Madam – Credit is due in full measure to the Sunday Independent for publishing Gavin Sheridan's critique of Minister Howlin's FOI Bill, (Sunday Independent, April 20, 2014).
One would think that a riposte from the minister or one of his many permanent or hired advisers will be forthcoming to deal with Mr Sheridan's damning points, as the bill is scheduled to be voted into law by our elected legislators in both Houses of the Oireachtas over the coming weeks. One however, may not want to hold one's breath.
When the issue of escalating charges for eliciting pertinent public information is fused with the proposed abolition of Section 16 of the current law, FOI Act 1997, we are looking at the effective closing down of freedom of information in Ireland.
The minister who introduced the Freedom of Information Act in 1997, Eithne FitzGerald, levelled pointed criticism at the proposed removal of Section 16 at an FOI conference on February 27.
The new provision replacing Section 16, places the power of decision as to what information public bodies shall make public, with the institutions themselves and with the minister, who is also empowered to "revise" such information as he "thinks fit" to do so (Section 8, FOI Bill 2013).
It is hardly a coincidence that the countries with the lowest levels of corruption and malpractice are the Nordic states. These countries also have entrenched transparency laws many of which are copper-fastened by constitutional protections.
Rather than moving in that direction, thus ensuring a permanent spotlight on our publicly funded institutions, which has never been so badly needed, Minister Howlin's two pronged attack via costs and Section 16 abolition, is radically pulling us in the opposite direction of enhanced secrecy.
His appalling reply to Mr Sheridan, that the projected multiplier costs will be of value to the "Post Office", perhaps illuminates a mindset drunk on power and a detachment from reality via a six figure salary and a similarly inflated and publicly funded pension.
Whatever the reasons, this Bill is a grim piece of work for democracy in Ireland.
John Sullivan, PRO,
Democracy Protection Campaign,