Saturday 25 March 2017

Ombudsman blasts rise in state secrecy

Ed Carty

INFORMATION Commissioner and Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly yesterday criticised the Government for removing public bodies from the scope of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act without consulting her.

"There's a bit of a contradiction between all the demands for more openness and transparency and finding out how the economy went south, and now when everybody is determined to keep their hands around their homework," she said.

Her annual report pinpointed several bodies where functions have been taken out of FoI rules, including enforcement powers of the Health and Safety Authority, the Road Safety Authority, the Property Registration Authority and plans to remove enforcement powers of the National Employment Rights Authority.

She insisted it was not simply an oversight: "It's not just that somebody forgot to join the dots or forgets to put it on the lists -- positive statements have been made to remove them."

Labour's Joan Burton backed the calls for greater transparency. "Citizens have real concerns about how the Government has been handling the economic, fiscal and financial crises," she said. "There is genuine anger at the cack-handed manner in which the Government has responded to these problems and the provisions of the FoI Act provide one of the only ways for members of the public to get meaningful answers."

Significant

Labour said all public bodies should fall under the Freedom of Information Act. Ms Burton singled out the National Asset Management Agency, the Central Bank, Financial Regulator and the National Treasury Management Agency.

The Ombudsman's 2009 report found a significant increase in requests for information to 14,290, up 13pc on the year before, including two government departments which saw massive rises -- Finance which received 272 applications and 124 in Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Ms O'Reilly was forced to issue three orders to public bodies for the release of information. RTE was criticised for adding extra work to the commissioner's office after delaying access to credit card spending details by executives.

Irish Independent

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