In a break from the norm, and mostly because I’ve been busy with homey type things, the following post is a collaborative effort between Rhydian Mann and myself (in blue). Do read on.
It came to my attention today, from Irish vaping advocate and IVVA administrator (amongst other things), Gillian Golden, that the Republic of Ireland has gone a bit “nuts”.
Firstly, this struck me as a good thing from where I am in the grand scheme of vaping politics. Why? Well, most vapers know that lobbying of government departments or important members of the cabinet etc does happen. Yet, we have a good idea who it is done by but no proof. The only way we know specifics of lobbying by Freedom of Information Requests and getting hold of relevant documents.
What does this Regulation of Lobbying Act mean for advocates, at least in Republic of Ireland, every email, phone call or face to face meeting has to be recorded and submitted to the Lobbying Regulator periodically which are then made publically available on the appropriately name www.lobbying.ie.
That seems fair to me, personally, I’d like to see something like that in the UK. Vapers feel like those lobbyists against the future of vaping are doing so in the shadows, apart from those well-connected with Westminster etc. On the one hand, this does seem like a subtly brilliant idea – have anyone who talks, writes, tweets to a representative about a current “hot topic” must register that correspondence for public record.
On the other, this type of legislation is laughable – how many everyday people will know about it, or even bother to register? The only effect this is likely to have, is a decrease in the amount of correspondence that representatives get. So where is the “nuts” bit?
Well, the use of social media, more specifically Twitter has made things a bit more blurry because, according to the Register of Lobbying Report 2015:
“ …if a tweet is sent to an individual designated public official, or that official is tagged in the tweet, it may be registrable…”
Excuse me “may be registrable” ? So it seems that one of the most powerful tools of communicating across the world has not been considered during the creation of the Act? Clearly not! Not every vaping advocate has the ability to travel across a country to see a representative in person, so they use the next best thing which is email or Twitter.
Thing is, this comment – “…depending on whether the person sending it falls within the scope of the Act…” is ambiguous at best. After all, who determines whether an individual, such as a member of the public with an interest in a subject instead of an NGO, “falls within the scope of the Act” ? It is, perhaps deliberately vague on that point, however the legislation is in fact clear:
“makes, or manages or directs the making of, any relevant communications on behalf of another person in return for payment (in money or money’s worth) in any of the circumstances in which subsection (2) applies to that other person”
In other words, if I – or anyone else for that matter – gets paid then we are effectively lobbyists. Subsection (2) clarifies that by detailing the size of an organisation, so wouldn’t technically apply to individuals.
But if a tweet, for example, to the Welsh Health Minister saying “Have you read the latest evidence on ‘passive vaping’? Might change your mind on PH Bill” that MAY be registrable. Consider the amount of tweets any vaping advocate can send to representatives in key legislative positions a week. Imagine, the time taken to compose and send the tweet compared to filling out a record of it each time.
It’s clear that the Standards in Public Office Commission, have come up with capturing tweets as a ridiculous afterthought. An afterthought that creates more annoying paperwork amongst trying to obtain the correct information on applicable regulations (such as the Irish implementation of the TPD) and trying to combat stupidity at local levels.
Established definitions of avenues of lobbying which are in black and white, in the Act, stick to those. Further red tape is ridiculous! Vaping advocates have little time to do what they do as it is with mostly no financial backing at all.
Capturing tweets as official lobbying is like being a barman on a Friday night, with many customers, all trying to get the drinks they want AT THE SAME TIME. No barman can conquer that situation, neither can an official in public office do the same with tweets.
Transparency is good, especially when it comes to regulations that can (and will) be burdensome to the public as a whole, or a subsection of the public (such as vapers), but extending the scope of this legislation to potentially include social media is – in a word – bonkers.
So to the likes of Gillian and the IVVA, we send you a lot of sympathy. For us in the UK, we sincerely hope that madness like this does not come over the Irish Channel for Ireland or from anywhere else, nor should it spread anywhere else either, though it would be nice to see all the efforts from certain organisations.