Moriarty Tribunal transcripts

Update: I was contacted by the Tribunal, who said they had contacted DCR, who have said “a disc is being prepared”. I await with bated breath.

Last month I put an FOI request in with the Department of the Taoiseach for the following:

(1) All transcripts of public sittings of the Moriarty Tribunal from its inception to the date on which this request is received.
(2) The contract for transcription services and a breakdown of fees charged for transcription services.
(3) The breakdown of fees for the maintenance and building of the Moriarty Tribunal website, and the contract for this.

Today I received the reply. I had to read it twice to let it sink in.

Moriarty reply

I can, in some way, live with the fact that the taxpayer spent the bones of €1 million on transcription fees since the inception of the Tribunal in 1998. But I cannot fathom how a) the transcripts are not available online and b) that I have to pay (again) to see the transcripts of the Tribunal and c) that Doyle Court Reports retains copyright on transcripts of public sittings of a Tribunal of Inquiry setup by the Department and paid for by the Irish people.

I called Doyle Court Reporters this morning and they were very courteous and helpful. I asked for a quote as to how much I would have to pay for digital (.doc) copies of all 370 days of public sittings of the Moriarty Tribunal. They called me back a short time later, stating that for all days the cost would be €16,600 @ €45 per day. But if I was bulk buying they would be prepared to offer a discount of 25%.

I did suggest to DCR that since the public had already paid nearly €1 million for the transcripts, it seems a little odd that I would, as a citizen, have to fork out another €16,600 to get copies of the transcripts. DCR were again courteous and helpful, and suggested I speak with the Moriarty Tribunal.

I then called the Moriarty Tribunal, where I spoke with the registrar, Siobhan Hayes. First I asked if the Tribunal had copies of all transcripts, to which the answer was yes. Are these subject to FOI I then asked… to which she eventually replied no, and that copyright was with DCR. I then asked why other Tribunals, such as Mahon and Morris, had published transcripts on their websites, and Moriarty ones were unavailable. I was told that the original agreement was that copyright would stay with DCR, and that was the way it was. I then asked for a copy of the contract or agreement between the Tribunal and DCR in relation to stenography services. Siobhan said she would get back to me on this issue.

Of course a couple of questions arise. First is whether the Department of the Taoiseach does hold the transcripts, but simply pointed me in the direction of Doyle Court Reporters for copies of them. Second is how, exactly, copyright on transcripts of a public sitting of a Tribunal applies.

Third, and most importantly, is why the transcripts are unavailable for public consumption as a matter of public record. These are historically important transcripts containing the sworn evidence of former Taoisigh including Charles Haughey and Bertie Ahern, as well as other former senior ministers, civil servants and businessmen, all in relation to extremely serious issues of public concern. Indeed when a Tribunal is established it is invariably included in the Terms of Reference that it concerns “definite matters of urgent public importance”.

Yet in relation to a matter of urgent public importance, for a Tribunal that is shortly to issue its second and final report, I can’t see who said what in relation to anything on any given day, whatsoever.

Mad, isn’t it?

Related post:
Morris transcript FOI

21 thoughts on “Moriarty Tribunal transcripts”

  1. Good post Gavin. The lack of publicly available transcripts has been one of the biggest problems in covering the Moriarty Tribunal over the last few years. With Mahon at the other end of Dublin Castle they were brilliant.

    Transcripts would be posted online within two hours of a hearing finishing. Hard copies of opening statements would be circulated to journalists (and members of the public) at the start of some hearings. The Moriarty Tribunal’s attitude to this is baffling. They’ve given me this “contact Doyle Court Reporting” line too.

    All the legal teams up there get copies of the daily Moriarty transcripts so journalists have had to resort to asking them (ever so nicely) to pass on transcripts of important days. Hardly an ideal situation considering it is public money funding the whole operation including the transcription service.

  2. It really does beggar belief that the state would contract a service provider to produce the transcripts and then leave them the copyright, and it seems to beggar the requester of any FOIs too it would seem.

    What next the copyright for Dail proceedings held by HEAnet?

  3. I can’t speak for Mahon, but I wouldn’t be confident that the copyright issue is clearcut with Morris. The Morris tribunal does hold some transcripts on its website (albeit in an awkward proprietary format; you can read them, but not cut & paste or print) but the transcripts for the first 428 days of hearings are not available online. Those missing transcripts cover modules on Explosives, the Barron investigation, Ardara, Burnfoot and the “Silver Bullet”,

    The absence of the Silver Bullet transcripts is particularly annoying, since the entire module was held in camera so as not to prejudice a criminal trial of Det Sgt John White. Since the tribunal concluded White was involved in planting evidence, while a trial jury acquitted him of the same charge, I’d be interested in seeing what the tribunal heard that differed from the trial.

