DOZENS OF FORMER high level government officials have gone on to work for organisations involved in lobbying after leaving public office, in many cases lobbying their former ministers, departmental colleagues and senior departmental staff, Noteworthy can reveal.
An analysis by Noteworthy of tens of thousands of publicly available lobbying returns made over the past seven years, has shown for the first time the extent of lobbying by former senior public officials in Ireland.
Under the Regulation of Lobbying Act (2015), anyone who communicates with a public official or politician – called designated public officials, or DPOs – about laws, policies and practices, or seeks to have them changed, must register as a lobbyist and file returns three times a year.
These returns are then listed on the publicly accessible Register of Lobbying. On these, ex-government officials who engage in lobbying, must declare that they are former DPOs as well as the most recent public position they held.
As part of this investigation, we already found almost 400 lobbying returns in which former government officials incorrectly appeared as ‘ordinary’ lobbyists on the register.
The joint investigation by Noteworthy and The Journal trawled through the lobbying register to create a list of former high-ranking public officials who have been involved in the current or previous governments. Today, we can reveal:
- At least 86 individuals who held senior positions in government departments have been involved with lobbying since 2015
- Of these, 62 were former special advisers to ministers, Taoisigh, ministers of State and other high level government officials
- The names of nine former special advisers who received exemptions to waive the mandatory one-year ‘cooling-off period’ for lobbying
- Two former special advisers breached the one-year cooling-off period. One later gave undertakings to Sipo on compliance, which both he and his employers observed; the second accepted that a single act of lobbying within the cooling-off period was an ‘inadvertent’ breach
- Multiple cases of former special advisers lobbying the minister they worked under and former colleagues on behalf of private companies
- Many instances of officials being lobbied by companies they then went to work for, or by companies they previously worked for
With the exception of any breaches in the cooling-off period, this lobbying was done in accordance with Irish laws, rules and regulations. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on behalf of anyone discussed in this article.
Section 22 officials
For the purposes of this investigation, Noteworthy focused on those senior DPOs who fall under Section 22 of the Regulation of Lobbying Act. These are former high level officials, including ministers, former special advisers and high-ranking senior civil servants – such as former secretaries general and assistant secretaries general.
- Noteworthy is the crowdfunded community-driven investigative platform from The Journal that supports independent and impactful public interest journalism.
We found records relating to 86 individuals who fall under this category and who have lobbied government officials on one or more occasion since 2015. The vast majority of these former DPOs served in governments over the last 10 years, though others were officials in earlier governments.
Of the 86, a total of 61 are former special advisers.
To find which former special advisers are or were involved in lobbying, we collated a list of every adviser employed by government departments since 2015, the year legislation on lobbying was introduced.
We checked responses to 11 years’ worth of Parliamentary Questions and read Statutory Instruments that gave effect to the employment of every adviser since the formation of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition in 2011.
Every special adviser we sourced was then inputted into the Lobbying Register to see if the individual had lobbied and if they had done so within a year of leaving public office.
We also sought out those who named themselves as former advisers on lobbying returns since 2015, and likewise checked if those individuals lobbied within a year of leaving office.
Lack of penalties or powers
Under Section 22 of the Act, senior DPOs are subject to a one-year “cooling-off” period, during which they cannot lobby their former colleagues in the specific department in which they worked, or colleagues who worked in that department with them, but have since moved.
Nor can they work for any organisation involved in this kind of lobbying for a year.
The reasons for this, according to the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) regulator, which oversees the regulations around lobbying and maintains the lobbying register, is to “manage the potential for conflicts of interest between the public and private sectors, and to place restrictions on what is often referred to as a ‘revolving door’ between the public and private sector”.
However, former officials can apply to Sipo for an exemption to waive some or all of the cooling-off period.
This issue around a ‘revolving door’ between the public and private sector came to the fore two years ago, when former minister of state in the Department of Finance, Fine Gael’s Michael D’Arcy, left his role as a senator to become chief executive of the Irish Association of Investment Managers (IAIM).
D’Arcy’s appointment caused controversy when it emerged that neither he nor his new employer had contacted Sipo to seek permission to waive the cooling-off period. Though both D’Arcy and IAIM said they would not engage in lobbying the Department of Finance until a year had passed since D’Arcy had been a Minister of State.
