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Redactions of Merriongate information requests "more evidence regime is in crisis" - Mairéad Farrell TD

25 August, 2021 - by Mairéad Farrell TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure & Reform Mairéad Farrell TD has said that recent inappropriate redactions by the Department of Foreign Affairs on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, is more evidence that our FOI regime is in crisis.

The recent FOI requests were in relation to related to Merriongate and Katherine Zappone’s aborted appointment to the UN.

Teachta Farrell said:

"Only a two months ago, Minister McGrath told us our FOI regime was 'robust and functioning well'.

"Nevertheless, he launched a review which would seek the perspective of the workers from the public sector, academia, activists, journalists, and other stakeholders.

"We know that the regime is not functioning well. When I surveyed many of the country’s top investigative journalists and transparency campaigners earlier in the year the results were dire, with 76% saying it was performing poorly/very poorly.

"The fact that the Minister has had to launch a review gives lie to the notion that its working well.

"Now we see that the Department of Foreign Affairs is redacting FOI requests related to Merriongate and Katherine Zappone’s ill-fated appointment, on what seem like fairly spurious grounds.

"This cannot be allowed. Yes, it’s true that such redactions can be appealed and in all likelihood overturned. However, this demonstrates a misapplication of the rules."

As the Transparency Campaigning group Right2Know commented at the time of Teachta Farrell's survey:

"We have public bodies failing to meet their obligations time and time again, the same organisations year after year. They seek time extensions for routine requests. They don’t bother answering requests, they refuse access to everything, they fail to find records that are later shown to have existed."

Teachta Farrell concluded:

"It is precisely for these reasons that I drafted my own Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, which will be introduced when the Dáil returns.

"This bill, if enacted, will remedy many of the regime’s current shortcomings, ensure there is greater transparency and accountability on the part of public bodies, and ensure that FOI can rightfully play its role as a means for citizens to get access to official information."

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