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Industry body calls for lobbyist register

Gareth Robinson and Peter Robinson

The head of a body representing lobbyists and public relations professionals has said all companies working in the sector should declare who their clients and employees are.

The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) director general Francis Ingham was commenting on recent press coverage of Verbatim Communications, the company run by First Minister Peter Robinson's son Gareth.

Mr Ingham said lobbyists and public relations professionals should subscribe to the PRCA's code of conduct "which compels them to make ethical and transparent communications".

The DUP leader's son's firm was set up in 2010 yet only recently launched a single page website. Information on the site is minimal and includes no mention of Verbatim's clients or its previous projects.

The only aspects of Verbatim's business in the public domain are those which have been revealed by this newspaper - an unspecified role in last year's Titanic Showdown boxing bout and an event organised on behalf of Tughans, the Belfast legal firm at the centre of the £7m fixers' fees scandal revealed recently in the Dáil by independent TD Mick Wallace.

Mr Robinson is not a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations or affiliated to the Association of Professional Political Consultants, the lobby industry's representative body. Nor is Verbatim listed on the website of the Public Relations Consultants Association.

Commenting on the recent reports surrounding Gareth Robinson's business, the PRCA director general said: "Media coverage in Northern Ireland highlights how important it is for public affairs agencies to declare their client lists and to subscribe to a code of conduct.

"This ensures that agencies make transparent and ethical communications, while it also defends the reputation of the lobbying industry."

Mr Ingham said normally PR and public affairs agencies voluntarily declared their client and employees lists through the PRCA register. He said they also subscribed to the body's code of conduct which compelled them to make ethical and transparent communications.

"The PRCA strongly encourages agencies to declare their staff and clients," he said.

"Politicians and the public expect this as well – agencies that don't do so should pause for thought, and reconsider."

The Irish News contacted Gareth Robinson but no response was forthcoming.

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