According to returns in the Lobbying Register, D’Arcy and IAIM adhered to this commitment. After the issue came to light, D’Arcy subsequently made contact with Sipo to set out his position.
The incident brought to light the fact that while former DPOs are required by law to adhere to the cooling-off period – unless they have a waiver from the Commissioner – there are no penalties if they don’t, with Sipo having no powers to pursue or sanction those who breach the regulation.
Exemptions to one-year rule
Between 2016 and 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, 24 individuals – not all of them special advisers – applied to Sipo for an exemption to this mandatory one-year cooling-off period.
However, Sipo refuses to name those who successfully sought this exemption, citing reasons of confidentiality.
And although the regulator says how many people apply for the exemption each year in its annual reports, it no longer says the number of those who have applied successfully, as it did until 2020.
As part of our investigation, we attempted to name everyone who has received an exemption from the lobbying regulator since the enactment of the Regulation of Lobbying Act.
However, as Sipo does not provide the details of anyone who applied for or was granted exemptions, it is impossible to know how many people were granted one.
We followed up on individuals who we ascertained may have lobbied within a year of leaving government. Nine individuals in total confirmed to us that they had been given an exemption to the cooling-off period from Sipo.
Some of their names have already been reported in the media, but others are named here for the first time. They are:
Call for penalties for breaches
Opposition politicians, advocacy organisations and Sipo have long called for increased powers for the regulator to be able to pursue those who breach the cooling-off period.
Following the controversy over D’Arcy, the government said it would introduce new laws. Last month, it introduced the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2022 to the Dáil.
This Bill seeks to make any breach of the cooling-off period a “relative contravention” and gives Sipo the powers to sanction those who don’t follow the rules. The sanctions include a fine of up to €25,000 and/or being prohibited from lobbying for up to two years.
As well as this, the Bill makes more minor amendments aimed at improving the functionality of the Lobbying Register. It also contains changes to ensure business representative bodies, regardless of the number of employees, come within the scope of the Act.
While the proposed new laws have been welcomed by advocacy groups, John Devitt of Transparency International Ireland – which advocates to increase accountability in public life – said it was disappointing that the government didn’t go further. He added:
The legislation seems to be making or addressing technical issues with the act rather than substantive issues that have already been raised.
Devitt said that the cooling-off period before certain DPOs can engage in lobbying should be extended to two years, something which the current bill does not legislate for.
“The current one-year cooling-off period is, in our view, inadequate, given the fact that many of those public officials or former public officials will still have access to information that could provide a new employer with a competitive advantage over their peers,” he said, adding that this can “give rise to public disquiet, or controversy”.
This call is echoed by opposition politicians, including Sinn Féin, which introduced its own private members’ bill to amend lobbying laws back in 2020. In addition to other measures, Sinn Féin’s bill sought to extend the cooling-off period to two years.
Mairéad Farrell, Sinn Féin’s public reform spokesperson, told Noteworthy she was disappointed that the government hadn’t sought to work with Sinn Féin and instead introduced their own Bill, which she said doesn’t go far enough.
“If there were things that the government wanted to tease out [in relation to our Bill], or want to amend they could have done so at committee stage, and we were very open and clear on that,” she said.
But it frustrates me that two years on from publishing this bill, that it has not been implemented at this point.
Sipo has also called for more powers. The regulator has 22 recommendations included in its 2021 annual report, calling for enhanced regulation and changes to the laws around lobbying.
None of these recommendations have been taken up by the government, though some are included in the new Bill currently before the Dáil.
Both Farrell and Devitt said that strong laws and regulations were needed to ensure transparency and public confidence in how the government functions.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said that the laws around lobbying are regularly reviewed, most recently in 2021. And that “careful consideration” is given to recommendations made by Sipo.
Where recommendations are not adopted, this is usually due to significant legal or policy issues arising from the recommendation.
The spokesperson said that the new legislation around lobbying would build on previous laws and “ensure that the lobbying legislation continues to deliver on the objectives that have been set for it”.
Close contacts of special advisers
Special advisers occupy a unique position in Irish public life. Often described as “temporary civil servants”, they are hired directly by government ministers or ministers of state, and their employment begins and ends with the government in question.
They are usually extremely close to the minister or minister of state in question, regularly liaising with departmental secretaries and officials, as well as being in communication with anyone who regularly contacts their boss.
