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The Programme for Government

This blog was largely on a hiatus during the election campaign. I’m quite ambivalent about campaigns, and don’t pay much attention to the horse race generally. Whoever wins, wins.

A new government is about to be formed, so now it is important to look at what they are promising in terms of the goals of this blog. Critically, it is important to be aware that promises are promises, but actions are actions, and we will be watching closely to see how much, or little of the programme is implemented.

The promises that are particularly relevant, for the record:

We will legislate to restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was undermined by the outgoing Government, and we will extend its remit to other public bodies including the administrative side of the Garda Síochána, subject to security exceptions.

We will extend Freedom of Information, and the Ombudsman Act, to ensure that all statutory bodies, and all bodies significantly funded from the public purse, are covered.

We will introduce Whistleblowers legislation.

We will introduce spending limits for all elections, including Presidential elections and constitutional referendums, including for a period in advance of scheduled Local, European, General and Presidential Elections.

We will significantly reduce the limits on political donations to political parties and candidates to 2,500 and 1,000 respectively, and require disclosure of all aggregate sums above 1,500 and 600 respectively.

We will introduce the necessary legal and constitutional provisions to ban corporate donations to political parties.

We will amend the Official Secrets Act, retaining a criminal sanction only for breaches which involve a serious threat to the vital interests of the state.

We will introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, and rules concerning the practice of lobbying.

Our open government legislation will also establish an Electoral Commission to subsume the functions of existing bodies and the Department of the Environment.

We will amend the rules to ensure that no senior public servant (including political appointees) or Minister can work in the private sector in any area involving a potential conflict of interest with their former area of public employment, until at least two years have elapsed after they have left the public service.

• Where appropriate, agency boards will be scrapped and agency managers will report directly to Ministers and their Departments on performance against targets.

• We will put in place a Whistleblowers Act to protect public servants that expose maladministration by Ministers or others, and restore Freedom of Information.

• There will be no more “golden handshakes” for public servants that have failed to deliver.

• We will overhaul TLAC (Top level Appointments Commission), with the chairperson and the majority of members drawn from outside the public sector.

• We will require Departments to carry out and publish Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) before Government decisions are taken.

• We will introduce a reformed incentive system for all grades within core Government departments to reward cross-departmental teams that deliver audited improvements in service delivery and cost effectiveness.

• In local services, we will establish a website – www.fixmystreet.ie – to allow residents to report problems with street lighting, drainage, graffiti, waste collection and road and path maintenance in their neighbourhoods, with a guarantee that a local official will respond within 2 working days.

Public sector bodies will be required to publish balance sheets and to move to accruals from cashflow accounting. Every Purchase Order by a Government Department or agency for more than €20,000 will be published online. We will give the Comptroller and Auditor General and Oireachtas Committees the extra powers needed to carry out value-for-money audits of State programmes.

It has to be said all of these measures are to be welcomed. But it also depends how and when they are introduced. As with any Programme for Government, it is short on detail. But some questions arise, as to what certain things mean, namely:

We will legislate to restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was undermined by the outgoing Government, and we will extend its remit to other public bodies including the administrative side of the Garda Síochána, subject to security exceptions.

What will this mean? Will it mean a reversion to the 1997 Act, including Section 19 being moved back from 10 years to 5 years? Will it include a removal of all fees, within reason? Will the Office of the Information Commissioner get extra resources to cope with a likely rise in appeals? Why is only the administrative side of the Gardai to be brought under the legislation? Will any new public bodies be automatically brought under FOI?

We will amend the Official Secrets Act, retaining a criminal sanction only for breaches which involve a serious threat to the vital interests of the state.

I would be interested to see exactly how this will be done. Why not repeal the Act entirely?

In local services, we will establish a website – www.fixmystreet.ie – to allow residents to report problems with street lighting, drainage, graffiti, waste collection and road and path maintenance in their neighbourhoods, with a guarantee that a local official will respond within 2 working days.

This is clearly inspired by the excellent MySociety website FixMyStreet.co.uk. This forms part of the MyGov.ie (with which I am involved) plan to roll out a number of apps, including KildareStreet.com integration and the recently built ElectionLeaflets. Clearly we would have an interest in helping to build such an app, as government has a poor track record in doing it themselves.

Every Purchase Order by a Government Department or agency for more than €20,000 will be published online. We will give the Comptroller and Auditor General and Oireachtas Committees the extra powers needed to carry out value-for-money audits of State programmes

A good first step if implemented. But it could easily be far more expensive. We will have to wait and see.

Without sounding too cynical, I trust not the words of politicians, but their actions. I will be closely watching how things are done, and indeed if necessary lobbying for greater transparency or changes to proposed legislation where I think such changes are flawed, or do not go far enough.

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4 Responses

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  1. Rodney Breen says

    I agree, it’s important that FOI is reset to exactly the position it was, with no charging. I don’t think people fully understand the difference a charging regime makes in Freedom of Information. I’ve written about this here.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. On reform – The Story linked to this post on June 10, 2012

    [...] for updates via email.Back in March 2011, just as the new government came in, I blogged about the programme for government. …I trust not the words of politicians, but their actions. I will be closely watching how [...]

  2. Government reneges on FOI promises – The Story linked to this post on July 27, 2012

    [...] will recall that back in March 2011 I blogged about the programme for government which committed the new government to the following reforms: We [...]

  3. Rabbitte on FOI: “…the information we want you to have – at a price – act” – The Story linked to this post on November 14, 2013

    […] they often change their minds. We said when the new government was elected in March 2011 that we had some doubts about whether it would proceed with the changes to the FOI Act they promised. That promise included the removal of upfront FOI […]



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