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Tom Ferris

Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation. He lectures on a number of PAI courses and contributes blogs regularly to PAI. He was formerly the Department of Transport’s Senior Economist.

The Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) process in Ireland doesn’t stand still, nor should it. There are a number of recent developments that show how active the agenda is – a new set of consultancy guidelines; Parliamentary Questions on RIAs, and a dedicated seminar on RIA. None of these developments are earth shattering, but they demonstrate that the RIA process is alive and merits comment.

New Guidelines for Public Consultation

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has published new guidance to replace the 2005 document “Guidelines on Consultation for Public Sector Bodies – Reaching Out.”[i]

The guidance was developed under Ireland’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan 2014-2016[ii] and follows a review of national and international consultation guidelines. In common with many other countries, they adopt a principles-based approach to public consultation. The aim is to improve transparency, responsiveness and accessibility of consultations. It should be noted that the guidelines, which are not binding on public bodies, promote three principles.  The new guidance report points out that consultations should:

  1. Be genuine and meaningful,
  2. Be targeted at, and facilitate input from, all those with an interest; and
  3. Be considered at all stages in the policy process, including development, implementation and review.

The Programme for Government 2016 also highlighted the importance of public consultation. Specifically, it stated that:

“Public consultations provide an important opportunity for the public to input directly into matters which affect them and their communities. Currently there is no single mechanism by which individuals can access information on consultations local, regional and national. We will establish an easily accessible portal to provide details of all such public consultations”.[iii]

Replies to Parliamentary Questions (PQs)

Deputy Niall Collins recently asked three Parliamentary Questions (PQs) in Dáil Éireann that refer to RIAs. The answers from An Taoiseach and the relevant Ministers prove interesting reading. A question on 23 February 2017 sought to establish whether (or not) all regulatory impact assessments for legislative proposals are published on Departmental websites, and the web address for each such site.[iv]

An examination of the written answers confirms that RIAs are produced and published on each Department’s websites, without exception. However, it should be noted that while all completed may be published, it is not easy to locate RIAs on some of the Departments’ websites.

The second question tabled by Deputy Collins on 2 March 2017 sought information as to number of the legislative proposals published by all Departments between 2011 to 2016 that underwent a regulatory impact assessment, and the number that did not.[v]

An examination of the written answers shows a total of 289 legislative proposals between 2011 and 2016; less than half of those proposals had RIAs undertaken. In short, 127 RIAs were completed (see Table 1). In interpreting the table it should be recalled that RIAs are only required for legislative proposals that have a regulatory dimension and that there are exceptions; RIAs are not required for the Finance Bill, security, emergency and some criminal legislation.

     Table 1: Legislation and Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs), 2011-2016*
Government Departments LegislativeProposals

with RIAs

LegislativeProposals

without RIAs

Total
Agriculture, Food and the Marine 6 1 7
Arts,  Heritage,  Regional,  Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs 2 5 7
Children and Youth Affairs 6 3 9
Communications, Climate Action and Environment 13 4 17
Defence 0 4 4
Education and Skills 6 1 7
Finance 7 31 38
Foreign Affairs  and Trade 1 3 4
Health 4 27 31
Housing,  Planning, Community  & Local Government 21 18 39
Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation 24 6 30
Justice and Equality 26 20 46
Public  Expenditure and  Reform 9 22 31
Social Protection 2 13 15
Taoiseach 0 0 0
Transport, Tourism and Sport 0 4 4
127 162 289

                   *Dail Debates, PQ from Deputy Niall Collins, 2 March 2017

In another question on 2 March 2017, Deputy Collins asked what impacts that considered in undertaking RIAs.[vi]

The Revised RIA Guidelines (2009)[vii] lists seven impacts that should be considered as part of the RIA process – see Table 2 below.

Most of the written replies from the Taoiseach and Ministers referred to the seven impacts. Many also added that other impacts had been taken into account as part of the RIA process.  In her reply, An Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, pointed out that the seven impacts list

“… is indicative only and if other specific impacts arise in the context of proposals, these also fall to be considered as part of the process. In addition, not all impacts are relevant to every legislative proposal/RIA and so they are only applied as considered relevant to each case”.[viii]

Table 2:  Impacts to be considered in undertaking RIAs1.      National competitiveness

2.       The socially excluded and vulnerable groups

3.      The environment

4.     Whether there is a significant policy change in an economic market, including consumer and competition impacts

5.     The rights of citizens

6.     Compliance Burden

7.     North-South and East-West Relations

Source: Revised RIA Guidelines, Department of the Taoiseach, 2009

Dedicated Seminar on RIA

On Friday 10 March 2017, PAI hosted a seminar dedicated to RIA. The seminar allowed attendees working in public policy areas to catch up on the main components of the RIA process. I brought those attending the seminar through the key stages of the RIA process, namely:

  • highlighting the requirement to assess alternative solutions;
  • measuring the costs and benefits of different options;
  • identifying compliance and enforcement costs;
  • undertaking consultation with interested parties; and
  • recommending a “best option”.

Those attending were given an opportunity to work on a case study. In addition, there was a lecture from Marie Daly of Ibec, the organisation that represents Irish business, who made a strong case for having more RIAs produced at an earlier stage that are more widely published. Marie pointed out that there should be greater use of Regulatory Impact Assessments by Government Departments

“…to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens on business. Such burdens hinder competitiveness, add to business costs and ultimately reduce employment retention and creation”.

David Byrne and Rose O’Connor of the Department of Finance provided a very useful insight into the positive role that RIAs play in tackling policies issues. RIAs completed by the Department of Finance are available on the website.

Conclusion

An abiding theme of the Regulatory Impact Assessment process is the importance of having assessments undertaken before legislative proposals are drafted. Good RIAs are needed to underpin the laws and regulations that help to protect citizens’ rights, promote a safer society and ensure more confidence in goods and services. That means evaluating alternative solutions; measuring the costs and benefits of different options, undertaking consultation with interested parties and recommending a “best option”. Taken together, these elements provide a best practice approach to regulation. If well applied, the RIA process has an important role to play in facilitating the continuing development of a competitive economy.

Notes


[i] Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Available here.

[ii] Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Available here.

[iii] Programme for Government, pg. 155. Available here.

[iv] Parliamentary Questions, February 2017. Available here.

[v] Parliamentary Questions, March 2017. Available here.

[vi] Parliamentary Questions, March 2017. Available here.

[vii] Department of An Taoiseach. Available here.

[viii] Oireachtas Debates. Available here.

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