The number of special advisers has shot up significantly in recent governments. The three party leaders between them have 22 special advisers – Green Party leader and Minister for Environment and Transport Eamon Ryan has eight (though two of these job-share), while Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tántaiste Leo Varadkar have six apiece.
Special advisers can be paid six-figure salaries, with Micheál Martin’s Chief of Staff Deirdre Gillane the highest paid currently, earning more than €180,000 a year.
Problems with regulation
The investigation team also spoke to a number of former special advisers who have since become lobbyists, some of whom raised concerns around legislation on the regulation of lobbying in Ireland.
None of those we spoke to wished to be identified, but they all highlighted what they saw as gaps in the system.
One lobbyist, who worked as a ministerial adviser for a number of years, questioned why Sipo required former special advisers to commit to a one-year cooling-off period when more senior civil servants did not have to.
“There’s possibly an incorrect perception that special advisers have more power or influence than they do,” they said. “But it’s a demanding job where you spend most of the time trying to arrange things, providing information to your minister and keeping people on all sides happy.”
This lobbyist suggested that those at a higher level in the civil service – particularly Principal Officers (POs) – held more influence but were forgotten by those calling for regulatory reforms.
“The fact that POs are not DPOs really does show that the rules are not fit for purpose. It’s remarkable that this is not in focus for reform or [contained] in what the opposition is proposing,” they said.
Movement to and from public relations
Following their time spent with government, many former special advisers go on to work for public relations (PR) or consultancy firms, and often become involved in lobbying their former bosses or colleagues.
The PR company we identified with the largest number of former or special advisers lobbying frequently for them over the past seven years is Q4PR, one of the largest PR firms in the country.
Founded in 2003 by four partners – former Fianna Fáil press adviser and senator Martin Mackin, former Fianna Fáil special adviser Jackie Gallagher, communications expert Gerry O’Sullivan as well as communications and PR professional Angie Kinane, Q4PR has become one of the country’s leading PR firms.
Lobbying is just one part of Q4PR’s activities, which include communications and media relations for a number of different companies.
According to the Lobbying Register, Q4PR has lobbied 262 times since September 2015 across government departments and officials. This was on behalf of clients such as Tesco Ireland, Irish Institutional Property, The Alcohol and Beverage Foundation as well as many other organisations.
From our research, Q4PR has employed at least two former special advisers in recent years, as well as its founding partner, all of whom have lobbied their former colleagues in government.
Apart from a breach of the cooling-off period in relation to one former employee – Jack O’Donnell, who joined Q4PR with five months left before the cooling-off period expired – there is no suggestion that any of their staff breached the Lobbying Act or Lobbying Code.
O’Donnell originally joined government as an assistant to then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2015. He went on to hold roles in the Department for Housing, Planning and Local Government as a special adviser to then-Minister Eoghan Murphy, and as Assistant Government Press Secretary.
Q4PR’s returns show it lobbied O’Donnell 10 times when he was a special adviser, on various issues.
O’Donnell left his job with government in June 2020 following the election that year and joined Q4PR in January 2021.When contacted by Noteworthy, O’Donnell said that he was not granted an exemption from Sipo to waive the final five months of the cooling-off period before joining Q4PR in January 2021.
O’Donnell said, however, that he and Q4PR had engaged with Sipo throughout the process, and had made undertakings that he would not be involved with any lobbying of his former department or colleagues before the cooling-off period had expired.
O’Donnell said that he was still in the process of engaging with Sipo when he left the job at the end of 2021.
In a statement, Q4PR told Noteworthy:
We endeavour at all times to fully meet our obligations in relation to the work of Sipo. We have engaged with Sipo on a number of occasions when seeking clarity on specific matters and will continue to do so as and when necessary.
Records show O’Donnell was involved in lobbying twice with Q4PR during his time there, though not as the person primarily responsible for lobbying. This was after the cooling-off period had expired.
In the September to December 2021 period, he lobbied a current special adviser at the Department of Housing on behalf of property firm Voyage Property Ltd, in relation to zoning for a proposed development in Limerick. He also lobbied Limerick councillors and a senator in relation to the same development.
In January 2022, O’Donnell rejoined government as a special adviser to Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett. Since then, he has been lobbied once by Q4PR founder Gerry O’Sullivan, in a meeting with government Chief of Staff Deirdre Gillane on behalf of Coillte, the semi-state forestry company.
