System change shuts political website

 

A website which gives easy access to Dail and Seanad debates has been closed abruptly after the Oireachtas changed its data systems this week.

Kildarestreet.com had become the ?go-to? site for many politicians, researchers, journalists and political junkies because of the quality of its search facility and an intuitive arrangement of parliamentary debates.

The site, which was established three years ago, accessed data in a structured format through XML files which it then processed.

It had almost 200,000 unique visitors in the past 12 months, generating almost a million page impressions.

However, this week the Oireachtas changed its data delivery system to a web-based format, which Kildarestreet.com could not use for uploading material onto its website.

A message posted on the site yesterday said: ?Reports or our abrupt demise are, unfortunately, correct for the time being. The Oireachtas has, with no warning whatsoever, terminated its publishing of debates in a structured data format.

?Ireland's only large-scale open government data project was killed off.?

A spokeswoman for the Oireachtas rejected any suggestion it was trying to exclude other sites. ?We made improvements to the debate section of website and changed the software. It does not match the software they are using. It?s a straightforward technical problem that we are hoping to resolve,? said the spokesman.

The spokeswoman said the Oireachtas had facilitated other websites. She also pointed out it had made the debate transcript data openly available.

But John Handelaar, who founded kildarestreet.com with the journalist and blogger Gavin Sheridan, claimed the Oireachtas changed its data processing system to exclude third parties.

Mr Handelaar rejected the assertion by the Oireachtas that the system was an improvement and his project?s software was now deficient. He argued there is no software available that could now efficiently upload data from the Oireachtas site into the required format.

?We are replacing 2012 with 1995 overnight. It goes against the egovernment policy and its promise to make structured data available."

The site is heavily used by politicians and their employees within Leinster House. Mr Handelaar?s traffic increased by 30 to 40 per cent when the Oireachtas was in session.

A number of politicians expressed disappointment at the demise of the website.

Fianna Fail senator Averill Power said she was a regular user of the site and said it was wrong to make it impossible for the site to operate. Ms Power said she would write to Leinster House authorities seeking the reinstatement of the data feed to the site.

Cork South Central Fine Gael Deputy Jerry Buttimer said he was appalled at the closure and would also be writing to the Oireachtas Commission complaining about what had happened.

Labour TD Derek Nolan said it was disappointing and unfortunate that such a turn of events had happened.

He said kildarestreet.com performed a valuable and democratic service that made the record of politicians and the issues debated in the Dail and Seanad more accessible to citizens.

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