NUJ wants proposed access fees to be dropped

 

The National Union of Journalists has called for proposed charges for access to non-personal information to be dropped.

Fees of £16.50 per hour for the provision of non-personal data under the Freedom of Information Act could deter freelance journalists and members of the public from seeking information, said the NUJ's Irish representative, Mr Eoin Ronayne.

"A reasonable request for something that might be difficult to find might cost £250, and people are not going to look for information if they are going to charge that kind of money," he said.

The NUJ had held a number of meetings with the former minister of state at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Ms Eithne Fitzgerald, on the Freedom of Information Act and had been assured that no such hourly charges would be imposed. It was understood any charges introduced would be "nominal, if at all", said Mr Ronayne.

Requests made by the public for personal information held on them by Government or other public bodies will be free of charge under the legislation, regardless of when the records were created.

However, requests for non-personal information relating to Government departments or public bodies will cost £16.50 to retrieve.

Mr Ronayne expressed surprise that the charge should come into effect immediately and said it should be dropped for the first year of the legislation being in operation. The Act would create a "new culture", and in the early stages it would take longer for information to be provided than in the future.

The Labour Party spokeswoman on equality and law reform, Ms Jan O'Sullivan, described the Act as a "landmark occasion for democracy", which would "lift the veil of secrecy which has surrounded official State documents for almost a century. The Act also means Irish people will now have the right to know what information the State stores on them and if any of this information is inaccurate or has been used for the wrong purposes".

The full implementation of the Act would also mean that the applicants for Supplementary Welfare Allowance would now have the right to know what guidelines were used to establish entitlement to a payment, said Ms O'Sullivan. In the case of a refusal, they would have the right to know exactly why their case was turned down and could bring forward an informed case for an appeal.