Lobbying of former employees
Another former employee of Q4PR who has been lobbied by the firm since joining government is Páraic Gallagher. Gallagher held a variety of broadcast journalism roles before becoming an account director with Q4PR in November 2017.
Gallagher left Q4PR in 2021 to become a special adviser to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly in January. He was immediately lobbied in this role by Q4PR’s Gerry O’Sullivan, in a series of phone calls on behalf of the Mater Private Hospital Group, in relation to alleviating hospital waiting lists.
Gallagher has been lobbied twice more by Q4PR in his time in government.
Gerry O’Sullivan has also lobbied his former employee Aidan O’Connor - who is now a special adviser at the Department of Finance – twice in phone calls on behalf of Insurance Ireland, along with other officials.
Lucy Moylan currently works for Insurance Ireland. She previously worked for Q4PR and was a special adviser to Minister Heather Humphries at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, where she was lobbied once by Páraic Gallagher of Q4PR in a phone call on behalf of the Irish Wind Energy Association.
There is no suggestion that Moylan or Gallagher breached the Lobbying Act or Lobbying Code of Conduct.
A former special adviser currently employed by Q4PR, Stephen Lynam, is an account director with the firm since 2019. Previously, Lynam was a special adviser to Minister Paschal Donohoe from 2014 to 2018. He worked under Donohoe when he was Minister for Transport Tourism and Sport, Finance as well as Finance and Public Expenditure.
Prior to this, Lynam worked in Retail Ireland and the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI). These are both parts of Ibec, the business representative organisation and most frequent lobbyist in the country.
While a special adviser, Lynam was lobbied by Q4PR on behalf of his former employer ABFI along with various other officials on four separate occasions between 2016 and 2017, in relation to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015.
Lynam left his special adviser job in March 2018. A year later he joined Q4PR as a Senior Account Director. Since then, Lynam has taken up lobbying for the ABFI – rebranded as Drinks Ireland, and has lobbied government officials - including former colleagues at the Department of Finance – multiple times on its behalf.
According to the register, Lynam also lobbied Paschal Donohoe, his former boss, on nine separate occasions since joining Q4PR, on behalf of various organisations.
There is no suggestion that Lynam breached the Lobbying Act or Lobbying Code of Conduct.
At all times Q4PR complied with the relevant laws and regulations around lobbying, or engaged with Sipo in relation to the cooling-off period. The returns show the extent of their lobbying of former employees and the lobbying by former DPOs of their former colleagues in government.
Latest accounts for Q4PR show that it made profits of over €2.1 million in 2021. Noteworthy contacted Q4PR to ask if it wanted to make any general comment on their lobbying returns, but apart from the above statement on meeting its “obligations in relation to the work of Sipo”, the company did not provide a comment.
Q4PR is not the only PR firm in Ireland that has employed former or future special advisers. Another firm, Hume Brophy, currently has two former Fine Gael special advisers working there, Lorraine Hall and Caitríona Fitzpatrick.
Hume Brophy was founded in 2005 and is the PR firm with the highest number of lobbying returns on the register, having lobbied 269 times since 2015.
Lorraine Hall worked as a special adviser to then-Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphries from July 2014 to May 2016. Following this she worked for Drinks Ireland for a number of years, during which she lobbied her former boss (after the cooling-off period had expired).
Hall joined Hume Brophy in August 2021. She is also a Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Councillor, having been elected in 2019. In a statement to Noteworthy, Hall said:
I agreed to work for Hume Brophy on the strict understanding that I could not work for any client that presents a conflict with my role as a Councillor. Hume Brophy agreed to this and I was hired on that basis.
Caitríona Fitzpatrick went on to work for Hume Brophy after almost 10 years working as a special adviser to Minister Simon Coveney across three government departments – Agriculture, Housing and Foreign Affairs.
She left her government job in January 2019, and began working for Hume Brophy in September of that year. Fitzpatrick confirmed to Noteworthy that she received permission to waive the final four months of her cooling-off period, provided she didn’t lobby her former colleagues in that time.
Since joining Hume Brophy, Fitzpatrick has filed nine lobbying returns. She has lobbied her former boss Simon Coveney twice after the cooling-off period, in emails sent out to a large number of officials on behalf of development companies Swanhall Ltd and U+I Group PLC.