    When I asked about transcripts back in the day, I was told the same as you were: copyright belonged to the stenographers (in this case Gwen Malone Stenography) and a 45/day charge applied. Apparently this dilemma was later resolved, as the tribunal eventually began posting transcripts online, but seemingly whatever agreement was reached was not backdated.

    For what it’s worth, Tonight With Vincent Browne obtained many of the transcripts for use in radio re-enactments, sometimes hard copy, sometimes PDF) and may still have some of them available. I don’t know of anyone else who made use of the transcripts except for the various parties involved in the tribunals, and the Dept of Justice, who AIUI has an SC review each day’s evidence.

    Might I suggest you FoI any correspondence, contracts and agreements between the tribunals, Oireachtas and ministries relating to stenography services and copyright?

  4. The response isn’t entirely clear, but it appears to be referrring to s.46(2) of the FOIA which excludes from the scope of the act records which can be obtained in some other way:

    “this Act does not apply to
    (a) a record that is available for inspection by members of the public whether upon payment or free of charge, or
    (b) a record a copy of which is available for purchase or removal free of charge by members of the public,
    whether by virtue of an enactment (other than this Act) or otherwise.”

    Two points strike me in relation to this provision.

    First, it’s astonishing that this exclusion applies irrespective of the cost to purchase the records in question. It would be desirable to see this amended in future. Theoretical access outside FOI is meaningless when the cost is so high.

    Secondly, there may be an argument to be made that a record is not “available” unless it is available as of right. Discretionary sale by a private body might not suffice. Aine Ryall makes a separate but related argument along these lines here:

    “Section 46(2) is aimed at excluding from the scope of the FOI Act records which are routinely available under other statutory provisions. This interpretation is reinforced by reference to the explanatory memorandum to the FOI Bill which refers to information which is “publicly available”. Examples of such records include planning applications which may be inspected at the office of the relevant local authority and An Bord Pleanála files relating to appeals received after 10 April, 1995 which may be inspected at the offices of the Board on request. These files are clearly, “available for inspection” within the meaning of section 46(2). Contrast the position under the AIE regulations, where an application for access is required. A public authority has, in effect, two months to respond to such an application and may refuse to accede to a request on the basis of the exemptions set out in the AIE regulations. I seriously doubt whether this is the situation contemplated by the exclusion set out in section 46(2).”

  5. @TJ yea that would seem to be the relevant section, but strangely no section of the Act is referred to in the reply from the Deciding Officer.

  6. One correction, the Department did not establish the tribunal. It was established by the Oireachtas by means of a vote.

    This, of course, raises 3 major issues:

    1. The scope of the law of copyright.
    2. The type of contract the tribunal entered with the transcripters.
    3. Whether or not copyright is actually a real property right, the made-up property right that is intellectual property.

  7. @Ciaran true, but the Department is the relevant body for the purposes of the Act, since it was established by Instrument of the Taoiseach. Indeed Mr Haughey attempted to challenge the very method of the establishment of the Tribunal through that Department.

  8. Probably for the same reason that the questions to the Driver Theory Test are copyright to the company that runs the test. So that the copyright holders can make money on information that should be freely available.

  9. €16k for the court reports, a sure isn’t it a great little country. What kind of a set-up is it at all if we can’t read what was said at a tribunal set up with taxpayers’ money…infuriating – great post.

  10. crazy- gubu- corrupt- where is the uprising? the people have no option but to get rid of f.f. more tax payers money wasted. Cowen looks more like a caricature character than a leader. what is wrong with the irish people that they take this on the chin day in day out?

    Edited slightly to remove personal abuse – Mark

  11. Amazing but not surprising! I often attended the Mahon tribunal for project work and was always amazed at the speed the transcripts appeared on the website. Often the transcripters would leave the hall before the newspaper reporters had finished their end.
    If that group of transcripters can provide the info so quick and make it public why can DCR and Malone not do the same? I’m sure there’s no money-grabbing element to it!

  12. To put them into the public domain, it’s only one copy of all transcript, not multiple copies of one transcript.

    They’re not in the public domain yet, so Gavin was going to put them somewhere they could be read and searched by those interested in the Tribunal.

  13. It surely is in the public interest that as many people as possible would have access to all the evidence given in public to a public tribunal paid for by the taxpayer–Icannot understand why the transcripts were not on the web on a daily basis as was the case with the Mahon Tribunal—is somebody somewhere afraid of a well informed electorate?

  14. Has anyone tried to contact Joe Taylor for copies – he managed to air a show every night “based on actual transcripts” of the hearings. How sad would it be if a reporter could give you the tanscripts but the tribunal couldn’t!
    Mahon took down Bertie and that was based on a well informed public. Imagine who Moriarty could have taken down if the public had that level of access

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