Dáil debates

Friday, 6 July 2012

Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Second Stage


12:00 pm

Photo of Terence FlanaganTerence Flanagan (Dublin North East, Fine Gael)

Like previous speakers I welcome Deputy Fleming's Bill to extend the Freedom of Information Act 1997. It is a very focused and short Bill and proposes extending the Act to include certain functions of the Central Bank, the Health and Safety Authority, NAMA, the NTMA, the Garda Síochána and other bodies. There were certain reasons in the past for these bodies not being included but it is crucial that this is reviewed. More than 500 bodies come under the scope of the freedom of information legislation. The bodies mentioned in Deputy Fleming's Bill feature in Irish life and it is imperative that they are included.

Freedom of information legislation is important for a properly functioning democracy. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin. He has been working very hard on proposals in this regard. I gather he is seeking to restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was prior to 2003 and to extend its remit to all public sector bodies and those bodies significantly funded by the taxpayer. His proposals are likely to be on a much larger scale than Deputy Fleming's Bill. I am aware the proposals being considered by the Minister include extending the remit to the Central Bank, the Financial Services Authority, NAMA and the NTMA. Deputies have questions about NAMA, and the more accountability and the more light that is shone on it the better as this is in the public interest.

Deputy Fleming's Bill proposes that freedom of information requests received by public bodies which are in the public interest should be published, and I welcome this. The Bill also proposes to amend section 45 of the principal Act to allow Oireachtas committees to request information from public bodies and have this information issued as soon as possible without having to submit a freedom of information request. This is a particularly good proposal as it would speed up the work of the committees and make them much more effective and efficient. The Bill also proposes to cap the fees which can be charged for freedom of information requests at €500, and this is very reasonable. I am concerned about the fee of €20 and the Minister may review this. I know it can be a barrier to prank requests but it is also a barrier for other people, so perhaps it can be reviewed.

The Bill provides that all new bodies established by the Government would automatically come under the remit of freedom of information legislation. I am aware privacy and safety issues may arise with regard to some requests made to the Garda Síochána and I am sure the Minister will examine this thoroughly before he presents a Bill to the House. The Garda has sensitive information which, ideally, should not be divulged to a freedom of information request.

The Government's Bill will not only enable the public to request information but will make the system much more transparent and will help to restore voter confidence in the system. Once the Minister presents the Bill to the Government, it will send out a clear signal that the Government is serious about reform and wants to modernise the political system. I welcome Deputy Fleming's Bill which is a step in the right direction. I support the proposals of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, which I am sure will come before the House in the near future.


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