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Former ministers that breach 'cooling off period' rules could face fines under proposed reforms

Proposals to tighten laws on lobbying activity were approved by Cabinet today.

Image: Shutterstock/dextroza

THE LAW THAT deals with the lobbying activity by former ministers and senior civil servants is to be amended.

Cabinet today signed off on reforming the legislation that deals with the “cooling off period” that former ministers and civil servants are requested to adhere to when they leave their job in government.

Calls for additional powers and more teeth for the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) fell on deaf ears over the years, until last year when the government decided to sign off on a review of the legislation governing the the State’s ethics watchdog following the case of Michael D’Arcy.

The former junior finance minister and Fine Gael Senator was put under the spotlight when it emerged he was taking up a position as chief executive of the Irish Association of Investment Managers (IAIM).

D’Arcy was Minister of State at the Department of Finance from 2017 to 2020. He had responsibility for financial services and insurance, and worked on policy related to the funds sector.

At the time, a spokesperson for the IAIM insisted D’Arcy and the association “will not be engaging in any lobbying activities until the 12-month cooling off period has been completed, in adherence with the regulations”.

Under the reforms, it is proposed that a failure to comply with the cooling-off period requirements of Section 22 of the Act will be deemed to be a relevant contravention and offence under the Act, and will be enforceable through sanctions, most likely in the form of a fine.

  • REVOLVING DOOR – Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to connect the dots between the State and former officials turned lobbyists. Support this project here

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said:

“The public want to be reassured that government policy is formulated in an open and transparent way. Clear obligations in relation to lobbying activity are essential in this regard. An effective system is one that tells us who is talking to whom about what, but also encourages public bodies to continue to be open to lobbying approaches from the widest range of interests in society, ensuring that a balance of opinion is sought in developing policy.

“Public concern had arisen in relation to former Ministers and advisers taking up lobbying roles soon after leaving office. I am taking action to address this issue and have secured government agreement to overhaul the legislative framework to ensure we have a system that is up to date, open, accountable and enforceable.”

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The changes will “enhance public confidence in the system”, said the minister, who added that he will be bringing legislation before the Dáil later this year to give effect to the changes.

In 2018, Sipo called for the legislation to be amended to expressly deal with situations where a TD or senator may have contravened their obligations under the law and the matter only comes to light after the member has left office.

It repeated its concerns about how it is too easy for senior public servants to leave their roles and immediately move into lobbying positions.

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