Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, Mairéad Farrell TD has welcomed an announcement that work will shortly commence on a review of the Freedom of Information Act.
Teachta Farrell said transparency and accountability should be at the heart of the Freedom of Information system and that the current system must be reformed to ensure it fulfils its functions.
Teachta Farrell said:
“Transparency and accountability should be core values of any democracy. In order to ensure there is public confidence in decisions, especially at government level, it is vital that we have a healthy and well functioning system of Freedom of Information requests.
“I recently conducted a survey of 25 of Ireland’s leading transparency campaigners and investigative journalists to assess their experiences of how the current system is working. These are some of the most frequent FOI users in the country and their extensive experience of the system means they are well placed to offer an insight into how the current regime is performing.
“The findings were very much at odds with Minister McGrath’s inference that the regime is performing well. The survey data reinforced many of the concerns that have been voiced in recent years about how FOI has been curtailed.
“For example, 76% of respondents said the regime was performing ‘poorly’ or ‘very poorly’. 84% agreed that the regime has been curtailed in recent years.
“Ireland has a longstanding issue when it comes to transparency of official information. For instance, this is the state whose parliament only recently discussed locking away for 75 years the adoption records of those affected by the Mother and Baby homes scandal. How this kind of thing can still happen in this day and age is frightening.
“The introduction of the FOI regime in the 1990s was one of the first big steps forward in terms of transparency and open government. FOI has been essential for journalists, political researchers, concerned citizens, NGOs, historians, archivists and victims of state abuse, among others.
“It has been a means for citizens to get access to information on politicians’ expenses, details on public procurement, reports on scandals in our nursing homes, hospitals and industrial schools, it played a role in the Maurice McCabe saga, the Public Services Card, the list goes on.
“Since then it has been under constant threat. For that reason I have crafted legislation which seeks to restore the FOI regime to a higher standard and improve its function. If the Minister wants to address the current weakness he should support my forthcoming bill.
“No organisation or department should have anything to fear from greater openness and transparency. The FOI system is an important element of our democracy and must be reformed so that it can function well. I am committed to working to ensure that this transparency is put in place.”