Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism expenses database

Update: I have totaled the staff claims here.

Readers may recall a blog post I wrote back in December detailing my dealings with the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism (DAST). After gleaning information from the footers of Ken Foxe’s FOIs concerning John O’Donoghue, I established that the Department was using Oracle iExpense software to store expenses information.

I wrote an FOI request in October asking for a ‘datadump’, of the entire database since inception (in other words, a copy of the database). The Department refused both the original request and the appeal for internal review (conducted by a more senior official in the Department).

In January I appealed the decision to the Office of the Information Commissioner. The request, internal review and appeal have cost a combined €240 (kindly made available by you, the public).

The Appeal letter to the Information Commissioner

Today I am pleased to say that I have reached a settlement with the Department, brokered by the Office of the Information Commissioner. The Department have agreed to release almost the entire database, with some elements removed. This is not a formal decision of the Commissioner, but is instead a settling of the issue. This just means that a formal OIC Decision was not required as the two parties reached an agreement.

The settlement is this: the entire expenses database of the Department, to include the follow expenses data headings:

Description, Grade, Full Name, Claim, Date, Purpose, Status, Total Claimed, Distribution Line Number, Start Date, Expense Type, Euro Line Amount, Currency Code, Currency Rate, Amount Quantity Unit, Rate Net Total, (EUR) Payment Date, Withholding Amount Invoice, Amount, Amount Paid.

Cost Centre numbers, employee cost centre numbers, named approvers and justification fields have been removed. There are also some removals from other fields which is either considered personal information or information obtained in confidence. These removals do not mean the information is redacted per se, it just means that in order to get the data, I agreed to remove certain columns in order to expedite the process. It does not preclude me from seeking the justification field, for example, in the future.

The data contains €774,882.29 of expense claims by named civil servants over a five year period (2005 to 2009 inclusive). The amount involved might appear relatively small, but it is the quality of the data that is more significant.

I cannot overstate the importance of the release of this data, and there are a number of reasons why this is the case.

Firstly, it sets an important precedent in terms of what information can be obtained from public bodies. In their refusals to release this data, the Department cited three sections of the Act which they felt exempted them from releasing it. The OIC felt differently. While not a formal decision of the OIC, a settlement was justified in this case as the Department were amenable to releasing the majority of the data sought. Decisions can take far longer to get (up to two years), so I felt that on balance the offered information in the settlement was acceptable.

Second, are the broader implications.

Following this settlement with DAST, I have started the process of requesting similar expenses data from the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Department of Community Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs, the Department of Defence, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform, the Courts Service, the Industrial Development Authority, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Finance, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the Department of Transport, the Health Service Executive, the Revenue Commissioners, FÁS and Enterprise Ireland.

I believe the combined expenses data for these (and other) bodies will run to tens, if not hundreds of millions of euro.

But perhaps most critical is this: I sought the data not as a journalist looking for a scoop, not as a member of the public with an axe to grind, but as a transparency advocate only interested in the public interest. By publishing this, and coming data, I believe the public is served by a more open and accountable State – where data related to how some public monies are spent is no longer hidden, but is in full view. Transparency keeps the system honest.

I should also make clear that publishing this data is not an attempt to embarrass any one person, nor does it form the basis of any claim that somehow there was something unjustified about any expense claimed by civil servants. It is simply an exercise in transparency, and no more.

And I will leave readers with one question.

If I am getting this data and intend publishing it in its entirety online for the public to see, what is stopping the Government from doing the same, proactively, without question, and as a matter of course?

In the end, sunlight benefits us all.

The dataset, presented as is (and containing some macros):

Department of Arts, Sport & Tourism expenses database

20 thoughts on “Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism expenses database”

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  2. Fair play to you for getting this info, as well as the OIC in helping organise a settlement between yourselves and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

    If it wasn’t for that, we might have been reading this in 2012, if ever.


  3. Fair play to you Gavin. You deserve enormous credit for the work you’re doing, and what you’re achieving with it. Plus the piece above setting out the context etc is almost as important. Should be on the syllabus. Drive on.

  4. Gavin, nice work and I’d ask the same question myself. Smart Economy might start with Smart Govt. implementing such publication online and for all to see. Perhaps this might be the beginning of persuading them of the benefits of such a process.

  5. Great job, thanks, we’ll take a good look at this, but more importantly appreciate the principle. This, along with all public remuneration, should be published on the Departmental websites.
    Best of luck on the rest of your mission.

    Any chance of information on politicians bank loans this year, do you think…?

  6. Well done. It will be hard for our establishment to adapt to a new era of transparency but the ongoing disasters in Irish governance make it imperative.

  7. Superb. Your decision to agree a settlement seems pragmatic – I just hope the lack of a formal decision by the OIC will not hinder the use of this case as a precedent.

  8. I’m delighted, well done Gavin! The fact that you’ll shortly (hopefully) be getting some data from two of my former employers (I was a PS) that will reveal that I received some T&S over the years worries me not one whit!

  9. I love the one that says ‘null’ against Mr Conroy – is that his status or his ability??

  10. find it strange that justification isn’t released, surely that would put the info in a better light for the gov, as would be releasing the purpose of the meetings trips along side this data

  11. do you have any plans to display this data the expanded kildarestreet like site, hesitant to do anything to with it if you have better plans,
    the sunlight socrata database system is ok

    the files big to big for google docs, you could split it by gov or minister or edit it on socrata but you have to invite people (unlike google docs) maybe create a thestory version and then people could mail you get access to add info like actual job title and other context

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