Fitzpatrick has also lobbied Minister of State Damien English, with whom she worked in the Department of Housing, as well other high level public officials. She has also lobbied Matthew Lynch, another of the Foreign Affairs ministers advisers with whom she worked until she left the department in 2019.
At all times Hume Brophy complied with the relevant laws and regulations around lobbying. There is no suggestion that Fitzpatrick or Hall breached the Lobbying Act or Lobbying Code of Conduct.
A spokesperson for Hume Brophy told Noteworthy:
Hume Brophy operates to the highest professional standards and always in compliance with the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015.
Hume Brophy and Q4PR are just two examples of a number of PR and communications companies that have hired former special advisers or Section 22 officials who have lobbied. Others include MKC Communications, Gibney Communications and Edelman.
There is no suggestion that any of these companies breached the Lobbying Act or Lobbying Code of Conduct.
Business of lobbying
While many former special advisers go on to work for different PR or consultancy firms, others decide to start their own lobbying businesses.
Another former government special adviser – Richard Moore – confirmed to Noteworthy that he lobbied once within a year of leaving public employment, and mistakenly breached the one-year cooling-off period.
Moore previously worked as a special adviser to various government ministers and departments from the late 1990s up to 2011, before going on to establish his own PR firm, MComm Communications.
Moore has lobbied with MComm for a variety of organisations since the Lobbying Register was established, including CityJet, the Irish aviation company.
Moore returned to public work in 2019. According to Moore, in July 2019 he was approached by then-Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross, who asked him to temporarily fill in as a special adviser to cover the sick leave of Carol Hunt.
Moore’s contract was due to last from July to September, but it was extended to 29 November, when he made the decision to leave. During this time, Moore took a secondment from his position as managing director of MComm.
MComm was not engaged in lobbying during the period in which Moore was in government. Moore returned to his job with MComm after his contract finished.
In early 2020, Liam Gaskin of MComm lobbied a senior official in the Department of Transport on behalf of CityJet, in relation to the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation sector.
Later on in 2020, Moore lobbied a current special adviser in the Department of Transport – who wasn’t working there during Moore’s time in government – as part of a campaign on behalf of the Irish Air Corps. In a statement to Noteworthy, Moore acknowledged that this inadvertently breached the one-year cooling-off period.
“In Mcomm Communications returns for 2020, any lobbying role was fulfilled by Liam Gaskin,” he said.
Later returns in 2020 indicate that some minor lobbying was conducted on my part from September of that year which would have been the period that would represent the conclusion of the 12 months cooling-off period based on the arrangements initially in place for my role with Minister Ross. This was an error on my part as I should have factored in the additional two months in which I remained in the advisory post.
From Minister of State to Pinnacle PR
Other former government officials who have gone on to establish their own PR or consultancy firms, include former Minister of State and Fine Gael TD and senator Paudie Coffey, and former special adviser at the Department of Foreign Affairs Paul Fox.
Both men left government in July 2020, and set up Pinnacle Public Affairs in October of that year. Coffey was a senator in the last government, and so didn’t need an exemption to immediately begin lobbying.
Senators and TDs (who are not ministers), councillors and other public officials (who are not classed as high level), are not required to take a one-year cooling-off period after they leave office, and can begin lobbying immediately.
Paul Fox confirmed that he sought and received an exemption from Sipo to waive the remainder of the cooling-off period, with the condition that Pinnacle would not be involved in lobbying his former colleagues at the Department of Foreign Affairs until June 2021, and this conditions was observed.
In the two years since it was founded, Pinnacle has filed 52 lobbying returns. Coffey and Fox have lobbied for a wide range of companies since then, including property firms, developers, financial services companies and energy companies.
Coffey was a Fine Gael TD for Waterford from 2011 to 2016, during which he also served as a Minister of State at the Department of Housing. Fox was his assistant at the time.
The majority – 32 out of 52 – of Pinnacle’s lobbying returns are related to housing or development and zoning.
This includes two instances of lobbying during the first half of 2022 on behalf of Raheen Developments Limited on “provision of housing” and a “proposed housing project“. This development company is owned by a Dominican Republic-based Belgian millionaire, Didier de Witte, who was convicted of tax evasion in 2019.
