Journalist Gavin Sheridan's FOI article

Letter in Sunday Independent 27 April.

The article referred to by the letter writer is excellent and well worth a read.

Democracy will suffer


Credit is due in full measure to the Sunday Independent for publishing Gavin Sheridan’s critique of Minister Howlin’s FOI Bill, (Sunday Independent, April 20, 2014).

One would think that a riposte from the minister or one of his many permanent or hired advisers will be forthcoming to deal with Mr Sheridan’s damning points, as the bill is scheduled to be voted into law by our elected legislators in both Houses of the Oireachtas over the coming weeks. One however, may not want to hold one’s breath.

When the issue of escalating charges for eliciting pertinent public information is fused with the proposed abolition of Section 16 of the current law, FOI Act 1997, we are looking at the effective closing down of freedom of information in Ireland.

The minister who introduced the Freedom of Information Act in 1997, Eithne FitzGerald, levelled pointed criticism at the proposed removal of Section 16 at an FOI conference on February 27.

The new provision replacing Section 16, places the power of decision as to what information public bodies shall make public, with the institutions themselves and with the minister, who is also empowered to “revise” such information as he “thinks fit” to do so (Section 8, FOI Bill 2013).

It is hardly a coincidence that the countries with the lowest levels of corruption and malpractice are the Nordic states. These countries also have entrenched transparency laws many of which are copper-fastened by constitutional protections.

Rather than moving in that direction, thus ensuring a permanent spotlight on our publicly funded institutions, which has never been so badly needed, Minister Howlin’s two pronged attack via costs and Section 16 abolition, is radically pulling us in the opposite direction of enhanced secrecy.

His appalling reply to Mr Sheridan, that the projected multiplier costs will be of value to the “Post Office”, perhaps illuminates a mindset drunk on power and a detachment from reality via a six figure salary and a similarly inflated and publicly funded pension.

Whatever the reasons, this Bill is a grim piece of work for democracy in Ireland.

John Sullivan
PRO Democracy Protection Campaign
Dublin 7

Freedom of Information and the (failed) Progressive Democrats

The following letter, written by Progressive Democrats councillor Victor Boyhan, was published in the Irish Times on Tuesday 1 April 2003.

Boyhan was pleading with the then PD/Fianna Fail government not to subvert the Freedom of Information Act. The issue would, he said, put the party to the test.

The party, as we know, failed that test just as the current parties are failing the test when it comes to transparency and accountability.

Freedom of Information


Further to your recent articles on the Freedom of Information Act I am reminded of Milton’s words in his Areopagitica (1644).

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely, according to conscience, above all liberty.

Surely, Milton’s words after nearly 360 years are as relevant today as they were then. Excessive secrecy damages the democratic process and leads to poor decision-making because ministers and bureaucrats become isolated from the real world.

Secrecy means that both individuals and pressure groups are unable to get information that would enable them to challenge what has been decided by Government.

This Government must not curtail the freedom of information process. An opening up of the process will lead to an improvement both in the way the decisions are taken and in the quality of these decisions.

Openness, transparency, accountability and active engagement with the citizens are core principles of the Progressive Democrats and the current issue regarding freedom of information will put the party to the test.

Yours etc.,
Cllr. Victor Boyhan
Progressive Democrats
Dun Laoghaire