Journalists, bloggers and those with an interest in Irish democracy have expressed serious concern over changes to the Freedom of Information Bill 2013. While efforts to extend FOI remit over more bodies, such as An Garda Siochana, have been welcomed, the suggestion of further fees for those requesting information has been blasted by Gavin Sheridan from The Story.
Improvements to FOI law were part of the government’s proposals for reform. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, has said that the “intention is that Ireland will become a full member of the Open Government Partnership, OGP, by April 2014 and membership of the OGP will reaffirm Ireland’s commitment to governmental transparency.” But transparency advocates disagree, stating the fees in place already were bad enough and that excuses such as stopping journalists “abusing” the FOI process are ridiculous.
Ireland is one of a handful of countries that has upfront charges for FOI requests but under new proposals the fee could be multiplied a number of times depending on how the request is interpreted.
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.
The Story has long been praised for their work in transparency, submitting hundreds of requests and sharing their findings with journalists and the public. The site even went so far as to fight for information in the courts, setting a legal precedent when the High Court agreed that NAMA was a public authority. If the Bill is passed the site will cease making the FOI requests it has become known for.
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.
Online, the amendments to the bill have been labelled as sneaky and Gavin later noted on Twitter that, if passed, this will make Ireland the most expensive country for FOI requests.
Those with concerns about the amendments to the bill have been encouraged to contact their local TD (details can be found at Who is my TD) and make their feelings on the proposals known.