Irish Freedom of Information amendment will send FOI fees to infinity

Update: Irish TD Stephen Donnelly namechecked this post in the Irish Parliament. Go, Stephen!

Ireland leads the EU in Freedom of Information fees, and they're the only EU nation that charges anything for an introductory query. Now they're raising those fees, potentially to infinity, through a law that charges you €15 per "unit" of government work necessary to answer your query. "Unit" isn't defined (government agencies get to make it up as they go along) and you have no way of predicting in advance how many units of work will go into your query.

This is actually a worsening of the already terrible FOI bill, which allowed Irish bureaucrats to determine reasonableness of queries based on how hard they'd be to answer if concerned records kept on paper — even if those records were, actually, in a database that could be queried with a few keypresses.

Irish politicians have taken extraordinary measures to protect the state from the people finding out what it's up to. This is alarming on its face, and would be bad news even if Ireland was a paragon of good governance, and not a nation in economic meltdown that is subjecting its people to brutal austerity after being one of the centres of a corrupt investment bubble.

A new provision, an amendment to Section 12, is now proposed. If this amendment goes through, a single FOI request will cost you multiples of the outrageous current €15 fee. How many multiples will depend on how many administrative units, in a Department or office, are required to take action to answer your question. For every internal unit bestirring itself, you have to pay another €15.

As you can't know in advance how many units any question will require to act in order to be answered, you can only guess how much any FOI request will cost. We can't know the definition of "unit", referred to as "different functional areas" [of the FOI body] each body will adopt.

Ireland is already the only European country that charges any fee at all for initial FOI inquiries. Before any changes, it is already the most expensive in the world.

Creating an arbitrary fee structure, limited only by a requirement that all costs charged be in multiples of €15 is, as Gavin Sheridan notes, a regression. It is a response contrary to an essential modern democratic right; to know what is done in the name of the public.

Freedom of Information: Fees to be multiplied in new amendment [Simon McGarr/McGarr Solicitors]