Sinn Féin’s Freedom of Information Bill, brought forward by Deputies Mairéad Farrell and Sorca Clarke, will be read at second stage in the Dáil tomorrow.
This bill was introduced to address the clear shortcomings of the current FOI regime. Some of these were brought into sharp focus by the events of Zapponegate, and again more recently with the question marks hanging over whether Minister Coveney deleted text messages in relation to the lockdown party in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Minister McGrath has regrettably already indicated that he plans to delay the bill by knocking it back for another reading in nine months’ time.
Teachta Farrell said:
“I began research into our Freedom of Information system when I first took office in 2020. Having spoken to many of the state’s top investigative journalists and transparency campaigners, it was clear that the regime was in crisis.
“There were those in government who felt that these fears were unfounded. But the events of Zapponegate and ministers deleting official government correspondence, which is subject to FOI, substantiated those fears..
“Minister Coveney has so far declined to comment on whether he deleted text messages concerning the party during lockdown at the Department of Foreign Affairs, which suggest that these issues remain.
“There is a lack of accountability for those failing in their obligations under the existing FOI act.
“We have seen government ministers delete official correspondence, in the form of text messages, which they are required to retain for scrutiny under the FOI act.
“We also see huge levels of variability in the level of disclosure between departments. We see standard FOI requests refused and redacted, which are then overturned on appeal, and we see instances where we are told that information does not exist only for this to later turn out not to be the case.
“That is why I crafted this bill, which would help to significantly improve how the FOI regime functions, and increase transparency and accountability.
“Minister McGrath called for a review of FOI after the events of Zapponegate; a move that was a needless waste of time.
“We already know what the problems are and, in the form of my bill, have a ready-made solution at hand.
“Minister McGrath has inexplicably now kicked this bill down the road for nine months in another ‘extend and pretend’ move.
“This happened to mine and Deputy Doherty’s Regulation of Lobbying bill, and now the government is employing this delay tactic again.
“It is yet another government call to inaction.”