I have responded to the Oireachtas, seeking all expenses data from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2004. I have sought an estimate of how much this is likely to cost.
The Oireachtas communications office has also been in touch regarding the letter I received, and I am happy to give them an opportunity to respond:
“The letter which was sent to you about your freedom of information request used the phrase “there is a gap in the hard copy records” and this gave the impression that there was a gap in the records on members’ expenses held by the Houses of the Oireachtas. When it said that there was a gap in the hard copy records in respect of the period from 1st January 1998 to 31st March 1998 and for the month of May 2000, this means that these dates were not covered by previously existing FOI requests. You had specifically sought previously released information and we were simply trying to point out that not all of the periods sought by you were covered under previously released FOI requests.
In addition, you might wish to be aware that, the period 1st January 98 – 31st March 98 is outside the scope of FOI as FOI only came into effect in 21st April 98.
As for the three periods
April 1999 to October 1999
June 2000 to June 2001
July 2002 to June 2003
The letter said that it was unclear that the final released data is available for those periods as the material has not, as yet, been located:
Again, this may have given the impression that our records were incomplete. But this is not the case. The requests for those periods was in the early days of FOI when everything was done manually. We don’t have ready access to those files, but they’re not missing. They do exist but it will take some time and effort to locate them. You will not be charged for the time taken to locate the files but you may be charged for the retrieval and copying of the records on them which is mandatory under the FOI Acts.”
For me though, the broader point is this: expenses data should be published online as a matter of course. I should not have to FOI this information, nevermind the costs issue.