It was reported by the Business Post last month that Pinnacle was hired by Raheen Developments Limited to assist the developer in its engagement with public officials and residents in relation to a housing development in Raheen, Co Limerick. Planning permission was received for 384 houses and apartments here over the summer.
Separately, one of the first officials Coffey lobbied for Pinnacle was an Assistant Secretary in the Department of Housing, who was a Principal Officer in the Department of Environment when Coffey was a Minister of State there. Coffey lobbied him along with councillors and council officials on behalf of property investment firm RediResi.
Coffey has also been in touch with his local constituency and party connections. Since October, he has lobbied Fine Gael senator and former Mayor of Waterford City John Cummins eight times, seven of these on behalf of RediResi.
Former colleagues were also contacted by Fox. Immediately after the cooling-off period, he had a meeting with Eamonn Molloy, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Further and Higher Education, Innovation and Science, on behalf of learning technology firm Olive Group. Molloy was an Assistant Secretary at the Department of Taoiseach when Fox was a special adviser there.
Coffey and Fox adhered to all relevant rules and regulations and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on their behalf.
Cooling-off period waived
Another former special adviser, Ed Brophy, also founded his own consultancy – Tyrconnell Strategy – and lobbied his former departments after leaving his role in government.
Brophy, who is currently the head of public policy with Amazon Ireland, was formerly a special adviser to both Joan Burton, while she was Minister for Social Protection, and Paschal Donohoe, when he was simultaneously Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure during the Fine Gael minority government.
He also served as Donohoe’s adviser from June 2020 to June 2021, before leaving his public job.
Brophy began lobbying in October of that year, after receiving permission from Sipo to waive the last nine months of the cooling-off period. Under the terms, he had to agree not to lobby officials in the Department of Finance or anyone he had worked with in the final year of his employment, until June 2022.
Brophy filed 21 lobbying returns before he joined Amazon in August 2022. In this time, he lobbied special advisers in the Departments of Housing, Taoiseach, Public Expenditure and Reform, as well as the Department of the Environment.
This lobbying was conducted on behalf of a wide range of organisations, including property investment firms, Dublin Zoo, energy companies and others.
He also lobbied officials in the Department of Finance – over a year after leaving government – on behalf newspaper representative group NewsBrands Ireland as part of a campaign to introduce a 0% VAT rate for newspapers. This rate was introduced in this year’s budget.
Brophy confirmed to Noteworthy that he had received an exemption to the one-year cooling-off period after leaving government, but declined to comment further.
Former colleagues lobbied
Meanwhile, another former lobbyist, Dónall Geoghegan, lobbied his former minister after taking up work outside the government before returning to take up a role under those public officials who he had lobbied.
Geoghegan, who is currently the Joint Chief of Staff at the office of Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, also worked as a senior adviser the last time the Greens were in government from 2007 to 2011 and is a former Green Party Secretary.
Records show that between his two stints working for the government, he lobbied 16 times for groups including Early Childhood Ireland and Greenpeace.
Among the dozens of people he lobbied were current Green Party ministers Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin - whom he contacted about the same matter – and Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan.
There is no specific rule against lobbying party colleagues, nor is there in relation to a minister hiring an individual who lobbied them to work as their adviser or Chief of Staff as Ryan did with Geoghegan. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Ryan or Geoghegan.
In other instances, special advisers have taken up work with groups after being contacted by them while in government and gone on to lobby their former minister, which is allowed under current laws if the cooling-off period is adhered to, or if an exemption to this is received.
One lobbyist, Ciarán Conlon, was employed as a special adviser to Jobs Minister at the time Richard Bruton until May 2016, before taking up a position at MKC Communications a few months later.
Conlon – a former director of election strategy and director of communications for Fine Gael – confirmed to Noteworthy that he received an exemption from Sipo to begin working with MKC in the months after he left his public role.
Details available on the Lobbying Register show that Conlon was lobbied once by MKC in the year before he started working for the communications firm.
Records also show that from May 2018 onwards, he was involved in lobbying his former minister a number of times – including for his current employer Microsoft – as well as other junior ministers at his former department and various Fine Gael TDs.
Another special adviser who lobbied their former boss is Mark O’Doherty. O’Doherty was a special adviser to then-Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe between 2011 and 2018. He went on to work two years as a special adviser to the Minister for Education Joe McHugh from 2018 to June 2020, when he left government.
