Nat O'Connor: Public access to the official record of Oireachtas debates has been diminished by the bizarre decision of the Oireachtas website to cease publishing the record of debates using the universal standard format XML. This means that a popular website (KildareStreet.com) used for searching the official record no longer can be updated.
KildareStreet.com has issued an explanatory statement.
Whether by accident or design, this could not have come at a worse moment for anybody concerned with the upcoming budget, as well as the vital debate on matters of national importance (like Ireland's deal with the EU/IMF). Access to the offical record will be significantly hampered by the decision, as the Oireachtas website does not provide the same quality of search features as KildareStreet.com, which makes it easier to search for individual TDs and key phrases in the official record.
This Government is committed (in the Programme for Government) to the following:
"We will open up the Budget process to the full glare of public scrutiny in a way that restores confidence and stability by exposing and cutting failing programmes and pork barrel politics." (page 23).
In fact, the Programme for Government is full of commitments to openness and transparency that are belied by this move (intentional or not):
"We will develop Ireland as a ‘digital island’ and first-mover when it comes to
information technology by ensuring more progress on e-Government and moving
Government services online, investing in ICT in schools, and investing in information
technology in the healthcare sector." (page 9)
"Government is too centralised and unaccountable. We believe that there must also be a
real shift in power from the State to the citizen.
We will legislate on the issue of cabinet confidentiality.
We will legislate to restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was underined 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."(page 20)
"Real reform of the public sector will require a commitment from the whole of government to become more transparent, accountable and efficient. It will require:
• Citizens having a basic right to key information on the performance of key services." (page 28)
"Open Government: Where there is secrecy and unaccountability, there is waste and extravagance. We will pin down accountability for results at every level of the public service – from Ministers down – with clear consequences for success and failure. Ministers will be responsible for policy and procurement and public service managers for delivery." (pages 28-29)
"Government services websites, public offices, telephone services, and helplines will be reconfigured to facilitate access to a broad range of government services through a single point of contact." (page 31)
"We will complete ratification of Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters." (page 61)
What now for open and transparent government, and an open budget process?
It is an entirely reasonable expectation for public information not only to be available, but to be made available in standard, easy to use formats, which allow citizens to avail of contemporary information technology to access and search that information.