Plans to tighten the rules that prevent politicians and officials lobbying their former colleagues for 12 months after they leave government will be discussed by ministers at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath is to propose legislation which would increase the penalties for breaking lobbying rules and also make it an offence to seek to avoid the restrictions on lobbying.
The move follows controversy over the appointment of the former junior minister at the Department of Finance Michael D’Arcy to the position of chief executive of the Irish Association of Investment Managers shortly after he had left office in the department.
If ministers give the go-ahead on Tuesday, Mr McGrath will introduce legislation to the Dáil later this year which would make a failure to comply with the statutory 12-month cooling-off period for lobbying activity a punishable offence with a monetary penalty of up to €25,000 and a prohibition from lobbying activity for up to two years.
The proposed legislation will also make it an offence for a person to take any action that is intended to avoid the requirements to register lobbying activity, or submit returns to the lobbying regulator.
The system of sanctions is to be administered by the Standards in Public Office Commission. The proposed legislation will also tighten other aspects of the lobbying rules, it is expected.
The new bill follows a review of existing lobbying regulations, as well as two opposition bills brought to the Dáil in the last year, by Labour TD Ged Nash and Sinn Féin TD Mairead Farrell, both of which proposed to tighten the laws governing lobbying.
“The last government was a reform-free zone,” Mr Nash said. “Confidence in politics and this government’s bona fides on genuine political reform will be tested by the nature and extent of the legislation they’re prepared to propose and enact.”
Lobbying legislation was first enacted in 2015, when then labour leader Brendan Howlin was minister for public expenditure and reform. It required, for the first time, that when public officials are lobbied a public record must be created and made available for inspection.
Elsewhere on Tuesday’s Cabinet agenda, the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan is bringing a memo on amendments to the road traffic and roads bill.
The Minister for Education Norma Foley will bring the expenditure management report, detailing spending in her Department, while Minister for Social Protection and Rural Affairs Heather Humphreys will brief colleagues on the progress report for the Government’s rural revitalisation plan. The annual reports of the Grangegorman Development Agency and of Ordance Survey Ireland will also be brought to Government.