Guest post: Nat O’Connor is a policy analyst with TASC and contributes to their Progressive Economy blog. He recently published two discussion papers on democratic accountability and the economic logic of strengthening public access rights to official information. The first paper can be viewed here and downloaded as PDF here. The paper on public access to official information can be read here and downloaded here. In recent weeks there has been much media attention given to the papers with articles in The Irish Examiner, an appearance on Morning Ireland and an opinion piece by Hugh Linehan in The Irish Times stemming from their publication, to name a few. – Mark
It may be stating the obvious, but the extent to which the public can readily access official information has got a lot to do with the health of our democracy.
The Freedom of Information Act 1997 has come to represent this idea in some ways, in direct opposition to the Official Secrets Act 1963 (still in force) which represents government decision-making behind closed doors, where the reasons for those decisions remain secret.
Yet, the need for public access to information in a democracy is much more than just freedom of information law.
In a democracy, people need reliable information to vote; otherwise voting is a meaningless exercise. And just as importantly, people need reliable information between votes, when the real business of running the country takes place. We need information so that we can monitor where tax money is being spent, what policies are in place, what evidence informs decision-making, etc.
This democratic argument is spelled out in more detail in one of the discussion papers I wrote for TASC.