The Acting Chairman is eating into my time.

The Acting Chairman is deliberately eating into my time.

-----but I have brought this matter to the Deputy's attention on three or four occasions. He has deliberately tried to circumnavigate the ruling I made.

I did not do so. The Acting Chairman is preventing me from speaking.

The Deputy should, please, proceed in accordance with the rules of the House.

The Acting Chairman is interpreting those rules to suit himself.

I am not interpreting anything; I am merely informing the Deputy of what are the rules of the House.

This is just ridiculous. Obviously, I am not allowed to speak on matters about which certain people do not want to hear.

I am not being allowed to speak.

Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat for one moment? I do not want this continuous argy-bargy with the Member in possession.

Will I be given additional time?

The Deputy knows the rules, as do I. In that context, I do not need an education. The Deputy should proceed in accordance with the rules and speak to the substance of the Bill.

This is crazy. We are discussing lobbying and how people involved in business who have close links with the Government of the day may gain favour. I am not stating such individuals will always gain favour, but they may gain it on occasion. Do we scrutinise matters to ensure everything is done in a proper manner? I do not believe we do. Will the Bill address that problem? Again, I do not believe it will. It was only brought to my attention yesterday that a personal friend of the Taoiseach had been appointed to the board of Sustainable Energy Ireland. Perhaps that man deserved to be appointed or perhaps he did not. Was this cronyism or was it in the best interests of the State? The difficulty is that we do not actually have a mechanism to check. What the people realise is that one can still buy favour. Allowing people to have access to Government officials without there being proper scrutiny of what occurs means that nothing is going to change. All the talk about reform on the back of which the Government came to office in 2011 has proved to be nothing short of a joke, as nothing has changed. The established parties have proved to be so similar that it is not funny.

The next speaker is Deputy Paul Connaughton who I understand is sharing time with Deputies Seán Kyne and Seán Kenny. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. The need for legislation to regulate lobbying was well identified in the final report of the Mahon tribunal. I am glad that the Government has taken the necessary steps to make the lobbying system more transparent. The report of the Mahon tribunal noted that professional lobbyists should be registered and obliged to reveal the identity of their clients, the objective of their lobbying activity and details of the public institutions being lobbied on a regular basis.

The need for a statutory-based code of conduct was highlighted as was the fact that senior officeholders should be required to record and publish details of their contacts with professional lobbyists.

Prior to the publication of the report but following evidence given in the course of the Mahon tribunal the need for a regulated system of lobbying was evident. That is why the Government undertook to regulate lobbying as part of its commitment on political reform and as part of the programme for Government. It is interesting to note that the last five efforts at legislating in this area failed. No further delay should be entertained in dealing with the subject.

The aim of the Bill is to ensure greater openness and transparency on public policy formulation, development and decision-making. However, we must ensure that the process is not too convoluted or cumbersome to the point where non-professional lobbyists or members of the public are dissuaded from contacting their local representatives or Ministers in respect of a topic that interests or affects them.

I am pleased to note that the legislation is underpinned by the ten principles for transparency and integrity in lobbying developed by the OECD, in particular, the second principle of the code which aims to ensure a good fit with political culture. One of the strengths of Irish political culture is the high level of access the public has to political representatives. There is nothing in the Bill that will necessitate a reduced level of access. The most important element of the OECD ten principles is the fostering of a culture of integrity. This includes a cooling-off period before Ministers, senior officials or political advisers can take up a position in the private sector that may present a conflict of interest with a previous public role. Through voluntary codes of conduct efforts have been made to increase transparency but only putting these on a statutory footing will ensure real progress can be achieved.

Defining a lobbyist is the first task of the Bill. Lobbying is defined by the activity rather than the person and I believe this is the correct approach. The lobbyist is an employer or person who, in the course of his business and in return for payment in money or money's worth, makes, manages or directs communications to a designated public official in respect of a relevant matter. The development or rezoning of land is to the fore in terms of relevant matters especially in view of the events of recent years, in particular the events investigated by the Mahon tribunal. However, I believe that in future more concern will be placed on attempts to modify public policy, prepare legislation, award licences and arrange exemptions to various systems. In the coming years I anticipate that issues such as wind farms, fracking, telecommunications licences and control of tobacco, alcohol, gambling and gaming are the areas that will form the nexus between politicians and lobbyists. It is imperative that a clear legislative framework is in place to avoid conflicts of interest and to allow the public to access information of the lobbying process.

There are several exemptions to the legislation and if the Bill is to function effectively these should be communicated widely. Exempted communications include those made in the proceedings of an Oireachtas committee, where they could pose a danger to the security of the State. They also include information made to a public official in response to a request by that official or communications between members of a relevant body appointed by a Minister or public service body for the purpose of reviewing any public policy.

