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… ”
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 …”
The government can hardly disagree with this straightforward reform. Five members of the current Cabinet were also members of the Cabinet which brought in the 1997 FoI Act as a response to institutional corruption of the 1980’s. In addition, another four members of the current Cabinet were Ministers of State in that 1997 government. The current Ceann Comhairle was also a member of the 1997 Cabinet.
Arguments in favour of repealing the 2003 FoI Act were well set out, by the then Opposition speakers, in Oireachtas debates in 2003 .
The Government will no doubt argue that it is preparing a more comprehensive measure. But this could be enacted later – after passing a simple law that requires virtually no effort of drafting or Dáil time. Because of the 1997 Act and the debates in 2003, the work has already been done. Repealing the 2003 Act is a “do-minimum” way of enhancing reform. Delay is the deadliest form of denial.
Many of you are new to the Oireachtas. At the start of your second 6 months in Leinster House, why not hit the ground running by taking this step in response to the desire for political and institutional reform that emerged during the General Election campaign?
PS. During the past 15 years, I have written about Freedom of Information
• see p.88 of the Dublin City Business Association 10 point manifesto Towards a Second Republic (February 2011) here http://www.dcba.ie/static/doclib/Towards_a_Second_Republic.pdf
• De Buitleir, D., Roden, J., & O’Brolchain, D.,(1998) Institutional Reform in Social Policy in Ireland (eds. S. Healy and B. Reynolds) pp.371-385. Dublin: Oaktree Press. Available here
• Submission to the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution Sept 1996 see p.25 http://www.2nd-republic.ie/files/1.pdf