Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Freedom of Information Act 2014 and to provide for related matters.
Tá an-áthas orm labhairt faoin mBille seo. I am delighted to be introducing, alongside my colleague, Deputy Clarke, our Bill. This is the fruit of a year’s work and as today is International Access to Information Day, I feel it is the perfect day to introduce this amending Bill.
Since being elected I, alongside my colleague, Deputy Clarke, have been making the case that our freedom of information, FOI, regime is in crisis. This is something that transparency campaigners and investigative journalists have been highlighting for some time. At times it felt as though we were ploughing a lonely furrow and calls for reform were falling on deaf ears. However, recent events brought into sharp focus the crisis we had been describing. To be clear, we knew prior to these events that urgent action was needed. This was as a result of a year's work conducted by Deputy Clarke and I and as a result of a survey we conducted. The Bill seeks to strengthen the Act and I hope we will receive Government support.
The Bill would enhance the powers of the Office of the Information Commissioner to allow it to refer complaints under FOI legislation to the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, for investigation where it is believed that the relevant person has failed in their obligations under the FOI Act. It would ensure all public bodies established under the Companies Act are immediately brought under the remit of FOI legislation upon establishment. This would prevent bodies, including, for example, the Land Development Agency, being exempt from FOI for the first six months of their existence. That is an important amendment. It would also empower the Minster to conduct an annual review of all bodies to which FOI legislation applies, including any bodies to which a partial exclusion currently applies and whether this is consistent with the Act's principles of oversight, transparency and accountability. This is to ensure that we are adhering to best practice and transparency at all times. It would also bring back information on pension payments related to former taoisigh, Ministers, Presidents and office holders within the remit of the FOI legislation. I am delighted to move this Bill, alongside my colleague, Deputy Clarke.