Act is hurting small communities

THE Freedom of Information Act (FoI) is too often clubbed on the head by state agencies and left comatose as far as smaller community groups are concerned.

Ours is a retired blue collar community, average household age 70 years. We attempted recently to use the FoI to gain insights on decision making processes in a controversial proposal which wishes to railroad 19,000 new vehicle journeys daily through our residential enclave area, facing onto a river and mountains. We have minimal through-traffic currently. The proposal would desecrate a greenfield space which has existed in a planned way for 60 years.

The current council executive has spent €1m pushing its proposal, unilaterally, with no balancing State funds whatever to explain the other side in a Strategic Infrastructure proposal. This community, committee and private families, had to commit to spending over €25,000 to present a case. That figure excludes a significant six-figure sum incurred by An Bord Pleanála (ABP) when we successfully commenced a High Court process for a judicial review on its handling of an issue. Those figures were also refused under FoI. Since June 2008, several parties await a decision by ABP re our original costs claim, ie over €25,000. We recently attempted to see what issues were slowing this matter, using the FoI. In summary, Pleanála said it would not release files while the matter was under active consideration. At local level in recent weeks, we were appalled to receive a demand for close on €600 from the office of Sligo County Council to process three FoI. This, they kindly told us, was only a “guesstimate”; it might be more.

In context, the recent Council demand represents approximately one-and-a-quarter times our ordinary annual budget for all expenses, 100% raised from voluntary sources. The FoI does not work and the ombudsman should be given permission — and given funds — to instigate a review process, but only if the Dáil commits to addressing the appalling shortcomings we have faced in a small law-abiding community. The current FoI is on its deathbed for small community groups.

Eugene McGloin


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