How They Took Back Your Freedom

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From top: RTÉ Investigations Unit; auditors Mazars

On December 17, 2014, journalist Ken Foxe sought from the Houses of the Oireachtas, under FOI, copies of invoices and receipts submitted by 22 TDs and Senators.

Every year the expense claims of 10% of national politicians are randomly audited by Mazars.

It was these politicians Mr Foxe was focusing on for an RTÉ Investigations Unit project, called No Expenses Spared.

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’.

Further to this, Mr Foxe, who lectures at the Dublin Institute of Technology, writes:

That seemed to me to open the door to their release. It seemed clear to me that the Oireachtas were no longer relying as strongly on the idea that they did not hold the records – when the invoices and receipts were so clearly in possession of a contractor that they had employed.

Equally, the idea that the “private papers” argument could really apply to invoices and receipts that had been issued from local newspapers, or other such businesses, seemed a stretch.

Similar material has, as we know, been routinely released under FOI in the past in Ireland, and of course in the United Kingdom.

Solicitor Fred Logue – who worked closely with Gavin Sheridan on a number of high-profile cases over NAMA and the ECB – helped me in putting together a new appeal, this time made to the Information Commissioner.

The case, at least to me, seemed open and shut.

However.

One of the very first big decisions made by the Information Commissioner [in 1999] in a case involving Richard Oakley, now of the Times Ireland, had covered some very similar terrain.

In that case, then Commissioner Kevin Murphy said that he could not accept that expenses of members could come within the term “private papers of its [Oireachtas] members”.

I will let the new Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall come in here with his decision:

“Against this background, it would seem reasonable to conclude that receipts and invoices for expenses incurred by [Oireachtas] members in the course of the performance of their functions would not ordinarily be considered to be private papers of the members. However ….”

That turned into a big however.

Mr Tyndall said that under the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges, and Procedures) Act 2013 – these invoices and receipts were clearly “private papers”.

He explained the inconsistency with the decision that had been made by his predecessor Mr Murphy about political expenses by pointing out that the new FOI Act 2014 – in particular Section 42(l) – contained new provisions.

“It is quite broad in nature,” Mr Tyndall said, “and affords a more significant protection for private papers of members of the Houses than previously existed.”

Quick aside – there is only one group of people who can benefit from this new and “significant protection”.

Mr Tyndall continued to say that it could be argued that this “broad protection” was “inconsistent” with requirements of public bodies to achieve greater openness, strengthen accountability, and so on.

He concluded:

“Nevertheless, while it might be expected that information relating to expenses of members of the Oireachtas should be fully transparent and subject to public scrutiny under FOI, I must have regard to the prevailing legislation at the time of my decision.”

The decision to refuse access for me – and the broader public – to even a selection of the expense claims of our elected TDs and Senators was upheld.

By the way, this is the expenses system, which we are repeatedly told is “fully vouched”.

Two questions:

Who benefits from this arrangement?

Answer: About 166 TDs and 60 Senators.

More importantly though, who introduced this significant extra protection for politicians (already benefitting from an incredibly opaque and non-transparent expenses system) when the FOI Act was being drafted?

Answer:

howlin

Read the decision in full here

New FOI Act added “significant protection” from scrutiny for expense claims by TDs and Senators (No Expenses Spared)

Freedom of Information Act 2014

Thanks Kildarestreet.com

28 thoughts on “How They Took Back Your Freedom

  1. Fergus the magic postman

    That is nothing short of outrageous. It is unsurprising though, as I don’t think anyone (including their loyal defenders)is in any doubt as to the lengths of shadiness & underhandedness this crew will stretch to.

  2. stephen

    Fupp you Brendan, what cheeky feckin expenses are you claiming.
    An utter disgrace, can’t wait to hear the excuse my local labour TD tries to give to this when he comes around knocking

  3. Panty Christ

    All public expenditure no matter what it’s for should be available to view on refuser and not require the rigmarole of an FOI. It’s our money they are spending.

  4. martco

    rotten, rotten, rotten and after each electoral cycle to the trough it just gets rottener with liars & cheats & weasels like Howlin, pr!ck

    burn the dail down and start again and start again, I think the country would run just fine without it’s archaic existence anyway, it means nothing to me

      1. martco

        oh thats a winner!
        the halt in spend on fixtures and fittings and sell off of the existing ones alone would pay for rework of the internals to provide probably enough 1 and 2 bed apartments before we even get into what would be saved on the wagebill for the piggys at the trough…sure what they spent on installing new carpets there recently would pay for the modular houses stunt

  5. Truth in the News

    First of all who are they and name them, since public monies were expended
    on politicans, based on documents they submitted for payment, whats private
    about it, one wonders is illustrius John Perry some where in the list, as he was
    at the top of the list for the highest expenses a few times

  6. Fergus the magic postman

    Where are all the usual government defenders that seem to spend chunks of their days including today commenting on here, & trolling anybody who dare speak against their beloved parties?
    If you’re reading this, I’d genuinely be interested to hear your take on this, because to my eyes, this is just more of the same from the current government.

  7. Andy

    Has Broadhseet resorted to rehashing old stories?

    What new has happened here?

    The RTE investigation unit (Mr Ken Foxe referenced above) produced an expense data base on Monday 16 February 2015 16.59.

    Easily available to those who want to review and aren’t lazy feckers

    1. Fergus the magic postman

      I wasn’t aware of this until now & I’m not a lazy fecker. I’m pretty grateful to have this underhandedness pointed out to me, as are many others I’m sure.
      Have you a problem with that?
      We can’t all be keeping eagle eyes of every aspect of Government dealings, even though in a lot of cases we know they’re probably up to no good.

    2. Mac

      Andy, if you could have been arsed reading Ken Foxe’s post you’d see what is new is that the Information a Commissioner has ruled that copies of the receipts submitted by politicians don’t have to be released under FOI any more. Previously the release of the physical receipts under FOI showed TDs and Senators up to all sorts or carry on and led to the jailing of Ivor Callely for fraudulent expense claims.

        1. Fergus the magic postman

          That’s a little over a month ago. We’d better let them off with it so.
          Have you known about this all along and been sitting on it Andy? Eh? Or Have you just bothered your arse to check it now based on the above?

          1. Andy

            Pretty much (apart from the database – have known about that since it was released).
            I’ve been as grumpy as hell today. Spoiling for a row!

          2. Frilly Keane

            Ah give over Andy

            I believe this topic should be repeated, updated, regurgitated, reprinted and revisited as often as it takes to keep the Irish public fully informed.

            Even if its a weekly feature

            And fair play to everyone involved in these forensic and time consuming investigations.
            I for one have neither the stomach nor the patience to follow through like Ken Foxe has.

            So there

  8. dardar

    A quick way around Section 42(l) would be for the commissioner to ask the TD’s for their consent to share these ‘private papers’.

    I can’t think of a better opportunity for a straight laced politician to outshine their colleagues than to agreeing to allow their expenses to be examined while the the rest of the Dail flouts the spirit of the FOI act.

Comments are closed.