One element of the Bill that I question relates to where a person ceases lobbying permanently. If a person ceases lobbying he can notify the Standards in Public Office Commission and the change will be stated on the register, but he will not be deleted from the register even though he need not make any more returns. It is only fair that if someone ceases lobbying permanently then after a period of three or five years his name should be deleted from the register. Otherwise, the register would become useless, clogged up with people who worked as lobbyists ten, 20 or 30 years ago. This would take from the transparency of the register and work against the object of the legislation. This aspect should be reviewed.

Irish farm organisations have expressed some concern in respect of the Bill taking the view that it may be impractical, unworkable and prohibitively costly. However, most of the interaction between the IFA and politicians is conducted by unpaid individuals and I do not believe that the current system would be too cumbersome for interest groups, whether farming, environmental or other interest groups.

The Bill is long overdue and represents a step towards greater transparency in government. However, just as an earlier version in Australia needed to be updated because it proved unworkable, the current legislation will only be effective if it results in a change in mindset in respect of contact between professional lobbyists and public representatives.

I welcome the passage of the Bill through the Dáil. This important Bill has the potential to make Irish public life more transparent and accountable. The Bill encapsulates the new approach to the legislative process introduced by the Government. The legislative journey of the Registration of Lobbying Bill did not begin on its publication on Friday, 20 June this year. In 2012 the government reform unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform commenced reviews of the international approaches to regulate lobbying. This involved significant consultations. Then in April 2013 the Government approved the drafting of the Bill and the general scheme was published. This was, in turn, examined by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, which held hearings on the Bill as part of the new pre-legislative scrutiny stage. All of this points to a desire for greater transparency and accountability. To be clear, I welcome the Bill and the aims and ideals contained within it.

However, the Bill gives rise to several issues. One is the role of a Deputy and the close proximity of a public representative in Ireland to the electorate. This proximity is one of the main positives of the proportional representation with a single transferable vote electoral system. The Bill will stipulate that a firm with more than ten employees must declare itself and register as a lobbyist even if its representative is only contacting the local Deputy about a problem such as an access road to a business premises. That is my interpretation of the Bill anyway and it is a matter of concern. Let us suppose someone from a business employing several people wants to go to the local council, Deputy or Minister to explain about a bad bend in the road preventing trucks from coming up or down. Is that lobbying? Must that firm register? It is an important matter for the firm but not a major issue of public interest. My reading of the Bill is that such activity would have to be declared.

Many companies and business people are private and have no wish to declare whether they have political allegiance. They may have no wish to say that they went to a local Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or Labour Party councillor, Deputy or Minister. That is one of my concerns. Must a firm register this even if it is a big issue for the firm but not a major issue of public interest? It could be a safety issue or something that could improve the business, for example.

Another issue is the problematic definition of lobbying. Naturally, lobbying includes efforts to influence the policy process, legislative action or Government action. However, the term lobbying can be viewed through a far wider lens. Government policy is influenced by public opinion. Public opinion is influenced by myriad opinion pieces, newspapers, online news sites, television and radio. Almost all such action seeks to influence Government policy in some way. Therefore, is this activity not lobbying?

Another activity which could certainly be described as lobbying is philanthropy. There are many organisations in Ireland and abroad which attempt to shape or influence public and Government policy. The majority are dedicated and their bona fides could not be questioned. Whether I agree with the aims of the organisation is secondary. The wealthy individuals funding these groups and organisations are lobbying and trying to shape society in a way that they see fit and that is lobbying. However, only the organisation not the funders would have to declare and register under the Bill.

There are other areas of the Bill that I hope will be addressed as it continues along the legislative process, including grassroots lobbying. In other countries certain groups can be exempt. In some cases grassroots lobbying or lobbying by religious organisations is not considered lobbying for the purposes of making a return in the United States. The USA has a huge lobbying industry but it has exemptions for certain areas. A similar situation exists in the provinces in Australia, whatever about at federal level. Does every group or organisation that is part of a charity have to register every time a representative meets a Deputy?

The following circumstances are exempted: communications by or on behalf of an individual relating to his or her private affairs on any matter other than development or zoning under the Planning and Development Acts or relating to any land apart from the individual's private principal residence. Zoning has been an issue. We have a long and problematic history in this country in respect of zoning. When I was a councillor I would have been in favour of many zonings or supportive of a particular zoning without ever having met the party concerned. Subsequently I could have met an owner or engineer working on behalf of a landowner. That is fine and the contact must be registered under the Bill. However, what is the position if I subsequently support that zoning? Perhaps I was going to support it anyway because I believed it was right for a town or village. This need not be residential zoning; it could apply to industrial or enterprise zoning or other things.

