Tag Archives: Freedom Of Information

Dublin’s Google Docks in the Grand Canal Dock; extract from Department of Justice submission explaining why Data Protection Commission should be only ‘partially included’ in the Freedom of Information Act

Journalist Ken Foxe tweetz:

If you ever wondered why there is such incredible levels of secrecy surrounding the Data Protection Commissioner, arguably Ireland’s most important state agency. They need to be able to provide “guarantee of absolute confidentiality” to the giant tech firms based in Ireland.

The above is an extract from a Dept of Justice submission explaining why Data Protection Commissioner should be only “partially included” in the Freedom of Information Act.

Will post the full record to @Thestoryie later on.

The Story

RTÉ studios in Donnybrook, Dublin 4

Mark Tighe, in yesterday’s Sunday Times, reported:

Almost three-quarters of those who earn salaries of more than €100,000 a year in RTE are men, according to figures obtained by The Sunday Times. By contrast, well over half of RTE staff paid less than €40,000 are women.

…This has now been confirmed in figures supplied after a freedom of information request to the station.

They cover basic salary of staff members, and not contractors, overtime or allowances.

The figures show that, while women made up 48.3% of RTE’s 1,984 staff at the end of 2016, they accounted for just 29.6% of the 125 workers whose basic annual salary was more than €100,000.

RTE cheques in the male (Mark Tighe, The Sunday Times)

Previously: They’re Back!

90319957On Wednesday Labour Minister Brendan Howlin suddenly withdrew changes to the Freedom of Information Bill that would have substantially increased the cost of obtaining information from public bodies.

Dublin solicitor and FOI activist Simon McGarr attended the Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform committee meeting on the same day, where Mr Howlin attempted to explain his FOI strategy.

On his blog, Mr McGarr writes:

Maybe it was the lateness of the hour or maybe it was just the effect of a couple of days of unexpected trouble but minister Brendan Howlin on Wednesday told us why he wants to charge €15 in respect of FOI requests.

The Minister was on his second day in Committee. The session had started with him announcing that he wanted to withdraw his controversial amendment to Section 12, multiplying Ireland’s FOI Fees.

He wasn’t abandoning his plans, he had just lost confidence overnight in his amendment’s wording. He confirmed his plan to bring back the fee hike later.

Despite this temporary retreat, he still faced questions. [Independent TD] Stephen Donnelly asked him how much money the Government expected it was going to cost to collect those fees – and whether the Government had estimated how much money they would raise.

Like the Hatter flanked by the Dormouse and the March Hare, the minister sat between his civil servants, who murmured words in his ear.

The Minister explained that his department couldn’t actually manage to make any estimate.

Donnelly pointed out that, without estimates, the Minister had no idea if the fees he was intending to levy would actually contribute anything to the state.

The Minister couldn’t deny it, having already said his department – which is involved in preparing the national budget – couldn’t give any estimate

In fact, it is quite possible that the fees might cost us extra. That we would actually spend money to collect less money.

It was then that the Minister told us that what mattered wasn’t whether the fee made money. It was that he didn’t want people getting something without paying for it. “In the current climate. ”

The State couldn’t have a situation where people could just get access to their information for nothing- as if it was a right!

Citizens had to make a contribution. Not a contribution to the costs, because who knows if the admin will eat it all.

Asked again about those fees, the Minister was worn out. Rubbing his eyes, perhaps wishing that-like [Lewis] Carroll’s Dormouse- he could just curl up and doze, he tried to make it clear to the rest of us:

He mostly needed to charge a fee to pay for the expense of charging a fee.

As an observer to the committee, this was a revelation.

I don’t know what the European Court of Justice would think of this.

I don’t know what the European Court of Human Rights would think of this.

I don’t know what the United Nations would think of this.

But I know what I thought of it.

I thought it was a polished, softly spoken outburst of irrationality.

I thought it was mad.

Lewis Carroll’s Freedom of Information Bill 2013 (Simon McGarr, McGarr Solicitors)

Previously: FOI It’s Worth

(Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland)

donnellyenglishThis morning Independent TD Stephen Donnelly (left) and Fine Gael TD Damien English (right) spoke on Today with Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One about the proposed increase in charges for Freedom of Information requests.

