From top: Part of a letter sent from the Office of the Information Commissioner to Ken Foxe and Mr Foxe
You may recall how, back in December 2014, journalist and Dublin Institute of Technology lecturer Ken Foxe’s attempted, via Freedom of Information requests, to get the invoices and receipts submitted by 22 TDs and Senators.
Every year, accountancy firm Mazars randomly audits 10% of national politicians’ expense claims and these were the 22 politicians Mr Foxe wished to focus on for his investigation.
However, on January 16, 2015, this request was refused with the Oireachtas claiming it never physically held the records. It claimed the records passed from the politicians to Mazars.
On February 9, 2015, Mr Foxe sought an internal review of this refusal.
But, on February 25, 2015, the Oireachtas again refused claiming, under section 42(l) of the FOI Act, that the records Mr Foxe was seeking were considered to be the politicians’ ‘private papers’.
In turn, solicitor Fred Logue helped Mr Foxe put together a new appeal for the information, to the Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall.
But Mr Tyndall refused, highlighting the new FOI Act 2014, and in particular Section 42(l), which, he said: “affords a more significant protection for private papers of members of the Houses than previously existed.”
This section was introduced by the then Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform and Labour TD Brendan Howlin, on November 13, 2013.
Mr Foxe has since asked the Information Commissioner to reconsider his decision.
Further to this.
Mr Foxe writes:
Unfortunately, the battle to have the receipts and invoices of TDs and Senators made public has hit another brick wall and the Information Commissioner has said he will not reconsider his original decision.
Despite what we thought was a strong case put together by myself and with enormous assistance from Fred Logue, the case has been “discontinued”.
…In a letter explaining why they were discontinuing the case, the Office of the Information Commissioner said none of the arguments we made “would result in [them] … reversing [their original] decision”.
That now leaves realistically two options: a judicial review, or the possibility that politicians might reform the system themselves.
With the chances of politicians fixing something that benefits only themselves so remote, that leaves only a judicial review.
And that obviously is under consideration … with the reality that it would have to be paid for somehow.
For those who are interested in such things, a copy of the letter of discontinuation from the Office of the Information Commissioner, the original letter seeking review, and a copy of the final email pleading not to discontinue (with some personal details removed) are [here].
I would urge all readers again to support Right to Know and the work we are trying to do to pursue transparency in our unnecessarily secretive country.
Previously: How They Took Back Your Freedom