I have created a spreadsheet that contains some of the bodies covered by the FOI Act. I have opened up the document for editing to seek your help in adding more data, especially web addresses. Of course we are open to suggestions about adding other data.
As part of a prior FOI request, I asked for some diary information for the former minister for education, Mary Hanafin. This has now been OCRd and uploaded to Scribd. I believe the redactions relate to mobile telephone numbers.
I have also combined two diary documents for Finance Minister Brian Lenihan into one document, making life a little easier:
When this site first went live we posted spreadsheets of all know political donations made to TDs and political parties – you can view them here and here (annotations have been made to some donations to add relevant details about the donor).
We now have a spreadsheet for donations made to individual senators. There’s not too many, but they’re there now and will later be added to the KildareStreet database.
Part two of Joan Burton’s FOI concerned communications between the Department of Finance and Anglo Irish bank (I will post the exact wording of the request later). For now though here is the full extent of the refusal. It contains references to released information that I have not yet received from Ms Burton, but I will be seeking.
Refusals are useful in telling you exactly what records exist, as in this case.
Readers might remember that back in August I first put in a request for all expenses of all TDs and Senators since records began, or as far as the FOI act allows (1998). The purpose of the request is two fold – one for the public record and two for integration into KildareStreet.com member profiles.
This FOI, and series of FOIs and appeals has now been in process for four months. Thus far we have received in various forms, all expenses for TDs and Senators for 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008. I sent a separate FOI for the years 2002 and 2001. But it might be worth taking people through the chronology to fully understand where we are now.
August: Initial FOI sent seeking all records of expenses for 10 years.
September 11: I blog that I have received a reply. The Oireachtas said: “After consideration and consultations, I estimate that the services of staff members totalling 110 hours will be the minimum required to efficiently complete the search and retrieval work on the balance of your request for the years 1998 to 2004… The prescribed amount chargeable for each such hour is €20.95 resulting in a fee of €2,304. Additionally, it is estimated that a total of 3,200 pages containing the records for the period from 1998 to 2004 will have to be photocopied, resulting in a further charge of €136.00 with the overall fee amounting to €2,440.”
And: “… there is a gap in in the hard copy records in respect of the period from January 1, 1998 to March 31, 1998. In addition, it is unclear that the final released data is available for the following periods as the material has not, as yet, been located:
April 1999 to October 1999
June 2000 to June 2001
July 2002 to June 2003″
I read this to mean that the records themselves had not been located, but the Oireachtas sought to tell me that the records did actually exist, just they had not been previously FOId, therefore the gaps existed for information that had not been previously FOId. I shared a byline in the Examiner with Fiachra about these gaps, and the Oireachtas contacted me the next day. I was told over the phone that “the records are certainly there” and I subsequently gave the Oireachtas press officer right of reply on this blog where he said:
“this may have given the impression that our records were incomplete. But this is not the case. The requests for those periods was in the early days of FOI when everything was done manually. We don’t have ready access to those files, but they’re not missing. They do exist but it will take some time and effort to locate them.”
September: I vary my request, first seeking 2005 to 2008 in digital format and at no cost, and also seeking 2003 and 2004 in complete form in terms of calendar years. In other words without the gap between June and December 2003. I also send another separate FOI seeking the complete calendar years 2002 and 2001.
October 15: I receive documents containing all expenses data for 2005 – 2008. I blog it here. I also receive a reply for my 2002/2001 request, stating that they were citing Section 10 (1) (c) of the Act: “granting the request would by reason of such number of records or an examination of such kind of records concerned as to cause substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption of work of the public body concerned”.
October 17: I send the following appeal to the Oireachtas (costing €75).
November 2: I receive expenses data for 2003/2004 complete, and publish them online. This release had in my opinion been pushing the time limits of the initial FOI to the maximum.
November 10: I receive a reply to my appeal, which I am publishing here for the first time.
The Oireachtas has agreed to release expenses data for the calendar years 2002 and 2001. However contrary to the views expressed by the Oireachtas press officer, that “no documents are missing”, there are in fact missing documents. The reason given is that some documents are destroyed once the accounts have been audited. Here is the money part:
I am refusing access to the records for 2001 and 2002 in relation to the expenses
claimed from the Grants-in-aid in respect of inter-parliamentary activities and the
British Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body as it has not been possible to find the records in
question – which would have been created in hard copy format only. These records
are outside of the main electronic accounting system for the office so details of claims
paid are not available through this system. I should point out there is a general rule
that permits the destruction of records, particularly hard copy records, relating to the
accounts for a particular year once those accounts have been audited by the
Comptroller and Auditor General and reported on by the Committee of Public
Accounts. This process would generally conclude within 2/3 years of the end of a
particular accounting year.
I have decided to grant you access to all the other records – which account for the
bulk of the records requested – which fall within the scope of your appeal. Please note
that the records do not include salaries of TDs and Senators as salaries do not fall
within the category ‘expenses’. The records relating to this decision will be sent to
you under separate cover in the next few days.
So now we will have expenses data for 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008. Minus some information. I have also already got a hold of interparliamentary expenses for 2005 – 2008.
