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Freedom of Information Bill: My Proposed Amendments

Statement | 11th November 2013

I’ve proposed a number of amendments to the new Freedom of Information Bill which will be heard at Committee Stage this week, following on from my contribution at second stage.

The first worrying sign that the FOI Bill was being watered down significantly came in July when the Government proposed very ambiguous wording surrounding FOI requests for large data files. In essence, the bad wording would have enabled FOI bodies to treat a request for large data as if the data was only available in paper format, not electronic. This would have permitted a lawful refusal, as requests which generate onerous amounts of work can be turned down. I sought the deletion of this element; the Minister has also now proposed clearer wording which hopefully will address the confusion.

Unfortunately another proposal from the Minister, which introduces multiple fees for a single FOI request, represents a very serious undermining of the spirit of this legislation. The new proposal seeks to extend the standard €15 charge to cases where an FOI request results in multiple FOI bodies retrieving records – so instead of a single €15 fee, a person would face a €15 fee for each body complying with the request. I can think of no reasonable cause for this new proposal aside from the clear intent by authorities to frustrate access to information. It’s worth bearing in mind that Ireland is one of three countries in the world which charges fees for FOI requests. This section would give us the least accessible FOI regime in the democratic world and must be deleted.

I have also sought to address another area where the FOI Bill could have some worrying effects – in the whole area of geneaological research. The Bill, if enacted, would class genealogical archive records as “private information”, cut-off from access by the general public. This would put birth, death and marriage records beyond the reach of the genealogical researcher – and effectively kill genealogical research in this country. I firmly believe our genealogical heritage is a common heritage and as such I have sought a number of changes to the bill to exempt genelogical records from FOI provisions, with the kind assistance of Michael Merrigan at the Genealogical Society of Ireland.

The placing of my amendements was faciliated by Stephen Donnelly TD as he sits on the Public Expenditure & Reform subcommitteee. He will be pressing these changes on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. You can follow the debate live at this link.

 

 Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the FOI fee as being €20.

 

 

 

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Posted by on November 11, 2013. Filed under Civil Registration Offices,Dáil Committees,Dáil Debates,Dáil Technical Group,FOI,homepage,In the Dáil,Latest News,National Issues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.