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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 17, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

    How about some real freedom of information?

    Hugh Linehan

    terrific piece today by Noel Whelan about how we need a revolution in the way in which information is made available to us, the public. If the whole John O’Donoghue affair is to amount to anything more than a minor footnote in the political nerds’ almanac, then it should spur a proper debate about accountability and openness in this state. The mainstream media (that’s us, folks) has not been particularly interested in acknowledging the first steps taken by the likes of kildarestreet.com and thestory.ie in building online open-to-all sources of information for the public. With little or no resources, these sites are inventing the future of civic society in Ireland. They are showing the way, but they’re hampered and frustrated by a system designed for concealment.

    The Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation as it currently stands is a bad joke played on the taxpayer. The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO), which monitors adherence to ethics legislation, is not much better. Both are products of deliberately inadequate legislation. It’s refreshing to see a political insider like Whelan lay out in simple, clear terms what is required:

    “Instead of a reform of FOI, what is now needed is a complete cultural shift. Freedom of information is an analogue device for a digital age. A system where journalists or other interested parties retrospectively submit requests for documents previously generated is no longer appropriate or sufficient. What we now need in this country, right across the public sector, is to make a massive leap forward to eTransparency.

    “There is no reason why the bulk of documentation and information generated in the public sector cannot be uploaded weekly or monthly on to the internet. There have been exponential advances in the technology enabling this to be done in recent years, and even more awesome development will come. From now on there should be a presumption in favour of online publication of all public documentation and of the details of all public expenditure.

    “The finance officers or chief executives of State agencies or hospitals, principals of schools and heads of department sections all have to prepare monthly accounts for their board meetings or supervisors. These accounts should simultaneously be published on the web. A similar approach could be taken to minutes of board meetings and any reports to board meetings about the activities of a given organisation over the previous month.

    Would love to hear a convincing argument against any of this. And at the next election, why would anyone vote for a political party that doesn’t have it in its manifesto?

    • Don’t worry Hugh, the Greens have cast-iron guarantee to undertake an examination of the FOI legislation with a view to reviewing it, or something, in the new Proramme for Government. If that’s not for sure, I don’t know what is, real transparency, here we come!

      I’m positive their coalition partners, who have been in Government since the act’s inception, will be more than willing to make things more open.

      Seriously though, good article by Noel Whelan. His point on the SSB sector is not often mentioned, that’s one area that more openess is sorely needed.

    • Eoin says:

      He lost me at the use of the word eTransparency.

    • david says:

      what’s the point in giving you guys information when you twist it to suit you own political needs. Not one city and guild certificate was issued by fas for the ill fated cad course. But then that doesn’t make headlines. “fas internal verification process works ” not the sort of headlines you that sells papers.

    • Patrick Hennessy says:

      Freedom of information stopped when they picked the 4 gospels.

      They chose a consistent saleable life of Jesus over the truth.

      and so the Sun, the Irish Times and the NYT came to pass

      the purpose of education is to help us distinguish falsehood from truth

      and then sometimes education itself indoctrinates more than it informs

      not easy trying to get to a bit of truth

      why do i read ?

      Patrick

      Bangkok

    • JoeFrancis says:

      I had a comment blocked and ‘passed to a moderator’ on the BBC website yesterday.

      I had asked the BBC’s health correspondent why he wasn’t reporting on the horrifying stories coming out of the Ukraine.

      See http://theflucase.com/

      I wonder if I’ll get blocked here too?


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