Submission on a Regulatory System for Lobbying in Ireland

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1 Submission on a Regulatory System for Lobbying in Ireland Introduction The Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) is the national charity supporting people with heart, stroke and blood vessel disease. The IHF promotes policy changes that reduce premature death and disability from cardiovascular disease and advocates for better patient treatment and services. The Irish Heart Foundation welcomes the consultation on a regulatory system for lobbyists and looks forward to working with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and other stakeholders, to improve the transparency of the policy making process. The IHF welcomes all efforts to promote transparency and accountability in the policy making process, as key elements to maintain and strengthen the trust of citizens. The IHF believes that transparency in relation to lobbying is currently insufficient and supports the introduction of effective measures that will allow for public scrutiny of decision making. The principles of transparency in decision making impose obligations upon Government and all Government Departments, together with the stakeholders involved in the policymaking process, including NGOs and businesses. The IHF also believes that the regulation of lobbyists must primarily be designed to contain vested interests, which use considerable fire power to promote their lobbying positions. The impact of the proposed regulatory system will depend to a large extent upon its ability to target a wide range of actors involved in the policy process, including industry lobby groups and NGOs. NGOs have a long standing tradition of advocacy activity related to advancing their charitable purposes. In introducing the regulatory system the Government should note the specific role of NGOs in providing equitable balance between public and private interests within the promotion of participatory democracy. This submission sets out issues related to the need to protect the right of charities to advocate and the need to protect public health policy from vested, commercial, interests. The main issues highlighted in this submission are: 1. Charities that advocate should be required to register as Advocates of a Main Charitable Object (i.e. register on a separate advocacy register that would stand parallel to the register of lobbyists). Registration by charities on this parallel register should not have negative implications or impacts on their charitable status or ability to advocate. 2. The need to develop strong compliance mechanisms. 3. In addition to lobbying regulations, a wider framework of measures is required to increase transparency and deepen engagement in decision-making. 4. Particular issues relating to public health advocacy and lobbying. 1

2 1. Charities that advocate should be required to register as Advocates of a Main Charitable Object (i.e. register on a separate advocacy register that would stand parallel to the register of lobbyists). Registration by charities on this parallel register should not have negative implications or impacts on their charitable status or ability to advocate. The IHF supports the submission to this consultation by the Wheel (the representative organisation for the community, voluntary and charitable sector, of which the IHF is a member) which highlights critical issues for charities which advocate relating to the establishment of a regulatory system for lobbying. The development of the regulatory system must take into account the need to protect the right of charities to advocate. Advocacy by charities serves a public benefit. It is inclusive in nature, engaging with the wider community and those most likely to be affected by particular policies. Charities / NGOs can promote democracy by including, educating and empowering a diverse spectrum of voices in public policy debates. NGOs also engage those they represent in all stages of the advocacy process from setting the agenda, to shaping the strategy and meeting with policy makers. For example, the Irish Heart Foundation Council on Stroke, which is the key internal grouping promoting the needs of stroke survivors, includes membership from all related medical and healthcare professionals, as well as stroke survivors and carers. NGOs also bring authentic real life experiences into the policy making process. In late 2011, the Irish Heart Foundation facilitated 50-plus stroke survivors to visit Leinster House and brief politicians about their experience of post-stroke rehabilitation. NGOs also advance policy positions through the development of research, such as the Irish Heart Foundation s Marketing of Foodstuffs in Post Primary Schools in Ireland (2007); National Audit of Stroke Care (2008); Cost of Stroke in Ireland - estimating the annual economic cost of stroke and transient ischaemic attack (TIA) (2010); and Tobacco Taxation and Smuggling in Ireland (2011). Organisations with CHY numbers are recognised by the Revenue Commissioners as being charities and are currently precluded from engaging in lobbying activity (understood as promoting political parties and candidates; being primarily concerned with seeking to change the law; or promoting a political cause not directly related to the advancement of their charitable purpose). Many of these organisations, including the Irish Heart Foundation, do however engage in advocacy activity directly related to advancing their charitable purposes, and this is recognised as being a legitimate activity. It is essential that the introduction of a regulatory system for lobbying does not have the unintended consequence of limiting, or ending charities ability to advocate for the people they represent. As has been identified by the Wheel following consultation with the Revenue Commissioners, charities that advocate will lose their charitable status if required to register as lobbyists. The IHF is in favour of the registration of all advocates / lobbyists as long as registration has no negative implications or impacts on our charitable status and ability to advocate. We are not seeking special treatment for NGOs. However, in light of the information provided by the Revenue Commissioners (charities will lose their charitable status if required to register as lobbyists), the IHF supports the Wheel s recommendation that: charities that advocate should be required to register as Advocates of a Main Charitable Object, not as lobbyists (a separate register would stand parallel to the register of lobbyists). 2