Is the public perception suddenly that because I met an engineer or the landowner and I voted for the Bill I was bought off or that I voted in this way because I was lobbied? In many cases, members voted in that way because they felt it was the right thing to do for their town or village and would have voted in that way in any case. I have a concern about that provision.

The second exemption relates to communications by or on behalf of an employer with not more than ten employees relating to the affairs of the employer in any matter other than the development or zoning of land under the Planning and Development Acts, 2000 to 2014, which is broad. Employers may want to construct an extension to a building and to meet to discuss a planning application. They do not want to show their allegiances or state they went to the local party representative. If they choose not to go down that line, do they then say they will not bother going through with the development? That is a concern. The exemption applies to companies with not more than ten employees. If somebody has 11 employees and wants to talk to his or her local representative about something, this has to be registered.

Relevant matters under section 5(7) are defined as any matters relating to "the initiation, development or modification of any public policy or of any public programme ... the award of any grant, loan or other financial support...". Is a sports group seeking to speak to a public representative about a sports capital grant covered by this provision? Is the local school board of management seeking to speak to a public representative about building a school extension covered by it? There remains a great deal to be teased out as the Bill goes through the House. I welcome its thrust, but there are many issues to be sorted out.

Lobbying has an important role to play in helping to ensure all perspectives, assessments and opinions are presented and available to inform decision-making in key areas of public policy and legislative proposals. I strongly welcome the Government's decision to introduce the Bill to the House, as it marks an important step in the process of helping to rebuild public trust in the political system by throwing light on its interaction with those who seek to shape and influence policy across all sections of society. The intention of the legislation is to strengthen the openness and scope for public scrutiny of the interactions and engagements between all sections of society with the political and administrative systems.

The Bill will enable the wider public to reach informed evidence-based judgments on the extent to which interest groups are accessing key decision makers across the political and public service systems and increase public understanding of lobbying activity in Ireland. The legislation also clarifies what is a "designated public official". It includes Members of the Oireachtas, Ministers and Ministers of State and their special advisers, councillors and MEPs. I understand it is envisaged 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. The Minister may prescribe further public servants as designated public officials and will have regard to the public interest in arriving at a decision.

The legislation will provide for a register of lobbying to make information available to the public on the identity of those communicating on specific policy, legislative matters or prospective decisions with designated public officials. The Bill allows for the development of a code of conduct by the Standards in Public Office Commission and also provides for restrictions and conditions on the taking up of certain employments by certain designated officials for a specified time where a possible conflict of interest arises. An example of this in the past decade was county managers retiring and immediately taking up positions working for property developers. That issue needed to be addressed.

The legislation also states a lobbyist must be registered before carrying on lobbying activities unless it is his or her first time to lobby. In that case the registration and return must be completed before the next return date.

A regular review of the effectiveness of the legislation is provided for. The first review should be held no later than one year following commencement of the legislation, with each subsequent review to be held every five years thereafter. Reports on the findings and recommendations of these reviews will be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas within six months of the end of the relevant period.

The legislation establishes that lobbying activity is carried out by persons in the course of their business in return for payment by a client, an employer or his or her employee on behalf of the employer, or any person on matters about the development or zoning of land. It defines the communications that constitute lobbying and those that are excluded. It also determines that normal citizen interaction with public representatives relating to a person's private affairs or communications by employers with ten employees or fewer relating on the affairs of that employer will not be included in the register unless the communication is in respect of land zoning or development.

Planning matters relating to an individual's principal private residence will be exempt and the legislation also sets out other exemptions to the regulatory requirements in the Bill. Such exemptions include those relating to international relations, factual information sought by a public body or other information sought by and published by a public body, matters posing a threat to the safety of persons or the security of the State, communications between public officials acting in an official capacity and communications between members of a group established by a Minister or a public body subject to a requirement to comply with a transparency code.

When lobbying is mentioned, I always think of the Mahon tribunal and the lobbyist Mr. Frank Dunlop who played a starring role in both the Mahon and Flood tribunals. He sent me lobbying material in the 1990s in respect of the Penine Holdings development in Baldoyle, which figured in the Mahon tribunal, and a development near Clare Hall on the Malahide Road in the Dublin City Council area. I recall that on one occasion the maps he sent were completely wrong.

I am happy that this legislation is before the House. Lobbying plays an important role in politics, but it also has the potential to be badly and seriously abused. I witnessed this in my constituency when the lobbying process was used to facilitate corruption, as evidenced by the Mahon tribunal. The Bill will help to shine a light on the lobbying industry and I strongly commend it to the House.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill, which is timely. It has been needed for a long time. I always have reservations about having more regulation because sometimes we catch the wrong people in the net and a great deal of bureaucracy is created for those who are acting properly to try to catch those who abuse the system. However, I have no doubt that it is important to regulate lobbying.

