You may remember, last week, that the Chinese Embassy in Ireland took out a full page advert in the Irish Independent on the issue of the Coronavirus, to tell us all how splendid China is, and how magnificent their response to the Coronavirus has been.
A member of the public made contact with the Standards in Public Office commission shortly thereafter to enquire about the relevance of Irish lobbying regulations as they apply to embassies and consulates, and well, it turns out that the Chinese Embassy is in obvious breach of those.
In an email seen by Gript, SIPO makes very clear that embassies must register as lobbyists in Ireland if their activities meet the so-called “three step test” for lobbying.
That test consists of three questions:
Are you one of the following?
An employer with more than 10 employees where the communications are made on your behalf
A representative body with at least one employee communicating on behalf of its members and the communication is made by a paid employee or office holder of the body
An advocacy body with at least one employee that exists primarily to take up particular issues and a paid employee or office holder of the body is communicating on such issues
A third party being paid to communicate on behalf of a client who fits into one of the preceding three categories
Any person communicating about the development or zoning of land
That’s question one, and the Chinese Embassy very clearly answers “yes” to it.
Question two is this:
Are you communicating about a relevant matter?
A relevant matter is one which relates to:
The initiation, development or modification of any public policy or of any public programme
The preparation or amendment of any law
The award of any grant, loan, contract, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds
Again, given that the communication by China in the Independent was about the development and modification of public policy, they very clearly pass that test, also.
Finally, question three:
Are you communicating either directly or indirectly with a Designated Public Official?
Given that a Newspaper ad is a direct communication with everybody, it is also therefore a direct communication with countless public officials. So China passes the test there, also.
In their email to the complainant, SIPO says that while there is no specific requirement for diplomats to register as lobbyists, there is no exemption from the requirement that those who engage in the behaviours above should do so.
However, the embassy of China has not presently registered as a lobbyist, despite its efforts to influence public policy.
Presumably they’ll be doing so shortly, won’t they?