Political parties, like other public bodies, need to have their accounts fully audited

The ongoing standoff between the Minister for the Environment and the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) is yet another signal of just how much this government has backtracked on its supposed commitment to open government.

At the heart of this issue is what level of party accounts should be made available for auditing and public scrutiny. The Minister (and in fairness, it seems all the other parties with him – I stand ready to be corrected on this ☺) is of the view that the legislation (the Electoral (Political Funding) Act, 2012) requires that the parties need to only audit their national accounts. SIPO disagrees. As a letter this week from the outgoing SIPO Chair (published on their website here) makes clear their legal advice, on the contrary, is that the auditing should also extend to the sub-national units (i.e. the party branches) of the parties’ organizations. Continue reading

“Free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those that can’t”* Creating the Luxury of Freedom of Information

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The underpinning values in freedom of information are openness and transparency. They can be regarded separately as openness represents an individuals right to access information and transparency representing a persons ability to scrutinize the decision making process. The need for adequate freedom of information provisions was summed up the Australian Senate Standing Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Affairs on the Freedom of Information Bill 1978. Continue reading

Late changes to the Freedom of Information Bill 2013 – a cynical move

delayA recent post on The Story blog (see here) reveals the government’s cynical move to introduce last minute changes to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill 2013 that will make FOI prohibitively expensive and therefore, in large part, unworkable. This (1) is contrary to what was promised and will put Ireland even more out of step with virtually all other countries, and (2) yet again demonstrates the need for real Dáil reform. Continue reading

Pilot Irish Data Website

On Friday, the Ireland Stat pilot website went live at http://www.irelandstat.gov.ie
According to the DPER the objective of Ireland Stat is “to provide a whole-of-Government performance measurement system. At its simplest the website brings together data from a whole variety of different sources and sets them in the context of Department’s goals to show what Ireland has achieved, what it did in order to deliver on those goals, what it cost and how Ireland compares internationally.”
It is still very much at the beta stage and many of the categories are empty, nonetheless it looks as if it has the potential to be an interesting site, although much detail would have to be added.

There is a consultation process where suggestions may be used for future developments and improvements on the website.

One third of TDs don’t submit receipts for expenses

Posted by David Farrell (February 6, 2012)

Reports are circulating that the government is about to take steps to deal with Ireland’s terrible shortcomings on Freedom of Information and Whistleblowers legislation (to be blogged about when more is known). Both measures were promised in the Programme for Government and they are important steps on the road to making Irish government more open and transparent. But there is so much more that is needed, and high on the list should be ending the disgraceful practice of allowing our elected representatives to claim expenses without having to provide receipts – ‘unvouched expenses’ to use the jargon of Irish government. The Programme for Government also promised to end this practice, but so far there is no sign of any action. As was widely reported in the media last week, TDs (and Senators) have access to generous allowances to cover travel and accommodation. What was not reported on is just how many of them still continue to opt for unvouched expenses, which prevents any financial scrutiny of the claims. Continue reading

The Thirty Year Rule (but subject to exemptions…)

As stated by the fictional character of Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister ‘Open Government is a contradiction in terms. You can be open, or you can have government. The Thirty Year rule is a good example of this situation.

The thirty year rule allows for the release of Cabinet Documents after the efflux of a thirty year period from the year in which they were created. Section 10 of the National Archives Act allows for the inspection of records except where they are less than 30 years old (s.10.1 (a)) or older than 30 years where their release may be contrary to the public interest, breach of statutory duty or cause damage or distress to living persons (s. 8.4). The documents which are the subject to the provisions of s 8.4 can be reviewed after a period five years by a member of the Government Department responsible for the records. Furthermore, under s.10.6 a Minister, or member of Government, is entitled to grant access to departmental document prior to the elapse of this thirty year time period.  This section was used in 1992 to allow for the release of Cabinet Documents in the wake of the confusion of the Hamilton Judgment. Continue reading

Changing framework for a new civic Republic

The left wing think tank Tasc yesterday released a series of essays. One was written anonymously allegedly by a senior civil servant. The Irish Times reported on it here. Much of the language is similar to posters on here. It derides a culture of secrecy, and argues that our inherited political, institutional and legal framework is no longer ‘fit for purpose’ (if it ever was) to permit Irish Society to re-create itself. It poses interesting questions and attempts to provide some answers.

Open Letter to TDs and Senators

Posted on behalf of Donal O’Brolcáin
Open Letter to TDs and Senators

“…In 1766, when a new young radical government came to power convinced that only transparency could deal with the corruption that was looting the Swedish state and society a Freedom of Information Act was passed… ”

A Cháirde,
I write to ask you to mark the first six months of this Oireachtas by personally putting down a Bill to immediately repeal the 2003 Freedom of Information Act (FoI) which modified the original act of 1997. The older act would then become effective with all its original power, as one of the checks and balances we need in our way of governing ourselves.

This simple action would fulfil an objective set out in the Programme for Government: “…we will legislate to restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was undermined by the outgoing Government …” Continue reading

The Government’s Reform Measures to Date: A Good Start but (Much) More to Do

Post by David Farrell (July 11 2011)

A re-reading of the Coalition Government’s Programme for Government is timely. It’s worth taking stock of the political reform proposals that have been implemented, those that are on going, and those that are (firmly) promised. There has been some undoubted progress, but a lot – a lot – still needs to be done. Continue reading