Irish Government may tighten use of information act

There is mounting speculation that the Irish Government may impose restrictions on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act when it comes up for renewal.

It is believed that, following a review of the working of the act, the current administration is in favour of legislating to make it more difficult to access information about government departments.

Under present legislation, there is public access to Cabinet documents dating back to January 1998 under a five-year timetable instead of the old 30-year limitation.

Latest figures show that almost 12,000 requests for information were made and point to a growing trend. It has become evident that government departments are taking an increasingly restrictive interpretation of the FoI Act, introduced in 1997.

This has been particularly noticeable in the case of applications from the Press.

While some departments have been prepared to release “quite sensitive” papers, others have imposed a blanket refusal on the disclosure of virtually all documents other than previously published press statements or news releases.

The fear now is that new legislation will give departments greater scope for refusal and make FoI applications more costly.

By Des Cryan in Dublin

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