Committee urged to abolish FOI fees
Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly will address the TDs and senators. The Bill plans to extend the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to all public bodies.Dara MacDonaill/The Irish Times
Fees for access to data under the Freedom of Information Acts (FoI) should be abolished, an Oireachtas committee was told this morning.
Séamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said access to information was a feature of modern democracy.
He told the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform that up front search and retrieval fees were particularly difficult for freelance journalists.
"The current charge structure is a disincentive," he said.
The committee was considering the General Scheme of the Freedom of Information Bill 2012.
Provisions in the proposed legislation extend the number of statutory bodies which will be subject to FoI scrutiny.
The Bill also includes provisions to repeal some aspects of amendments made to the legislation in 2003, including reversing the extension of the time period within which records of government are exempt from FoI scrutiny from 10 years to five years.
A reduction of fees for internal review from €75 to €30, and a reduction in appeal fees to the Office of the Information Commissioner from €150 to €50 are also planned.
Also as part of the new legislation, Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O'Reilly may apply to the courts for an enforcement order if a public body fails to comply with a binding decision she makes.
Mr Dooley welcomed the extension of the Act to other State bodies and said he could not think of any State organisation that should not be covered by FoI.
Up until now we seemed to have worked on the basis of "if in doubt leave it out", he said.
He advocated greater transparency and said if public bodies "put everything on a website" the "novelty value" would wear off.
Gerry Curran, cathaoirleach of the union's Irish executive council, said for the legislation to work "every society and public body needs to make a decision to overcome the legacy and secrecy of the past".
He said the union welcomed the extension of the numbers of bodies included under the legislation but it was "regrettable that commercial semi-states are excluded".
Information Commissioner and Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly addressed TDs and senators this afternoon.
The committee's proceedings can be watched here.