State needs contrary people to challenge groupthink in reform - Hayes

FOI legislation could be “incredibly damaging” to genealogical research - TD

Catherine Murphy: warned of threat to genealogical research. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Catherine Murphy: warned of threat to genealogical research. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Fri, Oct 4, 2013, 01:00

Ireland’s political, regulatory and banking system must be constructed in a way that would “encourage contrary people with ideas to challenge us all the way”, according to Minister of State Brian Hayes.

He told the Dáil that “being contrary must be a fundamental part of what we are trying to do because too much group-think was a feature of the time” when the economy collapsed.

“Freedom of information, the extension of the Ombudsman’s power, the work done to regulate lobbyists and whistleblowing legislation is a fundamental part of the reform that will lead this country back to health.”

Mr Hayes was replying to a Dáil debate on legislation to amend the Freedom of Information Act and “restore the substance of access” in the original 1997 legislation which he claimed was “butchered” by the previous government in 2003.

He told the Dáil that Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin would introduce a draft code of practice for Freedom of Information (FoI), which would provide more streamlining and consistency of approach by public bodies that often displayed a different way of doing things.

The Minister of State for Reform said “we must send out a strong signal across public institutions that the public has a right to know what is going on”.

He defended the exclusion of some public bodies, which both Opposition and Government TDs said should be included, such as Irish Water and EirGrid.

Government backbencher Kevin Humphreys, who welcomed the legislation, said Irish Water, the gas networks and EirGrid would function as monopolies.

“We all accept the rationale for ensuring that commercially-sensitive information remains beyond the remit of the legislation,” the Labour TD said. “However, where semi-State companies have a monopoly, it is vital that they be open to scrutiny.”

Independent Catherine Murphy warned that the legislation could be “incredibly damaging” in the way it was worded to genealogical research.

The Kildare North TD said that “if we start to describe genealogical information such as birth, marriage and death records as private rather than public information, then the scope for genealogical research is closed unless you are connected to the people you’re researching”.

She pointed out that some countries had decided that such information should not be deemed personal after 70 years and was open for historical research.