Freedom of Information appeal on Oireachtas Water Committee secret sessions turned down

by James Quigley

I know it’s not the most sensational story out there but it is worth recording and it's important that people  know the truth, the whole truth and not just the titbits that are thrown at you. Our initial Freedom of Information (FOI) request for details of over 30 private sessions of the Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water was turned down on Sept 18th. Now our appeal of that decision has also been refused.

Committee Chairman Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh.  Read  Clouds of Suspicion over omission of 9.4 Exemption from Oireachtas reports .

Committee Chairman Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh.  Read Clouds of Suspicion over omission of 9.4 Exemption from Oireachtas reports.

The ironic thing about the refusal to allow public access to the secret records of this public body comprising 20 TDs and Senators is that they are all public representatives, in a public body, dealing with a public mater and supposedly representing the public and there was not one thing that they were discussing that was of a sensitive nature.  

Part of their remit was to ensure the public are fully engaged in the process.  Yet they conducted business in over 30 secret session thus refusing access to the public to the most important part of their business,  the nitty gritty of the deals and voting of the members.

According to the committee secretary, Thomas Sheridan, the Oireachtas Committee members themselves agree what was or wasn’t to go into committee reports. 

In the end when the committee finally emerged from their last seven secret sessions in April 2017 the public had to endure the spectacle of claims and false claims from various committee members.  We were subjected to various reports none of which included any mention of the February 15th session, Ireland's 9.4 Exemption, the River Basin Management Plan.  Instead the reports included excessive charges, a pitiful water allowance, metering and acceptance of Irish Water.  All couched in vague language and subject to the whims of future government interpretation.

To this day the claims and counter claims are still going on. Especially in the last two weeks when the Water Services Bill 2017 was being discussed in Dáil Éireann. This Bill apparently is basedon the controversial recommendations of the special Oireachtas Committee on Funding Domestic Water.  It has now gone through it’s second stage in the Dáil.

Barry McCowen, Fianna Fail

Barry McCowen, Fianna Fail

What happened to the February 15th Session is like the Bermuda Triangle. It vanished into thin air sucked up into the vortex of Dáil Éireann. That full day of rhetoric, legal opinions from Senior Counsels, threats and claims from EU Commissioners, lofty arguments from questionable R2W representatives and Barry McCowen, that warrior of Fál, when he said in response to EU Commissioner Vella,  "I rest my case"

Was it all hot air, a mirage perhaps?

And what happened to the responsibility of it’s chairman, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh?  Should he have made sure that each session of the committee was included in all committee reports for consideration when voting.  This was a question we put to him in an email.  However, we have not yet received a reply.

Presumably all of the twenty members on the water committee, that is,  if they were present at the time and not sleeping, know exactly what went on. Presumably all parties, that the twenty members represented were thoroughly kept up to date and know exactly what went on.

Yet the public who have by their opposition and mandate brought it about is kept out of the loop, not entitled to an explanation.

Once again we are, as we have always been the subject of political shenanigans.

As you can see from the FOI refusal (see below), the officials and by default the Government and all those committee members who have not been particularly honest, are hiding behind a bureaucratic loophole in section 127 of the House of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013 that states that ″ Freedom of Information Act 1997 and 2003 does not apply to a record relating to a Part 2 inquiries and other committee business″.

In other words they will only divulge what they want you to know.  Even though there was nothing of a sensitive nature in the Oireachtas Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water other than the members themselves, what they agreed on and what they voted for.

We will of course appeal this decision and will relate the outcome in due course. Isn’t the public entitled to the truth.