FoI needs more scope – O'Reilly

Emily O’Reilly is asking that the scope of the Freedom of Information Act should be widened to include bodies like the Gardai, the Central Bank, the Financial Regulator and the CAO.

Emily O’Reilly also told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service yesterday that more public bodies, including An Garda Sa­ochana, should be brought under the scope of the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).

She said that while the Minister for Finance had announced that 109 additional bodies were being brought within the legislation, a significant number of others would continue to remain outside its provisions.

Ms O’Reilly said she was concerned that Mr Cowen’s announcement last October “may be seen as some kind of final round-up and that further extensions may not be planned for some time, if at all”.

The Information Commissioner said that Judge Maureen Harding Clark, in her recent report on Lourdes hospital, had recommended that the Department of Health introduce legislation to protect clinical governance records and risk-management clinical incident report forms from the application of the FoI Act.

She said this recommendation was based on the view that unless these documents were protected from the legislation, they were unlikely to be created, and opportunities for learning from mistakes would be lost.

“I find that I cannot agree with this recommendation as I believe the exemptions in the FoI Act are sufficient to protect what is, I agree, a very important public interest,” she said.

Ms O’Reilly said that although 109 additional bodies were due to come under the scope of the Act, she could see no reason for the continued omission from FoI of bodies such as vocational education committees, the Central Applications Office, the State Examinations Committee, the Adoption Board, An Garda Sa­ochana, bodies dealing with asylum applicants, the Central Bank, the Financial Services Authority and the State Claims Agency.

She said that under FoI legislation in Britain, police were covered on the same basis as all other public bodies.

The secretary general (public service management and development) of the Department of Finance, Eddie Sullivan, told the committee that a culture of secrecy was not something that he recognised in the modern Irish public service.

Joan Burton TD noted that Mr.Sullivan must be joking. I am inclined to agree. Secrecy appears endemic to me at least.