Freedom of Information Act will not be re-instated

Secrecy is the most potent weapon of a corrupt state.

The Freedom of Information Act was introduced in 1997 and was in operation until 2003 when the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democratic coalition effectively stripped it of any real relevance.

The reason for this subversion of the Act was simple – It was too effective in exposing corruption.

No corrupt political/administrative system can tolerate an effective freedom of information act without risking exposure.

The current government could have re-instated the original FOI Act literally overnight; it should have been their very first act on assuming power.

That this has not happened after six months in power is a clear indication that this government has no intention of providing citizens with an effective FOI act.

The reason the Fine Gael/Labour will refuse to introduce an effective FOI act is simple – It would be too effective in exposing corruption.

The current administration will, I believe, opt for either of the following strategies.

String out the matter through never-ending committees, reviews, consultations until the next election or introduce a new act with different words but with the same non effectiveness as the current act.

Seamus Dooley of the National Union of Journalists wrote the following letter (Irish Examiner, 16th April 2003) in response to the destruction of the original FOI Act.

You’ve just had one of your rights erased

The final nail has been driven into the Freedom of Information Act.

While it is unfortunate that the President did not refer the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill to the Council of State for examination, her decision to sign the Bill within 24 hours of the early signing motion being presented to Seanad Eireann gives a neat piece of symmetry to this sorry saga.

It is worth reflecting on what happened.

Rumours that plans were afoot to bastardise the Bill emerged in early February.

The NUJ immediately sought and were refused meetings with the Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Minister of State at the Department of Finance.

In time it emerged that a secret review was carried out by a group of secretaries general who did not consult with the Information Commissioner (or anyone else) because they had not been told to do so by the Government.

The Cabinet duly met, accepted the report of the top civil servants and added in other restrictions for good measure.

It was decided not to publish the Bill mid-week but to wait until Friday, February 28.

On Tuesday, March 4, Seanad Eireann was asked to consider the Bill in a bizarre debate during the course of which it emerged that some rural senators had not even received copies of the legislation.

By March 13 the Oireachtas committee on Finance and the Public Service had agreed to hear submissions. The advice of the information Commissioner that sections of the Bill were inoperable was duly noted and ignored. Other submissions were similarly dismissed.

The NUJ was the first body to highlight the dangers inherent in the amendment relation to personal information. We welcome the change of heart by the Minister for Finance following the powerful presentation by Colm O’Gorman to the Oireachtas committee.

What that u-turn proved was that the entire Bill was ill-considered. The Government pressed on nevertheless. With the Taoiseach insisting that the hours spent on the debate during March was in some way compensation for the absence of public consultation on a Bill designed to take away rights conferred on citizens by the Oireachtas only five years ago.

The Taoiseach and Tanaiste have yet to explain how they reconcile the Government’s approach with the commitments to consultation contained in the new Social Partnership Agreement, Sustaining Progress.

The Bill was signed into law on Friday as those gate-keepers of democracy, the Progressive Democrats, met to celebrate their achievements in government.

As they surveyed the ruins of an Act they once supported with such enthusiasm I hope they were proud of their work.

Seamus Dooley
Irish Secretary
National Union of Journalists
Liberty Hall
Dublin 1

Secrecy is the most potent weapon of a corrupt state.

Copy to:
Fine Gael

3 thoughts on “Freedom of Information Act will not be re-instated”

  1. In 2007 I put in a FOI request for my medical files 3 times so the doctors could explain to me why they made mistakes in my case.The whole process took 2 years and i was made to jump through many hoops.These changes you expressed does not surprise at me all cos it makes easier to conceal the truth.

  2. “The reason the Fine Gael/Labour will refuse to introduce an effective FOI act is simple – It would be too effective in exposing corruption.”

    Which is the same reason that the scum in RTE won’t even mention it.

    Well, that and the fact that they are paid more than €500,000 each to keep the people where they should be.


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