Thursday 23 November 2017

Why are some of us lobbyists, but other regarded as 'advocates'?

The high-profile nature of the public debate on alcohol use or misuse in Ireland provides a sharp distinction in how lobbying activity is portrayed publicly. Photo credit: Maxwells/PA Wire
The high-profile nature of the public debate on alcohol use or misuse in Ireland provides a sharp distinction in how lobbying activity is portrayed publicly. Photo credit: Maxwells/PA Wire

Danny McCoy

The trend for greater lobbying transparency has been gathering pace in recent years, with numerous inquiries launched by the European ombudsman, cases before the European Court of Justice and measures to boost lobbying disclosure rules, including the establishment of a lobbying regulator in Ireland.

The campaign for peak transparency is a question of democratic accountability - and rightly so. Anyone should be allowed to lobby and to express an opinion.

Last week's deadline for returns to lobbying.ie saw the number of registered organisations and individuals lobbying in Ireland reach over 1,600.

The register records the breadth of issues on which policy-makers are lobbied, and is reflective of the importance of the multitude of voices in the policy-making process.

Their arguments and positions are used for political and media briefings, with the hope that those discussions will be brought to bear on the ultimate outcome.

How far we have come. It was relatively recently that Ireland was in a dark place, when policies were developed at the behest of a small number of sectoral interests, rather than through broad consultation and consideration, and lobbying was tainted by irresponsible practices.

The lack of transparency of yesteryear was damaging to business, as well as to our wider society, but the legacy has now supported a massive transformation in lobbying, with the outcome being more balanced policy-making.

Lobbying.ie records Ibec as having actively lobbied cabinet members on a myriad of issues, from creating awareness around the additional finance available for capital infrastructure spend, to the unintended consequences in draft legislation on banded hours contracts.

It also records Ibec lobbying on the ineffectiveness of the censorship proposals in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and against the proposals on a sugar-sweetened drinks tax. Ibec's lobby on these issues is responsible and legitimate - so, too, is our effort to join forces and make our voice stronger with a variety of sections from civil society.

We have coalesced with others for a more sustainable funding model in higher education, greater investment in social infrastructure projects and in early childhood education. We also worked with partners to secure a marriage equality referendum. There are a whole host of other issues on which the voice of business is both active, relevant and necessary.

The high-profile nature of the public debate on alcohol use or misuse in Ireland provides a sharp distinction in how lobbying activity is portrayed publicly.

Representatives of the alcohol business are deemed to be lobbyists, but public health lobbyists (for that is what they are) are described more often as mere advocates. The latter description appears to describe a good or virtuous public interest cause, while lobbying is deemed to be self-interested and causing public harm.

The push for greater transparency about how policy-makers make decisions, who they meet and which interests are being advanced, are legitimate concerns.

Those who are engaged in legitimate lobbying help inform the rules that regulate life in our republic. Arbitrary distinctions between lobbying and advocacy, however, are not legitimate.

Anyone who engages in the public policy debate deserves to be given due respect, but this is not currently the practice.

If the lobbying is responsible and the cause legitimate, the activity should not be differentiated. Ascribing virtue to different parties has no role to play, yet it is demonstrably so in public media debates.

Danny McCoy is CEO of Ibec

Indo Business

Promoted Links

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Promoted Links

Also in Business