Mid-Term Business Report: The Politics of Business; the Last Six Months Have Seen Some of the Most Dramatic Developments in the Province's Political History and with It a New Breed of Business Has Emerged. Political Lobbying Companies Are Making Their Mark and as Reports Are Taking Business Issues to the Heart of Government
Mcgill, Adrienne, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
CASHING in on Northern Ireland's peace dividend has become big business and for one type of business in particular - political lobbying.
A political lobbyist is someone who has established a channel of communication with politicians and other decision makers and who will represent the interests of individuals, community groups and businesses in order to get their message across to the people who will ultimately form policies that will affect them.
While some lobbying companies have been in existence for a number of years, others have sprung out of the normalisation of politics here. Several public relations firms have set up lobbying departments in order to influence the new legislators while new companies dedicated to assisting bodies in the private or public sector get their issues on to the government agenda have also been established . These companies are already reporting brisk business with a wide range of concerns being raised by people across a range of sectors including business, health, or education.
Lobbyists will also interpret proposed or actual government actions and assess the impact that will have on their clients.
The whole notion of lobbying is probably more closely associated with the American system of government and the term political lobbyist with clandestine figures in Washington DC - where there are more than 100,000 lobbyists at work - who spend their time chasing around the corridors of Capitol Hill beseeching members of Congress to spearhead a cause for one of their clients.
However, Northern Ireland's political lobbying scene is still fresh as is the new framework for government. But there-in lies the problem. Which department, committee or individual do you go to if you have a specific concern? Some departments overlap, individuals responsibilities are blurred, committees require consensus by numerous members and should you raise an issue just with the Assembly or with the North-South Ministerial Council, the Civic Forum, the Council of the Isles, Westminster or even Europe?
There are 10 departments, all of which have scrutiny committees, another 7 ad hoc committees, 14 ministers and four parties in compulsory coalition government.
There is a plethora of bodies to get through and how best to do it? Enter the political lobbyist.
"The job is an essential part of the democratic process,'' says John Laird, whose Holywood based PR company has a political lobbying dimension. He is well placed to understand the calls on lobbyists being both on the receiving end of them as a member of the House of Lords and also as an active lobbyist.
"I see it from both sides of the counter by being a member of a legislature as well as being a professional lobbyist.
"I can appreciate the value of bringing issues to one's attention which one may not have considered to be important but then they are put to you with greater clarity so you can take action on them.
"In the House of Lords there are 690 peers and you can't expect that each one of them knows everything that is likely to come up. It is therefore important that a lobbyist creates a climate of information and opinion so they can achieve what they want.''
John Laird has been involved in lobbying for over 15 years but since the formation of the Assembly he has seen his business grow phenomenally.
"I've had to deal with all sorts of issues - food, planning, taxes, grants, hospitals, education - no sector has been excluded.
"We are behind what's happening in any other part of the UK because we have been out of the democratic loop for a number of years - but I am inundated on a day and daily basis with information at Westminster on behalf of other lobby organisations. It is interesting to see how they approach topics. That is exactly what we do on behalf of other people in the Northern Ireland scene.
"You get a very clear insight into the decision making process and into the minds of people who are making key decisions - what is likely to influence them. …