FOI to cover 70 more bodies, says Howlin

Tue, Feb 12, 2013, 00:00

Commercial semi-State companies such as Irish Water could become subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said.

Speaking in Limerick yesterday, Mr Howlin said 70 bodies, including An Garda Síochána, will be covered by new FOI legislation due to be enacted soon.

“One of the processes we have involved ourselves in is a pre-legislative scrutiny, so I’ve brought the heads of the Bill to the finance and public expenditure committee and I have listened to their views. One of the views was in relation to the commercial semi-States.

“As a Minister coming from a party that is very supportive of the commercial semi-States I have to tread very carefully in that direction.

“But there is an argument in relation to Irish Water, where there is a monopoly, and we should look at that and in discussion with the finance committee that’s an area that I have undertaken to review before the Bill is finalised.”

Mr Howlin made his comments at the University of Limerick where he addressed a conference which examined the impact of 15 years of the FOI Act in Ireland.

The conference, entitled The Right to Know, brought together over 50 professionals to examine the legislation.

Reaffirming his commitment to expanding the legislation beyond the horizons of the original Act, Mr Howlin said many of the “unwarranted” restrictions added in 2003 would be rolled back.

Also addressing yesterday’s conference was Information Commissioner and Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who described the extension of FOI legislation to include An Garda Síochána and Nama as a breakthrough.

However, Ms O’Reilly warned the “devil will be in the detail”.

“For me the big breakthroughs are the guards coming in under FOI for the first time and Nama.”

Ms O’Reilly also said yesterday that fees should be abolished if they prevent people from making FOI requests.