Thomas Pringle TD

” Power and the money, money and the power ” – Regulation of Lobbying Bill

“Power and the money, money and the power

Minute after minute, hour after hour…”

Coolio might have been rapping about a “Gangsta’s Paradise” back in 1995 but he could have been referring to politics around the world, including Irish politics and lobbying.  Power and money tend to go hand in hand.  We used to see it in the Galway races tent, we still see it at fancy Covid-restriction-breaking-golf-dinners, the Golden Circle, the inner sanctum, the revolving door of politics, lobbyists, Attorney-Generals and Supreme Court Judges.  It’s all about who knows who and who can influence policy.  It’s such a shame really, Minister, isn’t it?  Politics was supposed to have become more transparent and accountable.  The days of the brown envelopes were supposed to have been behind us, while corporate interests were expected to document and detail their meetings with public officials when seeking to influence policy.  But, of course, many loopholes exist in our Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015.  And that Act is another example of the Government paying lip service to an important issue, without giving it the teeth to impose sanctions and prosecute for breaches of the Act.  If a group doesn’t have any paid staff it doesn’t have to complete the thrice-yearly lobbying returns; if a Chairperson or Director undertakes the lobbying they don’t have to report it, etc.

 

With all legislation, we should welcome the opportunity to review it once a period of commencement and implementation has passed.  We should be willing to critically reflect on the positives, the unintended consequences and to address any loopholes that were uncovered from commencement.  It is just ridiculous that we are still so reactive and have to wait until a story hits the media before we do something about it.  The recent case here is that of Mr Michael D’Arcy from Wexford.  The former long-standing Fine Gael politician, Michael D’Arcy lost his seat in the General Election in February 2020.  He was subsequently successful in his Seanad bid for a seat on the Agriculture panel.  Previously, as a TD, Michael D’Arcy was a member of the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry Committee and he was also a Minister for State at the Department of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform with special responsibility for Financial Services and Insurance.  As a member of the 26th Seanad, Michael D’Arcy spoke on a number of pieces of legislation, including the Investment Limited Partnerships (Amendment) Bill 2020.  At the Second Stage of the debate on this Bill, on the 23rd of September, then Senator Michael D’Arcy opened his speech by saying: 

“Sometimes we describe a Bill as a very technical piece of legislation or as boring. Unfortunately, this type of thing is boring but we have to get through it, and the devil is very much in the detail in this case. We are talking about the private equity sector in respect of financial services for Ireland. As the Minister of State will be aware, the financial services sector is quite a large employer, of about 16,000 people currently. The sector has been arguing, for about four and a half to five years, that without this legislation it cannot advance the private equity side of investment in Ireland.”

 

On Monday, the 28th of September 2020, just 5 days after his Seanad speech, the Irish Association of Investment Managers (IAIM) announced that it had “appointed former Minister of State with Responsibility for Financial Services, Michael D’Arcy as its new CEO.”  The official statement on its website says “Mr D’Arcy will work closely with IAIM Chairman, John Corrigan on the development of the IAIM strategic plan in the context of the challenges and opportunities facing the investment management industry. In his role as CEO, Mr D’Arcy will be responsible for re-setting the IAIM agenda and priorities, given the changing landscape post-Brexit.”

 

When the expected furore happened over this appointment, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste said that Michael D’Arcy probably should have contacted SIPO, the Standards in Public Office, to speak to them prior to resigning his post as a ‘Designated Public Official’ and taking up a Chief Executive role.  He also should have adhered to the one year ‘cooling off’ period before taking up such a post.  The Taoiseach has ordered a review of the legislation to be carried out, Michael D’Arcy said he wouldn’t be involved in lobbying for his first year on the job and Sinn Féin brought forward this welcome ‘Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020.  

 

This is not just about Michael D’Arcy, there are many instances of concern.  Even more recently, the Government appointed Ms Geraldine Feeney to the board of SIPO.  Ms Feeney was previously a lobbyist for the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).  You’ll remember that name as it was the NAGP’s former President, Dr. O’Tuathail, who was sent confidential documents by then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.  You can see why people talk about revolving doors and golden circles.

 

I welcome the Bill and will be supporting it.  The Bill seeks to amend the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 and will amend a number of sections of that act.  These amendments will provide for the implementations of some of the recommendations set out in the “Second Legislative Review” of the Act by SIPO.  Sections 11, 16, 18, 22 and 25 of the 2015 Act will be amended and a new section will be inserted relating to the duties of Designated Public Officials (DPOs).  Of the 22 recommendations put forward in SIPO’s second review, this Sinn Féin Bill would provide for the implementation of 12 of them (Recommendations 1, 8, 10 to 16, 18, 19 and 20).  It is a pity that not all of the 22 recommendations are being brought forward, Ceann and it is more disappointing that in many sections of the SIPO review, which was published in May 2019, state that these recommendations were put forward previously in its first review. 

 

Again, I ask, why must the Government always govern in a haphazard way.  In this case, is it to wait and see what you can get away with, without being held to account?

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