Newspapers seek Howlin rethink on FoI amendment

  Brendan Howlin under pressure from newspapers to drop plans to raise more money from FoI charges.

The National Newspapers of Ireland has demanded Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin rethink a last-minute amendment he wants to make to the Freedom of Information bill.

The change, set to be tabled in the Dáil today, would give powers to public bodies to split freedom of information requests and charge more money to grant access to records.

The NNI said the amendment, which had not been flagged during an extensive public consultation process, would fly in the face of the spirit of “openness and transparency”.

“NNI is gravely concerned at the Cabinet’s proposed amendment to change the charging structure for Freedom of Information requests to charge a €15 fee for each part of a request.

“This change would pose a significant deterrent to the use of the act by journalists and others,” it said.

The NNI said that rather than introducing new fees the charges should be abolished.

In a briefing document, released to TheStory.ie, Mr Howlin was told that FoI requests are “heavily subsidised by the taxpayer”. It said processing FoI requests costs an average of €640.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Howlin’s department said the FoI process was being undermined by people including unrelated topics in the one request.

“The average cost of processing an FoI request is estimated to be in the region of €600. A fee of €15 represents only a small fraction of this cost.

“For FoI to work effectively each issue should be treated separately but some requests raise a number of unrelated issues within a single request.”

The changes proposed by Mr Howlin would not affect people looking for their own records.

These made up 69% of requests last year.

The amendment would have a disproportionate impact on journalists who accounted for 13% of requests.

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