Freedom of information delay
Sir, – “Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday but never jam today” is the only way to think of Government’s action on political and institutional reform. Consider the promise to repeal the 2003 Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, which changed the original 1997 Act for reasons that are still not clear.
Last week Minister for State for Public Service Reform Brian Hayes deferred a new Freedom of Information Bill until next year, two years after taking office. (Home News, July 7th) This contrasts with the firm commitment in this Government’s programme of March 2011 “We will legislate to restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was undermined by the outgoing government, and we will extend its remit to other public bodies including the administrative side of the Garda Síochána, subject to security exceptions.”
A simple repeal of the 2003 Act would do much of what the Government promised. In opposition, the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore pointed out that the 2003 change to Freedom of Information, “did fundamental damage to the way in which the FoI regime ought to operate. The legislation has, as a result, been handicapped and it no longer functions as effectively as it should . . .”
Passing this law is easy. Doing so would need virtually no drafting effort or even much Dáil time, given the work done in 1997, the Dáil debates on the 2003 changes to Freedom of Information and the current Government’s majority. This would not get in the way of the more comprehensive measure now promised for next year.
This Government has no excuse for delaying this reform. The Taoiseach and four current Ministers were also members of the Cabinet which brought in the 1997 FoI Act. The Tánaiste and three other Cabinet members were Ministers of State in the 1997 government. In addition, both the President and the Ceann Comhairle were also members of the 1997 Cabinet.
Delaying this simple reform does not augur well for the Government’s efforts to rebuild our trust, as citizens, in the State. – Yours, etc,