Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has withdrawn the amendment to the Freedom of Information Act.
In a statement this evening, Mr Howlin said he was withdrawing the amendment relating to multiple requests to “ensure that there would be additional clarity about how multi-faceted requests would be dealt with and in particular, to ensure that requests that raise single and related issues are treated as such.”
The amendment would have seen the standard fee of €15 increased by €15 for each separate FOI request.
Defending the changes, Mr Howlin said yesterday they were designed to prevent applications that purported to to be a single request but in fact involved multiple requests requiring separate retrievals by different sections of departments and bodies.
At the committee stage of the Bill yesterday, Opposition TDs attempted to postpone consideration of the amendments – which were tabled over the weekend – for several weeks to allow the committee to hear the views of media representatives and academics.
However, when the matter was put to the vote by committee chair Ciarán Lynch of Labour, it was decided by seven votes to three to proceed with committee stage immediately.
Yesterday, Mr Howlin made a strong defence of the amendment saying it was a minor part that should not distract from what he described as groundbreaking legislation.
He said he was surprised at the controversy that it had evoked and said it had been included to prevent multiple requests running over many pages but contained in one letter.
Mr Howlin said in less straitened economic times, he would have not have retained the fee structure or he would not have advocated a charge for access to any information. He said the report outlined the examples of “how completely extraneous things are bolted together and made into one.”
The National Union of Journalists welcomed the announcement this evening describing it as a “welcome first step”
“ While the NUJ remains committed to the principle of free access to Freedom of Information we welcome the announcement that Mr Howlin is to withdraw the amendment. Mr Howlin has stated that he will ask the parliamentary draughtsman to bring forward a new amendment aimed at clarifying the position of multiple fees. This is a welcome first step. We would also ask Mr Howlin to look again at the amendments regarding search and retrieval,” it said.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald also welcomed the withdrawal, saying she expected the Minister and his officials would “take some time to consider the serious concerns raised by the NUJ, Transparency International and many other experts in this field.”