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FOI Bill falls short of Minister's promises - Senator Kathryn Reilly

18 September, 2014

Speaking today in the Seanad on the Freedom of Information Bill 2013 Second Stage, Senator Kathryn Reilly said that legislation falls far short of what was promised.

Senator Reilly said:

“Freedom of Information legislation gives people a right to access information about the way public institutions are governed, and the way taxpayers’ money is spent. Access to this should be based on need and public interest, not on an ability to pay. That’s why the scrapping of Freedom of Information fees is crucial for better governance.

“Much in the Bill is to be welcomed. The reduction of the period of exemption of cabinet papers and the extension of FOI to a new layer of public bodies significantly funded by the state were needed reversals. But the Minister originally committed to restore the FOI legislation to what it was prior to Fianna Fáil gutting out the FOI legislation in 2003. He hasn't done this. Instead of scrapping FOI fees, he has simply introduced a new fees regime.

“Open data advocate Gavin Sheridan has testified that this state is one of just three countries that charge upfront fees for access to information where FOI or similar legislation is in place. And amazingly, we are the only country in the whole of the EU to do so.

“The British Commons Justice Committee recognised that FOI fees set at a level high enough to recoup costs would deter requests with a strong public interest and would defeat the purposes of the legislation, whilst fees introduced for commercial and media organisations could be circumvented.

“TASC estimated in 2010 based on figures provided by the Government that the cost of FOIs to the state was 0.012 per cent of overall expenditure. This is hardly too a high price to pay for stronger democratic oversight. Freedom to information on how public institutions are governed, and how taxpayers’ money is spent, should be accessed easily by the people who pay those taxes.”

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