Minister Howlin’s recently published Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation has severe limits according to Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform Seán Fleming TD.
Deputy Fleming commented: “The Minister is doing a good PR job selling this legislation but on close examination, there is clearly a lack of substance to it.
“One of the most obvious omissions from this legislation is the Government decision not to include Irish Water under the provisions of the FOI. The exclusion of this new commercial semi-state organisation that will have an absolute monopoly on the provision of water to households and all other premises throughout the country is astonishing,” said Deputy Fleming.
Deputy Fleming added that “The Minister has also said that he is not extending the FOI to any of the existing commercial state bodies (with the exception of Irish Rail which is a monopoly) due to competitive and commercial reasons. Clearly this logic does not apply to Irish Water”.
Commenting on further restrictions in the bill, Deputy Fleming stated: “Minister Howlin personally rejected proposals for FOI in respect of the new Oireachtas Inquiries Bill. During the passage of that legislation I specifically proposed an amendment saying that the work of any Inquiry Committee and the establishment of its procedures be included under the FOI legislation. Minister Howlin rejected the concept of FOI procedures applying to any Oireachtas Inquiry Committee.
“The Minister is also excluding information relating to parliamentary briefing for all Parliamentary Questions from this FOI Act. Anybody who watches our national parliament knows that the actual Parliamentary reply is often a very sanitised response and the full information and facts are regularly retained in the briefing notes within the Department. The Parliamentary Questions system cannot obtain this through the Dáil system. These briefing notes should be made available as they often contain far more information than the official reply on the Dáil record.”
Deputy Fleming further stated that the Minister is also hiding information in his Department from the public regarding public sector pay. “During the recent public sector pay talks the Minister’s own department wrote to the Public Service Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, sectoral management in the public service issued letters to individual unions and the Labour Relations Commission also issued letters. The Minister has refused to allow any of these letters including the ones from his own Department to be published and he is hiding behind FOI saying that these are confidential. This does not make sense.
“It is unfortunate that the negative aspects of this legislation out-weigh the positive measures included in the Bill,” concluded Deputy Fleming.