Seán O’Rourke: “First of all, Stephen Donnelly, this is something which is coming up at a committee today, it’s being debated and there are amendments. The basic thing is is that there’s a €15 charge for a request but now, if it has several dimensions to it, applied to different departments within a particular institution, it’s €15 per department, is that it?”

Stephen Donnelly: “Per administrative unit check, good morning Seán, thank you for having me on the show. So the context here is important. There are only three countries in the world that charge upfront fees for Freedom of Information. I think we’re all agreed that secrecy in Government is a bad thing and transparency is a good thing. So only us, Israel and Canada currently charge upfront fees for Freedom of Information requests from media, from parliamentarians, from whoever. Canada charges €3.40, Israel charges €4, we currently charge €15, so about four times more than the other two countries. No country in Europe charges anything upfront. What the amendments that are being brought in, and at a very late stage, I’d like to say by Brendan Howlin, brought in on Friday and have caused uproar in the NUJ [National Union of Journalists] and amongst very serious professionals and academics, not sort of people who are used to banging drums and saying ‘this is crazy stuff’. Very, very serious professionals are saying, one of them Gavin Sheridan, for example, who worked on the Anglo Tapes, has said if this gets through, it will be the death of Freedom of Information in Ireland.

So what happens is, let’s say I, as a member of parliament, submit an FOI request to the Department of Finance. First of all I will be charged €15 for submitting a request. Now let’s say the official who gets that has to contact 30 other administrative units, that’s what it says in the amendment. There’s no definition of an administrative unit, it’s reasonable to think that that as a group, headed by a higher executive officer, so it’s entirely possible, let’s say I’m asking something around banking or finance, in other departments, any administrative unit that has to engage, will also charge €15. They will come back to me and say ‘well, actually deputy, the cost is not €15, it’s €450. And if you want to challenge, if they say you can’t have the information, which they’ve done to me in the past on some very important stuff that should be in the public domain, we’re going to charge you an awful lot more. And if you then take your appeal to the Information Commissioner, which, in my case, I have done, you’re going to get charged an awful lot more again. So it’s very, very important for us to understand: Everywhere else on Earth, it’s free or basically free. In Ireland, under the amendments that Brendan Howlin has tabled, and they’re going to go through today, it could cost several thousand euros. So this is very, very serious stuff for the country.”

O’Rourke: “Damien English, I know you’re not on this committee, but at the same time time, you have a view. Do you think the charges are justifiable?

Damien English: “Yeah, that’s unclear. There’s a few things I’d like to say, first of all. It’s very clear that 70% of FOI requests are made by private citizens are there is no charge made for them whatsoever. The other 30% would be kind of media or even TDs, or other peopler asking questions and very often the information is used for commercial reasons – but that 30%, yes there are charges there and the charges will slightly change – If the issue is unrelated. At the moment you have a lot of FOI request that have been put in, and you know there’s a main question, but then there’s an additional unrelated issue that needs to be addressed as well – and that’s where the charge will kick in. We need to be clear here Sean, it’s not free the gather the information – I mean, the average cost of an FOI request last year, of the non-personal information ones, was about 600 Euros – in man hours – that’s a high cost.”

O’Rourke:
“That would be all very fine Damien, if the new government elected in 2011 hadn’t made a pledge to reverse the changes that [former Finance Minister] Charlie McCreevy had brought in, was it 2003, to make the law what it had been before it was undermined. That presumably implied that you were going to remove the charges again completely?”

English: “The base scheme was to restore, to bring back the openness, the transparency, the accountability of public governance because in the ’03 changes made – there were major changes {made} to the actual information you could get, and who you could FOI.”

O’Rourke: “And that all happened, has it?”

English: “It has happened actually, this Bill does two things – it restores all the areas where the information was restricted and it brings in extensions as well – to bring in all public bodies and to all bodies that are basically funded by The State – and so there have been major changes there.”

Listen here

Previously: Jacking Up The Price of Freedom

(Photocall Ireland)