We often hear comments in the media about the Whip system. One of the reasons I favour the system which we all enter into voluntarily in political parties is it prevents powerful interests lobbying and manipulating individual Deputies to their own ends. The notion that the country would be immune to the type of lobbying that occurs in other places is innocent. Would we, for example, be immune to the power of the drinks industry, the tobacco industry or many other powerful industries that seek to influence legislation in this House? We all know the method employed by lobbyists in other jurisdictions where politicians have a free vote.

I refer to the method of picking off people one by one, either through inducements, flattery or targeting their seats, which is a particular risk in our system of multi-seat constituencies.

When considering this issue in its totality we must try to ensure that lobbyists are not able to exert undue influence in the system. I confess that I have something of an allergy to professional lobbyists, regardless of whether they had worked previously with Ministers or in Departments or somewhere else. If one has a case to make, one should be able to make it. It always surprises me to see charities employing professional lobbyists given that charities can easily gain access to politicians. None of us would ever refuse a meeting with a charitable organisation seeking to outline its case.

Not many organisations used lobbyists when I was a member of the Government. During that time, one had information sessions in places such as Buswells Hotel, which were organised by representatives of the motor industry, the drinks industry, which has been highly active in recent times, and to a much lesser extent the tobacco industry. Deputies will be familiar with industry lobbying from these types of events. A large number of charitable organisations have also made a good case to politicians over the years. For some reason, however, a small number of them use lobbyists to do so. Organisations that sought, through a lobbyist, to arrange a meeting with me while I was a Minister did not get a meeting half as quick as they would have if they had approached me directly. I always prided myself in agreeing to meet groups expeditiously.

Recently, while attending a presentation arranged by a certain organisation, I pointed out to its representatives that it was not necessary to employ someone to come to the House to try to influence me and that they should instead make their point themselves. I also stated that it made me suspicious to see organisations with excellent bona fides resort to employing somebody to make their case rather than relying on the power of their argument.

The Fianna Fáil Party called for the introduction of this important legislation in January 2012. We must ensure the Bill does not inhibit ordinary citizens from accessing the system as this is a good feature of our society. I do not know of any politician who would refuse to meet the least well-off members of society or give access to ordinary people. Nevertheless, it is vital that we have in place a rigid system that ensures that all efforts to influence the system at a significant level, in particular by corporations, are declared. On the other hand, we must also ensure we do not interfere with the day-to-day work of various organisations, many of which represent charity interests and have a legitimate right to make their case to us.

The inclusion of a cooling off period for former Ministers and officials is vital. The absence of such a provision in the current regime can present a significant problem for Ministers as they do not have any control over those who leave their employ and take up positions elsewhere. Ministerial advisers and others whose contract had elapsed used to suddenly reappear in the system working as lobbyists for various industry interests and purporting to use their access as a selling point. The problem was that their previous boss was powerless to prevent this and the impression was given, as we have often heard from members of the current Government, that the former employer had somehow endorsed certain actions or was in some way associated with the actions of the lobbyist.

A one year cooling off period during which former Ministers and officials will be banned from taking up certain forms of employment appears to be too short. The cooling off period should last at least two years if it is to protect all Members of the Oireachtas. Now that the Labour Party and Fine Gael are in power and certain things are happening that they used to criticise, they are finding that they do not have control over these issues. We must create a system that provides for an adequate cooling off period. It may be, however, that the period that must elapse before a person can return to civvy street should be related to the length of time a person was employed in the public service. A person could be employed for four or five weeks before political instability results in him or her losing his or her job. These things have been known to happen. There is also a significant difference between the case of a person who leaves the private sector and joins the public service as an adviser before returning to his or her previous position and one that involves a long-term public service employee who never had a connection with lobbying and whose main qualification for suddenly becoming a lobbyist is that he or she previously worked in the public service.

I note that the Irish Farmers Association opposes the Bill because it will require the association to list all contacts between its officers and public representatives. We must produce a workable solution that addresses issues of this nature. The IFA is a large organisation and there would not be a mart where one of its officials would not speak to a public representative. One cannot argue that such contact is unfair or inappropriate. We must find a fair way to make it possible for larger organisations to engage in this manner. In the case of a political party with several thousand cumainn, accounting for a contribution of €10 is a greater problem than seeking to counter the influence of a €10 contribution. It is vital that we achieve proportionality and ensure the legislation is workable, controls major interests such as drinks and tobacco companies and prevents lobbyists from exerting an untoward influence on the political system.

Debate adjourned.