FOI move attempts to ‘contain information on banjaxed asylum system’

Mary Lou McDonald ‘alarmed’ by Freedom of Information proposals for refugee bodies

Mary Lou McDonald said she was “deeply alarmed” by the proposal  to change to the date from which refugee bodies are subject to freedom of information legislation.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Mary Lou McDonald said she was “deeply alarmed” by the proposal to change to the date from which refugee bodies are subject to freedom of information legislation. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

A proposal to change the date from which the records of two refugee bodies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act has drawn criticism.

The proposal being put forward by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, would affect records held by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the Refugee Applications Commissioner.

It would mean the Act would only apply to records created by these bodies from October 14th, 2014 onwards.

It was originally envisaged that all records created from April 21st, 2008 would come under the legislation.

Mr Howlin put these and other proposals to members of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. However, Mary Lou McDonald said she was “deeply alarmed” by the proposal.

Describing the direct provision system and the asylum process as “archaic and opaque” Ms McDonald said: “If ever there was a process and a system veiled in secrecy and a lack of clarity it is the whole process of refuge and asylum in this State”.

“The system is so banjaxed...that there has been an absolute strategy of information containment and keeping things in the dark and I think what you are proposing here today adds to that trend,” she said.

However, Mr Howlin said the proposal was for “very practical reasons”. He said if records were backdated too far it could lead to personnel being diverted to processing requests instead of processing applications:

“That’s not good for any asylum seeker,” he said.

Mr Howlin also proposed that the effective date on which records of the Private Residential Tenancies Board come under FOI be brought forward to April 21st, 2012. He said this was to coincide with that body’s move from a paper-based to an electronic system.

This would not affect Freedom of Information requests for personal information he said: “The person (seeking personal information)is entitled to access such records back to whatever date that those records were created”.

Mr Howlin is also proposing that full exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act be applied to two bodies: the Irish Red Cross, adding that the inclusion of charitable bodies is due to be considered at a later date.

He also proposed that the Shannon Group be exempted because it is a commercial State body and should be able to operate without commercial disadvantage.

He proposed partial exemptions be put in place for the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, the National Treasury Management Agency, Coimisineir Teanga and all schools other than Education and Training Board schools.

All the proposals changes require the approval of both houses before they can apply.