Dublin, 14 April 2014 – Ireland’s first Open Government Partneship (OGP) action plan should contain a commitment to abolish fees for making access to information requests according to civil society in an open letter to the Irish Minister for Reform, Brendan Howlin. The letter follows campaigning in late 2013 to get fees abolished, and has been published given the upcoming OGP European Regional Meeting to take place in Dublin on 8-9 May.
The letter, signed by Access Info Europe and 28 other civil society organisations and over 40 individuals, more specifically challenges the charging of up-front fees for FOI requests and appeals to access to environmental information denials, charging of fees for internal review and appeals; and charging of multiple fees for so-called multi-faceted requests.
During the government-funded public consultation on Ireland’s participation in the Open Government Partnership in July and September 2013, “abolishing fees for all stages of FOI and Access to Environmental Information (AIE) requests” was highlighted by civil society as an OGP priority.
Just two months later, however, Ireland’s commitment to OGP principles came into question as an amendment to charge additional fees for multi-faceted FOI requests was suggested by the government at the last minute. The proposed amendments directly negated the promised abolition of FOI fees and disregarded the unanimous vote by citizens and civil society groups to abolish access to information fees in the most recent round of the OGP public consultation process.
The letter calls for Ireland to drop the fees in order to comply with international standards reflected in the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents which prohibits up-front charges for requests (Article 7(1)) as well as the recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights; no longer be the last country in Europe that systematically charges its people “to exercise a fundamental right”; and remove itself from the small group of 16 out of 95 countries worldwide with access to information laws that charge fees for requests.
You can see a copy of the letter on the OKFN Ireland website here.