3 This would ensure both that charities are held to the highest level of transparency in their advocacy activities and that charities can continue to actively engage in policy debates and maintain access to policy makers. The IHF would be happy to register as Advocates of a Main Charitable Object and to comply with the registration requirements (as long as registration has no negative implications or impacts on our charitable status and our ability to advocate). All of the IHF s advocacy activities and interests are public knowledge and communicated as widely as possible. The IHF would greatly welcome all those involved in advocacy / lobbying doing the same. The position of NGOs (not-for-profit organisations which serve no commercial interests), should not be confused with business-interest not-for-profit organisations (BINGOs) which are increasingly being used by large corporations and business lobbies to influence decision making. These groups often tend to have consumer facing names, which distort the reality that they are representing business interests, rather than those of citizens. Only NGOs should be able to register as Advocates of a Main Charitable Object, BINGOs should be required to register on the register of lobbyists. If fees attach to registration, the level of fee should reflect that some lobbyists particularly consultant lobbyists and commercial in-house lobbyists receive considerable compensation for carrying out their lobbying activities. A tiered system of fees should therefore apply, with charities being exempt, or subject to lower fees. 2. The need to develop strong compliance mechanisms. The IHF calls on the Government to introduce incentives and sanctions that will result in high levels of compliance in both the registration and reporting of lobbying activities. Voluntary regulation by representative bodies (such as the Public Relations Institute of Ireland) is not sufficient and the IHF favours a system of mandatory registration. The fact that no complaints have been filed against members under the PRII code of conduct, since it was conceived in 2003 (OECD, 2009) may indicate that its existence is not widely known amongst the public. The IHF agrees with the position of the UK-based Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, that a mandatory register should include: names of individual lobbyists; the special interest lobbying (either the employer or agency clients); the public body being lobbied; information on any public office held by lobbyists within 5 years (to reveal the 'revolving door'); the area of policy they seek to influence, whether legislation, regulation or public contract; and amount of money spent on lobbying (good faith estimate). Financial information should be included on the register to enable public scrutiny of how much money is spent trying to influence policy decisions. Frequent reporting of lobbying activities and expenditure should be a requirement of all those registered. The IHF suggests the development of an online database to provide background information on lobbyists and lobbying activities. This register and reporting system should be overseen by an independent public watchdog, with the necessary resources and authority to ensure optimal compliance. The overseeing body must have sufficient powers to instigate its own inquiries, as well as powers to investigate all alleged breaches of the codes and of the disclosure system. 3

