Friday, December 01, 2006

Speech by Irish Information Commissioner

"FOI Legislation - Still Achieving its Purpose?" by Emily O'Reilly, Information Commissioner, to Public Affairs Ireland Conference on 30 November 2006 available on the Irish IC website. An interesting overview of the Irish law, that will be ten years old next year. The latter part of the speech discusses the impact of the Ammendment Act in 2003 that introdocued new fees and charges for requests and appeals:

I am fully aware that, for public bodies, handling FOI requests can often be a time-consuming and demanding activity. But we have to ask ourselves this question: is it not to the good of our democracy that people should seek to know more about what is being done in their names by public bodies? And is the price to be paid, in terms of public servants' time spent in dealing with requests, not a small price to pay? Dealing with Parliamentary Questions is also a time consuming activity: but while civil servants may sometimes complain about time spent on such Questions, they have never seriously questioned the democratic validity of the PQ process.

I would suggest that, as a society, we should be seeking to encourage greater levels of engagement with "government" by members of the public. The figures show that since 2003 such engagement (expressed in terms of FOI usage) has declined dramatically. In these circumstances, it is reasonable that some might question the extent of the supposed replacement of the old culture of secrecy by openness and transparency.

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