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Howlin’s betrayal November 8, 2013

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Uncategorized.
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Just pulling this out of the open thread for discussion

Gavin Sheridan today writes

We’ve had sight of new amendments to the FOI Bill 2013 proposed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

We will be blunt: if passed, Freedom of Information is dead.

TheStory.ie will, in all likelihood, cease all FOI requests. And we will not seek funding from the public to support an immoral, cynical, unjustified and probably illegal FOI fee regime. We will not pay for information that the public already pays for. We will not support a system that perpetuates an outrageous infringement of citizen rights. The legislation was gutted in 2003 and it is being gutted again. More generally the number of requests from journalists from all news organisations in Ireland will fall as a result of these amendments, and the resulting efforts to shine a light on the administration of the State will certainly deteriorate.

And secrecy will prevail.

You may remember the Program for Government

We will legislate to restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was underined by the outgoing Government, and we will extend its remit to other public bodies including the administrative side of the Garda Síochána, subject to security exceptions.

Which is strikingly similar to Brendan Howlin’s own comments on publication in July or indeed the Labour Party manifesto

Labour will restore the Freedom of Information Act so that it is as comprehensive as was originally intended. The fee structure for Freedom of Information requests will be reformed so that cost does not discourage individuals and organisations from seeking information, and the remit of the Freedom of Information and the Ombudsman Acts will be extended to the Garda Síochána,the Central Bank and other bodies significantly funded from the public purse, that are currently excluded.

Back to Gavin Sheridan

Today we had a look at new amendments Department of Public Expenditure and Reform  proposes to make to the Bill. They are nothing short of staggering. In some ways we are going so far back that we might as well not have an FOI Act in the first place.

[…]

This provision kills all requests containing a request for more than one record from more than one division within a public authority. It’s also a proxy fee increase. If you ask for four things from different divisions of the same body, your request fee jumps from €15 to €60. This would kill most requests this blog has ever sent. It would also kill most requests by journalists who are trying to maximise the amount of information they can get for the unjustified €15 fee in the first place. The €15 fee created multifaceted requests.

Any Irish citizen can obtain FOI from the United States or indeed Her Majesty’s government free of charge fwi

This provision basically means that you can be charged anything for, well, anything. It gives discretion to officials to charge for moving a mouse or typing on a keyboard. If a public body wishes it, this will kill most FOI requests.

Is this the end of FOI in Ireland, should these amendments pass? Effectively, yes.

And why, you might ask, are all these new and significant amendments appearing now, just before Committee Stage? A cynic would suggest these changes were well considered in advance and are being introduced at the end of the process in order to sneak them in. But we’re not cynical, are we?

As government gush about IMF goodbyes nothing so clearly underlines that Troika or no Troika, an Irish politician has always been behind the most vindictive decisions.

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Comments»

1. Eagle - November 10, 2013

The most frustrating aspect of this is for big chunks of the electorate will agree with this change or see it as being of no consequence. The electorate’s indifference to the secrecy of our government is one of the great problems in Irish society. When you marry this official secrecy with excessively restrictive libel laws it’s nearly impossible for a free press to do much more than let us know who Niall Horan is dating or whatever.

I would love to imagine a public protest. I’d love to imagine citizens demanding €15 to fulfil each official demand from government for information from us. “Can I see your driving license please?” “Yes, but that’ll be €15.” Imagine how much we could make charging the government for each piece of information they demand on a tax return?

Seriously, they demand we tell them everything and we pay the cost to provide that information in a format that eases their burden. But when we want to know what they do on our behalf, with our money we have to jump through hoops to find out.

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WorldbyStorm - November 12, 2013

+1

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2. doctorfive - November 12, 2013

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