4 The UK Government has suggested that the penalties for non-compliance with their system of lobbyist registration may correspond to the provisions in their Companies Act relating to the duty to file accounts and reports. Such an approach may also be suitable in the Irish case. 3. Additional measures to increase transparency and wider engagement in decision-making. The recent past has seen considerable erosion of public confidence in the decision making process in Ireland. The establishment of a strong regulatory framework for lobbying is only one of a number of measures which is required to improve public trust in the policy making process. The Government must establish a wider framework of accountability including: An updated and comprehensive code of conduct for Government officials at national and local level. Equal access for all stakeholders in the decision making processes. Policy proposals made by Government should include a clear description of the type of organisations which the Department / Minister have been in contact with during the preparation of the proposal. A public register of correspondence should be created, making it an obligation for Government officials and elected members to disclose written contributions and meetings. (The UK Government currently publishes lists of their external meetings). Publication by Government of the inputs into the policy process and progress reports on the key phases of decision making. The Government should provide public feedback in relation to legislative proposals to explain why proposals have, or have not, been taken into account. Policy / legislative working groups should involve all relevant stakeholders, including representatives from citizen groups. Strengthen the Freedom of Information process to ensure that information is more freely available to the public. Increase access to Leinster House for those compliant with the regulatory system. Development of processes for citizen engagement which can increase democratic involvement in decision making. Wider and deeper consultation processes to elicit the views of citizens on policy and legislative decisions. Currently, consultations tend to be advertised on the Department s websites and national newspapers only. There is no alert system for organisations which regularly respond to consultation processes to be informed of upcoming consultations. In addition, consultation timeframes are often short (4 weeks) and occur late in the planning / decision-making cycle, thereby limiting the ability of submissions to impact on final policy. During formal consultation processes the relevant Department should provide some basic level of feedback to each stakeholder's response, giving some details of why they did or did not include the stakeholder s recommendation in the final policy. In addition, the Department should offer information on which and how many organisations or citizens responded, plus the criteria used to assess the responses received. 4. Public health advocacy and lobbying 4

5 Market forces can have a significant impact on public health outcomes and this provides strong justification for legislative and regulatory responses by government to reduce the influence of commercial interests associated with the alcohol, food, beverage and other industries on public health policy. Several of the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases are represented by strong lobbies and industry often has a vested interest in policy outcomes which are not necessarily conducive to public health. The IHF has real concerns about Government engagement with industry without strong monitoring mechanisms and believes that voluntary codes are not conducive to good health outcomes. A recent report from the House of Lords on Behaviour Change (2011) acknowledged the role of industry in public health but stated that they had major doubts about the effectiveness of voluntary agreements with commercial organisations especially where there are potential conflicts of interest and highlighted the need for rigorous and independent monitoring. To ensure public health policy is not compromised by the obvious conflicts of interests associated with a number of industries, the Government should utilise the development of the regulatory system for lobbyists to also develop a code of conduct for engagement with industry (including business-interest NGOs) with a commercial vested interest in health. Under the code, the policy development stage should be free from industry involvement. After policy decisions are taken, the policy implementation stage should include industry participation as a group that is critical in affecting people's ability to make healthy decisions. Curbing tobacco industry lobbying through full implementation of Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Tobacco is the only product that kills half its long term users when used as intended by the manufacturer. The IHF is particularly concerned about the lobbying activities of the tobacco industry and the potential impact which these activities could have on public health policy and initiatives to reduce smoking levels. The drafting of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)(which Ireland ratified in 2005) recognises that tobacco is not a normal consumer product and that concerted international and national efforts must be taken to curb its use. The FCTC provides an internationally co-ordinated response to tobacco control by setting out legal binding objectives and principles that countries must follow. Article 5.3 charges national governments to protect tobacco control policies from tobacco industry interference. It states that when Parties are setting and implementing public health policies related to tobacco control, they shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. A number of elected officials have informed the IHF that tobacco industry representatives have been actively lobbying members of the Oireachtas in relation the high price of tobacco products in Ireland and the volume of illicit tobacco. In addition, information gathered from parliamentary questions, media reports and Freedom of Information requests indicates that tobacco industry representatives have considerable contact with Irish government officials. The impact of tobacco industry lobbying in relation to tobacco price in Ireland during the period has been examined in recent research (Howell, 2011). It indicates that the industry consistently lobbied the Government for no tax increases, yet the industry increased its own prices and their profits every year. As a result of the industry s activities, the Government was deprived of tax revenue which it could have collected. The study exposes the lack of transparency in the tobacco industry s dealings with the Irish Government and supports the need for a strong Government commitment to incorporating Article 5.3 into Irish policy and practice. 5

