I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“ “Information Commissioner” means the Office of the Information Commissioner as outlined in Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act 2014;”.
I warmly welcome the Minister to her new role. It is a very diverse and interesting space. There is a number of big-ticket items that, as Minister, she can have massive influence over. She can change the direction and the experience of many people in this sector. We will have plenty of time to debate them in the future, but I wish her luck.
With regard to the Bill we are considering here, it is a good move by the Government that such a Bill would be brought before the Dáil. Information is really powerful, and transparency allows for better oversight of Government actions and better understanding of historical events. Obviously, this is reflecting the fact that in Britain there has been a move to a 20-year rule and we are catching up. There will be a little bit of divergence for a number of years and that is not a good thing because we will have information from one side of the coin coming to the fore while that on the other side of the coin will take years, so our understanding will be unbalanced in many of these activities.
One of those activities will be the Good Friday Agreement, for which the papers will be released shortly in Britain.
One of the problems I have with the Bill is resources. The National Archives has been very badly hit with regard to resources, yet it will be facing a very big job in terms of shifting and sifting through documents. Another issue I have with the Bill is the political issue and that is why I tabled my two amendments. There is a danger with this Bill if it has too strong a political oversight. Human nature and political nature is such that if certain documents arise that are unhelpful or shed a negative light on a party colleague there could be an instinct where a Minister or Government could decide a particular document is not the relevant type of document to be transferred under the 20-year rule. We have Ministers or colleagues in the current Government who were Ministers 20 years ago. While that is not the intent of the Minister or her Department, it would be a good idea, as an Oireachtas, that we seek to neutralise the political influence over these documents. That is why I have asked for a role for the Information Commissioner to be provided for in this area.
On page 4, line 27, section 3(2) states: "the Minister makes an order". My amendment No. 3 seeks to substitute that phrase with “the Information Commissioner is satisfied”. I have outlined the purpose of my two amendments.