O’Doherty started a job with Gibney Communications the following year. When contacted by Noteworthy, O’Doherty did not state whether he applied for or received an exemption from Sipo to begin working for Gibney less than a year after leaving his public job, but confirmed that he “complied with all obligations at all times”.
According to the register, since joining Gibney Communications, O’Doherty has lobbied government officials 14 times. Of these, eight returns have involved O’Doherty’s former boss Paul Kehoe, among others. O’Doherty has lobbied Kehoe on behalf of DrinkAware.ie, the Institute of Physics, and Growing Media Ireland.
Once again, there are no rules or laws against doing this and the individuals in the above cases followed the law at all times. The only breaching of regulations came from those who did not adhere to the one-year cooling period, without an exemption. This resulted in a single act of lobbying by one, and discussions with Sipo followed by undertakings and compliance by the others involved.
In other cases, individuals whose activities we’ve looked into have jumped between roles advising government ministers and employment by lobbyists in the charity or private sector.
There is no legislation against doing this, with the exception that lobbyists must adhere to the one-year cooling-off period after leaving their government roles unless they seek an exemption from Sipo.
The employment histories and lobbying activities of these individuals, however, show the revolving door that often exists between access to senior government figures and those with private interests.
As we’ve seen in some of the above cases, people go from working as special advisers, to lobbying organisations, before returning to a public role.
Both before and after working under Reilly, Loftus was also employed by Focus Ireland: first between 2011 and 2013, when she began working as Reilly’s special adviser in the Department of Health, and again after she left in 2016.
Although she did not begin working with Focus Ireland until more than a year later – thereby not within the cooling-off period, records show she lobbied on Focus Ireland’s behalf in 2019, though this did not involve contacting her former Department.
She has not lobbied any officials or politicians related to either of the departments she worked in since leaving her role.
When contacted by Noteworthy, Loftus said:
I haven’t lobbied Departments I used to work in. I haven’t lobbied politicians or colleagues I used to work with. I haven’t worked with the Departments, politicians or colleagues I worked with as a DPO since leaving government. Any lobbying I have done since leaving government is entirely unconnected to departments, politicians and colleagues I worked with while a DPO.
Loftus also said that the contact made with her by Focus Ireland while she was in government were “reasonable, normal and transparent representations made by an advocacy group representing the interests of vulnerable young people”.
“Focus Ireland would have made such representations whether or not one of the DPOs contacted had formerly worked for them or not,” she said.
“The representation was treated no differently because it was made by an organisation one of the individuals lobbied had previously worked for.”
She said that she took on a project management contract for a “philanthropically funded labour market support programme”. Loftus added that “Focus Ireland was providing for people who had been homeless and who now had stable living arrangements.”
“The programme had a good success rate in supporting vulnerable people to participate in training and education, and to progress to employment.”
The Department of Social Protection (another Department I did not have engagement with during my time as a DPO) was interested in learning more about how the programme worked and whether it might have wider applicability in respect of other people who suffer long term unemployment.
In response to general queries around the extent of lobbying by former public officials, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said:
“Lobbying provides decision makers with valuable insights, information, policy perspectives, identification of and debate regarding different policy options.
It is crucial that lobbying is transparent and open to public scrutiny.
The spokesperson pointed to the laws and regulations around lobbying and said that Sipo was responsible for enforcing rules and regulations on lobbying and was wholly independent.
“Therefore, the Department is not in a position to comment on whether or not a lobbyist is meeting their obligations.”
They said that the laws around lobbying are regularly reviewed, most recently in 2021 and that “careful consideration” is given to recommendations made by Sipo. “Where recommendations are not adopted, this is usually due to significant legal or policy issues arising from the recommendation.”
Sinn Féin’s Mairéad Farrell said that lobbying was an important part of government, and that it was crucial to have strong lobbying laws to ensure the general public had faith in political life. She said:
“The most important thing is obviously that the Dáil is as representative of society as possible… [in order] to understand where people come from, what people are going through.”
FULL SERIES IS OUT NOW
In part one, we reveal that former government officials’ details are missing from hundreds of lobbying returns. Our next investigation – THE CONSTRUCTION NETWORK - is out tomorrow and examines lobbying by the construction industry.
This Noteworthy investigation was done in collaboration with The Journal. It was funded by you, our readers, with support from The Journal as well as the Noteworthy investigative fund to cover additional costs.