Lobbying and Good Governance
The strength of a democracy is defined by the strength of its social contract and the quality of life and well-being of its citizens. People expect a well run economy; good governance; a state that acts in the interests of its people; and they expect to have a say on the issues that affect them. They expect society to provide them with decent services and infrastructure. They also expect that decisions being made are aimed at securing fairness across generations and a sustainable future.
Good governance which facilitates everyone having a say in decisions that affect them is a key proposal in building Social Justice Ireland's New Social Contract. If Ireland is to succeed in addressing the challenges it faces, the pathway to doing so must be founded on consensus, must be well-managed, and must be properly evaluated. It has been widely recognised that Ireland’s governance was poor in certain areas prior to the economic crisis a decade ago. This is particularly so with reference to financial regulation and the organisation of the banking system. Moreover, that economic crisis led Government to make rash short-term decisions, particularly on fiscal and financial policy. These decisions were often made without any consultation, and many have since been recognised as very damaging, particularly in the case of the bank guarantee. Ireland would greatly benefit from having a structure that would engage all sectors at a national level. To come to a consensus on the standard of living that people want and agree on, and, how this is to be delivered requires dialogue, with input from all sectors of society. Choices must be made and agreement reached on how the social contract is to be delivered.
We need good governance to ensure people have a say in shaping the decisions that impact them. We also need to ensure that everything that is done is sustainable; environmentally, economically and socially.
How accountability is translated into practice can be closely related to the independence of the regulator and its functions and powers.  The areas most associated with ‘light touch’ regulatory policy in Ireland are the financial and property sectors. Thousands of households continue to feel the effects of the economic crash decades later, while lack of robust regulation of the planning processes have left Ireland with urban sprawl across towns and cities, and inaccessible one-off properties in remote areas, widening the ‘urban/rural’ divide by making essential services inaccessible and ineffective.
Greater transparency of lobbying activities
The Register of Lobbying was introduced in 2015 to increase transparency and accountability, making information available to the public on the identity of those lobbying designated public officials and the nature of those lobbying activities. According to its Annual Report for 2021, there were 2,273 registered lobbyists (up from 2,085 in 2020) and more than 11,600 returns had been received by the Commission in Regulating Lobbying for the three reporting periods (this figure may rise as late returns are added). Health was the number one topic.
While this increased transparency is to be welcome, the question of what, if any, effect it is having on a cultural shift from vested to public interest remains. Greater attention must be drawn to the information available on the Lobbying Register. Social Justice Ireland calls for the inclusion in the Commission’s Annual Reports of policy areas with the greatest lobbying activity, the lobbying organisations and the designated public officials engaged to highlight to the general public those influencing the political decision-making process.
Creating Regulatory Policy
Reactionary regulation, introduced after a crisis, can also serve to further exclude those who it should serve to protect, by placing barriers to goods and services in the way of those without the resources to engage with increasing bureaucracy. Social Justice Ireland believes that regulation has a place in protecting the rights of the vulnerable by addressing the balance of power when engaging with corporations and political structures, but not be so involved as to create a barrier rather than a safety net.
The OECD recommends that the governance of regulators follow seven principles to ensure the implementation of proper policy:
1. Role Clarity
2. Preventing Undue Influence and Maintaining Trust
3. Decision Making and Governing Body Structure
4. Accountability and Transparency
7. Performance Evaluation
These principles work together as a continuum with clarity from the start and performance evaluation informing governance policy, thereby creating levels of clarity as learning from the evaluation is utilised. If these principles were ingrained in the process for development of regulation and governance of regulators, consumer protection and independence would naturally follow from regulation in line with these central tenets. Social Justice Ireland believes that regulation should have consumer protection at its centre rather than the aim of increasing market participation. Before engaging in any new regulatory processes, the Government should ensure that the rights of its citizens are protected, including the right to a reasonable standard of living with access to basic services at a reasonable cost.
 OECD. (2016). Society at a Glance 2016: OECD Social Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.