We understand that in the cut and thrust of politics and public relations, the next stage in this process will be to paint opponents as irrational, crazy people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Such is the PR cycle, and spin is an essential part of what government does. This is precisely what’s happening now.
This blog has long held the view that we believe only what politicians do, not what they say. This is because 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 fees entirely.
Our cynicism was proven correct. The government reneged on that promise. Therefore it would be logical for us now not to believe a single word that Minister Howlin, or any other Minister says, in relation to FOI reform. Only believe what they do.
We also want to remind Minister Pat Rabbitte what he said ten years ago. This was the Pat Rabbitte in opposition, not the Pat Rabbitte in government. Here is what Rabbitte said in 2003 (emphasis ours):
I do not intend to go over that ground again in detail, but I want to pick up on one or two points in the Bill. One of those is the proposed up-front fee for making freedom of information requests, which was brushed off by colleagues on the Government benches as a minor matter. It is not a minor matter. It is abundantly clear that the fee is primarily intended to discourage requests being made in the first instance; that is the point of it. Moreover, it will also alter the practice of providing information outside the Act. There will now be an incentive to tell the citizen to submit a formal request and pay the fee, rather than simply  releasing information which should be in the public domain anyway. The term “freedom of information” will be a hollow one. The Act should, perhaps, be renamed “the information we want you to have, at a price, Act”.
We entirely agree with his position.
So what’s changed? People often refer to the process of saying one thing in opposition, and the opposite when in government, as “going native”. The Minister has claimed decreased resources being a factor. But we’ve nailed that canard already when it comes to upfront fees, so what’s the real reason?
Your guess is as good as ours.
Abolish FOI fees now.