6 In 2009, Guidelines on the implementation of Article 5.3 were adopted by the Conference of the Parties. As a State Party to the FCTC the Irish government needs to take these guidelines into consideration in any further interaction with the tobacco industry 1. The introduction of a regulatory system for lobbyists provides the Government with the opportunity to protect tobacco control policy from tobacco industry interference and ensure Ireland is compliant with article 5.3 of the FCTC. The Irish Government should now: Introduce a legislative commitment to ensure that health policy in Ireland is protected from the tobacco industry lobbying. The UK Government included the following (policy) commitment in their Tobacco Control Plan for England, Health lives, healthy people (March, 2011): To ensure further transparency, the government commits to publishing the details of all policy-related meetings between the tobacco industry and government departments. This excludes meetings to discuss operational matters to reduce the illicit trade in tobacco and bilateral meetings between tobacco manufacturers and HM revenue& customs. in the future, organisations engaging with the department of Health on tobacco control, for example by responding to consultation exercises, will be asked to disclose any links with, or funding received from, the tobacco industry. A Code of Conduct relating to Article 5.3 (to include protection for whistleblowers) should be developed for all branches of government. The government should review or develop protocols for engagement with the tobacco industry across all government departments. These should include a commitment to any meetings with the tobacco industry being conducted in public and full publication of related documents. Compliance with Article 5.3 could be included under Ancillary Matters in the Cabinet Handbook. The handbook should state that Government Ministers will not meet with the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry should be required to publically report activities and practices, including political contributions, payments to lobbyists, scientists, or journalists. 1 These Guidelines apply to government officials, representatives and employees of any national, state, provincial, municipal, local and other public or semi/quasi-public institution or body within the jurisdiction of a party, and to any person acting on their behalf. Any government branch (executive, legislative and judiciary) responsible for setting and implementing tobacco control policies and for protecting those policies against tobacco industry should be accountable (Guidelines for implementation of article 5.3 of FCTC, 2008). 6

7 Conclusion Being transparent in our advocacy activities is vital to the work of the IHF. This transparency enables the people we represent to see how we are promoting their interests at the highest levels. Our engagement with patients enables us to bring their voices into the decision making process and can assist policy makers to consider what the impact of their decisions may be for citizens. The Irish Heart Foundation calls on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that the development of a regulatory system for lobbying properly protects the right of charities to advocate. Contact details Michael O Shea, CEO, Irish Heart Foundation, 4 Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. (01) References Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, Centre for Lobbying in the Public Interest (2008) Smart and Ethical Principles and Practices for Public Interest Lobbying. Washington: CLPI. Centre for Lobbying in the Public Interest (2011) Collateral Damage how the Obama administration s ethics restrictions on public service have harmed nonprofit advocacy and public interest. Washington: CLPI. European Public Health Alliance (2006) Response to the European Transparency Initiative Green Paper. HM Government (Jan 2012) Introducing a Statutory Register of Lobbyists Consultation Paper. The Stationery Office: London. Howell, F. (2011) The Irish tobacco industry position on price increases on tobacco products. Tob Control, doi: /tobaccocontrol Irish Heart Foundation (2011) Submission to Your Health is your Wealth public health policy (2011). Available at: NCD Alliance, The tobacco industry: lobbying to cause disease. Available at: OECD (2009) Lobbyists, Government and Public Trust Vols 1&2. OECD. Select Committee on Science and Technology, House of Lords (2011) Behaviour Change. The Stationary Office: London The Wheel (2012) Registration of Lobbyists: Ensuring and Protecting the Right of Charities to Advocate. 7

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