Did you lobby anyone about COVID-19?
It is lawful to lobby in Ireland. However, certain lobbying exercises must be disclosed in the lobbying register on www.lobbying.ie within certain statutory timelines otherwise businesses could be penalised or prosecuted.
If you lobbied certain people in Central or Local Government or certain office holders during January-April (inclusive) about COVID-19 (or any other issue) then 21 May 2020 is the deadline for entering on the register the details of that lobbying.
1. Who must register and make an entry on the lobbying register?
At its simplest, it would be an employer with more than 10 employees, a representative body with at least one employee or an advocacy group with at least one employee. Most businesses fall within the rules.
2. But the lobbyist must be communicating about a "relevant matter". What is a relevant matter?
- the initiation, development or modification of any public policy or of any public programme (e.g. a programme to assist a sector affected by COVID-19 – note that it could be a "modification" of a public policy such as asking Government to change its lockdown or reopening plans)
- the preparation or amendment of any law (e.g. to amend laws to ease burdens on businesses)
- the award of any grant, loan, contract, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds (e.g. seeking funds, grants or that the State would not impose a charge or reduce charges because of COVID-19)
Other than the implementation of any such policy, programme, enactment or award or any matter of a technical nature only.
3. The communication must be with a Designated Public Official (DPO). Who are they?
There is a list of these DPOs. They include Ministers, Ministers of State, TDs, Senators, Members of the European Parliament for Irish constituencies, members of local authorities, Special Advisers to Ministers and Ministers of State, senior public servants (e.g., a Secretary General, a Second Secretary, a Deputy Secretary, an Assistant Secretary or a Director) as well as certain specified senior officials in local authorities.
It is important to make the return on time and in full. The disclosure process is not onerous but it is critical to avoid a penalty notice being issued or even a prosecution.
If one is registered on the lobby register on www.lobbying.ie then one must make a return every four months (the deadlines are 21 May, 21 September and 21 January) even if it is a "nil" return. A failure to make a return can result in a fixed penalty being issued.
Check whether your business lobbied during January - April 2020 and make the return now – if need be, seek advice but get it right and remember the deadline is 21 May; and
Anyone who has registered already on www.lobbying.ie must continue to make returns (even "nil returns") so ensure that in "lockdown", the person usually making the return will continue to do so.
For more information on this topic please contact Dr Vincent Power, Partner or any member of A&L Goodbody's EU, Competition & Procurement team.
Date published: 5 May 2020