Is Freedom of information going to die in Ireland?

Words: Dan O'Neill

Is Freedom of information going to die in Ireland?


Freedom of information is important - especially in a democracy. It is often viewed as a prerequisite for transparency and accountability of governments, among other things. In fact, it might be one of the most important parts of a democracy. The ability to know what your government is doing for you cannot and should not be ignored. We need this information so that we can trust our governments.

So when I read about attempts to essentially kill the FOI act on http://thestory.ie/2013/11/08/killing-freedom-of-information-in-ireland/, I could not believe it. The Irish government is trying to kill the FOI act in this country by trying to get you to pay extortionate fees for the information you request. Gavin Sheridan’s piece explains the changes to the act and how it will affect the media - and does a better job explaining it than I ever will.

However, this bill has other niceties that even BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow picked up on - Irish government updates its Freedom of Information law with exciting new “Computers don’t exist” provision from Simon McGarr’s piece - The Irish State wishes to uninvent computers. From Cory Doctorow:

The standard for whether a FOI request is reasonable is whether it would be easy to get if the records were on paper and in a filing cabinet. If the records can be retrieved from a database with one click, but would take a hundred years with a filing cabinet, then the records can remain secret forever, because clicking once is deemed unreasonable.

Now whether this is a deliberate attempt by the Irish government to block access to information or an attempt to appease aging civil servants who want money for every new “technology” they have to learn, it is a worrying step in the wrong direction. Our government should be getting more open, not less.

As Simon McGarr says:

If you think that data journalism- using the information collected with the public’s resources to inform us about the State we live in- is worthwhile why not contact your TDs and ask them to stop the State from retreating into the shadows?

It’s easy to think this stuff doesn’t affect us - but it does, no matter the job you do or the role you play in society. Our politicians and civil servants are negotiating a changing world - changing faster than it ever has. Transparency is the keystone we need to give them the trust they need to do their job.

Got something to add, or something to complain about? Contact me on Twitter: @dan_oneill or email me dan.oneill@live.ie