September 17, 2021
Freedom of Information remit needs to be broadened – Mairéad Farrell TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform Mairéad Farrell TD has called on Minister McGrath to examine the possibility of broadening the Freedom of Information remit as part of his recently announced review. 

There is a lack of detail on what the review will entail, and Deputy Farrell has called on the minister to examine the possibility of bringing some public bodies which currently do not fall within FOI under its remit, and to bring some public bodies currently only partially included more fully within its scope.

Teachta Farrell said:

“It was unfortunate that Minister McGrath did not accept my motion on improving the state’s Freedom Of Information regime this week. 

“He has nonetheless decided to proceed with his review, which I hope will prove to be more than a cynical can-kicking exercise. I will engage constructively and in good faith once he publishes more details on what the review will entail.

“In the meantime, I urge him to closely examine the possibility of broadening the scope of FOI to include those public bodies who are not within its remit, and yet which are in receipt of significant taxpayer funds.

“Take the example of Horse Sport Ireland (HSI), the representative body for equestrian sport, which falls under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture.  

“This is an organisation whose funding comes overwhelmingly from the taxpayer, and yet does not fall under FOI. 

“An Indecon report from 2017 flagged significant corporate governance issues in HSI, and in their efforts to improve transparency and accountability, HSI said it was progressing a publication scheme in line with FOI, where the public could request official information. 

“But four years on, and this has still not been completed. If such public bodies cannot be counted upon to create a publication scheme on their own accord, then the Minister needs to act.

“Another example, and one closer to home for me, is the Galway Cultural Development, a company limited by guarantee and registered as a charity. 

“It is not within FOI but again was established largely with public money to host the 2020 European Capital of Cultures. Covid-19, however, meant the overwhelming majority of events never took place, and yet somehow it spent over €18 million, with almost a third of this spent on PR/Communications. This seems both excessive and unusual.

“These two examples are bodies which do not fall within FOI’s scope whatsoever, but there are also public bodies partially within the scope of FOI who should be brought under more fully. 

“The likes of RTÉ is a noteworthy example. RTÉ is the state broadcaster and is currently seeking more additional funds to support its activities, I think the public should have a right to access more information than is currently available.

“Our FOI system is badly in need of renewal and Minister McGrath owes the public much more than a review, which will produce a report which will be quietly shelved at a later date, never to see the light of day.”

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