FOI charges will continue a Fianna Fáil “closed culture” – Sinn Féin

Minister says new legislation will restore substance of original 1997 Act

 Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Public Expenditure Seán Fleming: minister should “do the decent thing”.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Public Expenditure Seán Fleming: minister should “do the decent thing”.

Thu, Oct 3, 2013, 01:11

A call has been made in the Dáil for Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin to “do the decent thing” and scrap freedom of information fees.

Fianna Fáil has also called for Irish Water to be included under amending FoI legislation that the Minister introduced yesterday while Independents said the inclusion of Nama and the National Treasury Management Agency was negated by the exclusion of most related documents.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin warned that retaining the application “tells us that the closed culture associated with Fianna Fáil prevails within the current Government and across the civil and public service”.

Mr Howlin said the primary purpose of the Bill was to restore the substance of access to information put in place in the 1997 Act and removed by Fianna Fáil in 2003. He said it would extend Freedom of Information to all public bodies and would extend the number covered by 100 from 480.

The Minister believed the legislation would add to the cultural shift towards more open government the original legislation was intended to support.

The Bill proposed to retain the €15 application fee for non- personal information; Mr Howlin said on average only €7.50 was paid in search and retrieval fees in 2011.

However Fianna Fáil spokesman Seán Fleming said the Minister should “do the decent thing and not waste Oireachtas time passing legislation to regulate something that yields €7.50”. He said the Minister should not belittle the national parliament by spending time discussing what was a trivial amount of money. If that was the average fee, it was not worth the administrative hassle in trying to collect it.

Mr Fleming said all Departments should follow the “perfect example” of the Department of Social Protection which did not charge any fee. He also described as “astonishing” the exclusion of Irish Water from the legislation because it would have an “absolute monopoly of the provision of water”.

Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis warned: “The retention of the application fee tells us that Government and the senior civil servants who advise it still perceive freedom of information as a gifting of information, rather than a fundamental right.”