Government’s failure to support FOI motion is a major disappointment – Imelda Munster TD

Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Imelda Munster has called on the government to end the crisis in the state’s Freedom of Information (FOI) regime and has expressed disappointment that they didn’t support Sinn Fein’s motion this week in the Dáil on FOI reform.

Following on from recent events around the Zappone appointment controversy, Sinn Féin brought forward the motion to allow those who fail in their FOI duties to be investigated by the Standards In Public Office Commission (SIPO), amongst several other measures to further strengthen the FOI regime.

Sinn Féin will also introduce legislation in the coming weeks to address this issue.

Teachta Munster said,

“It’s clear to everyone that our FOI regime is in crisis.  This bill is timely, given the recent fallout from the Zappone appointment controversy.”

“We’ve seen a Minister deleting official government correspondence in the form of text messages. Departments are claiming information sought under FOI doesn’t exist only for us to find out later that it does. Refusals and redactions of requests are frequently given based on reasons that were later shown to be spurious or incorrect. Journalists and transparency campaigners and organizations have been pointing this out for a long time now.”

”We’ve now even had the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and other government Ministers accept that there are big problems. However Minister McGrath, the one with responsibility for FOI has been remarkably silent. He previously told us the FOI regime was ‘robust and working well’, only for these revelations to emerge a few weeks later. It was a case of famous last words.”

Teachta Munster concluded:

“This state has always had a poor track record when it comes to transparency and accountability. A well-functioning FOI regime is central to holding those in power to account. It’s not a left versus right issue. It’s a democratic issue.”

“It’s an issue of whether we believe those in power should be accountable to their citizens, or whether there should be a separate set of rules for them entirely. I would appeal to those members of the government who do consider themselves supporters of democracy, to change their stance on this, and to support our legislation as it moves through the Dáil in the coming weeks.”