Latest Government spin released – a country analysis

As we expected, the Government has reacted to today’s media coverage of FOI and gone on the offensive. Yesterday included an embarrassing incident between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and internationally recognised experts on the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, ARTICLE 19.

Morning Ireland discussed it this morning (listen here), but suffice to say, ARTICLE 19 are strong opponents of the current and planned fee regime – “a violation of international law” doesn’t get much stronger.

To our amazement the Department had cited Article 19 as a source to justify fees.

The money quote:

“ARTICLE 19 understands that the Government of Ireland has issued a press release justifying the expansion of stringent fees on Freedom of Information Act requests by referring to the ARTICLE 19 Model Freedom of Information Law, developed in 1999. This justification represents a fundamental misunderstanding of both the Model Law and international law.

ARTICLE 19 strongly opposes the current Irish policy allowing for imposition of fees for making requests as well as the pending bill before the Dail to expand fees by allowing requests to be split and charged for each facet. We believe that it violates international law by placing unreasonable restrictions on the right of all persons to access information held by government bodies.

We note that following the adoption of the controversial amendments in 2003, the number of requests for non-personal information plummeted. This shows that the imposition of fees has had a profound affect on the right to information in Ireland.

The Irish Government position does not accurately reflect the text of the Model Law…”

It goes on:

We also note that this position is supported by the UN Human Rights Committee in General Comment 34 on Article 19 which states that “Fees for requests for information should not be such as to constitute an unreasonable impediment to access to information.” Further, the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents states “A fee may be charged to the applicant for a copy of the official document, which should be reasonable and not exceed the actual costs of reproduction and delivery of the document.” –

Anyways, the latest spin to emanate from the government was released earlier. Here’s the full release. But don’t jump to that link just yet – it’s so full of fanciful inaccuracies and misleading statements (surprise surprise), your head may explode.

But what we do want to thank the Government for though is compiling a list of countries that don’t charge for FOI upfront, among other things. Beware the Government’s list is oddly constructed – don’t let those green and red boxes fool you.

Let’s try this instead, by using the Government’s own data to help show you how patently ridiculous the Government’s claims are. And all we’re doing here is re-writing the Government’s own list in a new way, by listing all countries with no upfront fees. We’ve left out cases where there’s dispute, fees are or might be charged, or there’s a lack of clarity (or there’s no FOI law).

Let’s start with our EU neighbours

Estonia – no upfront fees
Slovenia – no upfront fees
Austria – no upfront fees
UK – no upfront fees
Sweden – no upfront fees
Bulgaria – no upfront fees
Hungary – no upfront fees
Norway – no upfront fees
Netherlands – no upfront fees
Romania – no upfront fees
Latvia – no upfront fees
Slovakia – no upfront fees
France – no upfront fees
Lithuania – no upfront fees
Denmark – no upfront fees
Greece – no upfront fees
Poland – no upfront fees
Italy – no upfront fees
Belgium – no upfront fees
Germany – no upfront fees
Croatia – no upfront fees
Finland – no upfront fees
Cyprus – left out

Now let’s move a little outside the European Union – these, say the Government, are also countries that don’t charge:

Serbia – no upfront fees (and rated the best FOI law in the world)
Georgia – no upfront fees
Russia – no upfront fees
Armenia – no upfront fees
Tunisia – no upfront fees
Montenegro – no upfront fees
Jordan – no upfront fees
Ukraine – no upfront fees
Azerbaijan – no upfront fees
Macedonia – no upfront fees
Moldova – no upfront fees
Kosvovo – no upfront fees
Kyrgyzstan – no upfront fees
Bosnia – no upfront fees

And a little further afield, where things take an interesting turn by comparison to us:

Colombia – no upfront fees
Rwanda – no upfront fees
Angola – no upfront fees
Panama – no upfront fees
Nepal – no upfront fees
Yemen – no upfront fees
Brazil – no upfront fees
Bangladesh – no upfront fees
Nicaragua – no upfront fees
Mexico – no upfront fees
Liberia – no upfront fees
Dominican Republic – no upfront fees
Guinea – no upfront fees
Cook Islands – no upfront fees
China – no upfront fees
Honduras – no upfront fees
Guatemala – no upfront fees
Peru – no upfront fees
Belize – no upfront fees
Jamaica – no upfront fees
Nigeria – no upfront fees
Uruguay – no upfront fees
Ecuador – no upfront fees
Mongolia – no upfront fees
Australia – no upfront fees

IRELAND – €15 to ask. €75 to appeal. €150 to appeal to the Commissioner. (The gov plans to reduce the last two, but eliminate none, and multiply the €15 depending on what you ask for. And don’t forget the €20.95 an hour search and retrieval fee once you’ve paid)

There’s your “international best practice” right there. Clearly we are not like any of these countries, we are a very special case, where we just can’t survive unless we charge citizens to exercise their rights.

More on this later…

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