Not a painful process at all, is it? What puzzles me is why they cited Section 10 (1) (c) at all and why the original request was quoted at nearly €2,500, yet I have now received almost the entire amount for under €100. As they say in the US: go figure.
When I requested the Taoiseach’s diary for the period between the introduction of the FOI Act and March 31 1999 – which can be viewed here – I made the same request to Finance. I have since received it and uploaded it to Scribd.
It has been OCRd and can be searched by keyword using the document search field in the lower right hand corner of the Scribd box, alternatively you could download and use Ctrl+F to look for what you’re after.
I was interested in some FOI work that Deputy Joan Burton had been doing lately on Anglo Irish Bank, so I contacted her and asked for any documents or refusals she had received. She was kind enough to copy everything and post them down to me. I have now scanned and OCRd the documentation.
First up is Ireland’s notification to the European Commission surrounding the injection of €1.5bn of capital into the bank. It runs to over 50 pages and contains some curious stuff. Many of the handwritten notes are I believe by Deputy Burton herself, or her staff. But there are other curious oddities, some of which are highlighted.
Firstly the document appears to have been poorly redacted. There are strikethroughs throughout the document with notes afterwards such as “[Confidential – commercially sensitive][Department to confirm]”. What appears to have happened is that a draft of the document was released, rather than a redacted version. The draft contains the internal notes around what should or should not be redacted. One gem (and this is dated January 2008) is “Anglo Irish Bank is considered a fundamentally sound institution”. With a note beside saying it might be “commercially sensitive” to say so.
Not alone that, but further down it says (with a line through it)
The assessment by Merrill Lynch supports the position that Anglo Irish Bank is fundamentally sound.[Confidential – commercially sensitive][Department to confirm]
Another gem which was marked for redaction, marking points arguing in favour of capital injection:
The assessment that there was a low likelihood that Anglo Irish Bank would be successful in raising additional equity from existing shareholders and new private investors Confidential – commercially sensitive][Department to confirm]
Also this very interesting paragraph around future planning:
As noted above, on account of Anglo Irish Bank’s specific business model, which is specialised in commercial property lending and property development finance, not all of the elements of the agreed credit package will directly impact on Anglo Irish Bank, at least initially.
However, given the envisaged future changes in the Bank’s business model and strategic direction under its restructuring plan, it is anticipated that in time further elements of the credit package will become applicable to Anglo Irish Bank accordingly[Confidential —commercially sensitive for Anglo Irish Bank] [Department to confirm]
Finally, there is this further reference to Anglo’s future:
On account of Anglo Irish Bank’s specific business model, which is specialised in commercial property lending and property development finance, not all of the elements of the agreed credit package will directly impact on Anglo Irish Bank, at least initially.
However, given the requirement to prepare a restructuring plan within a six month period as part of the recapitalisation initiative, future changes in the business model and strategic direction of Anglo Irish Bank are likely to bring about a closer alignment between the lending activities of the Bank and the credit needs of the real economy. As a result it is anticipated that in-time further elements of the credit package will become applicable to Anglo Irish Bank accordingly.[Confidential – business secret] [Department to confirm].
Of course questions need to be asked. This document is dated January 8. The Government already had the PwC reports into Anglo and must have had some idea of the scale of the problems at the bank. Yet Merrill was still claiming Anglo was fundamentally sound just a week before the bank was nationalised. Not alone that, all references to the bank being fundamentally sound were marked for redaction.
There is one final section that sums up the entire sorry mess, my emphasis:
Anglo Irish Bank is a focused business bank with a private banking arm. The Bank provides business banking, treasury and wealth/management services. It is not a universal bank and its stated strategy is niche rather than broad market. Each of its customers deals directly with a dedicated relationship manager and a product specialist.
Yet in the same breath we are told the Anglo is of systemic importance. So which is it?
I had reason to FOI the Taoiseach’s diary for the period between the FOI Act coming into effect (April 19th 1998) and December 1998 recently. It’s now up in case someone else has use for it too. It has been OCR’d – to search press ctrl+F and enter your term, then hit return.
Redactions marked ‘A’ are so because the department believes them to be “personal information” as defined in Section 28 of the FOI act. Entries marked ‘B’ relate to the Taoiseach’s private papers as a member of the Oireachtas. Regards ‘B’ redactions – the cover letter from the FOI officer states “Section 46 of the Act states, inter alia, that the Act does not apply to records relating to any of the private papers of a member of the Oireachtas and as such I consider that the Act does not apply to these entries.”
News stories from around that period include:
The OECD warning our economy may be overheating
“Overheating is the chief risk facing the Irish economy in the run-up to Economic and Monetary Union, the OECD warned in its latest economic outlook. It said signs of overheating were already evident, such as labour shortages in a number of skilled trades and a boom in housing and other asset prices.”
The Garda Commissioner appointing a team to investigate the tapping of the phones of George Lee and Charlie Bird
A decision being made on whether on not members of the public should charged for making an FOI request
The Government debating the merits of recommendations made in The Bacon Report
Local authorities in the greater Dublin area will be required by statute to ensure that their development plans comply with strategic guidelines for the region, according to the Minister for the Environment
John O’Donoghue, then minister for justice, denying he was attempting to shield holders of Ansbacher accounts
An angry Minister for Justice, Mr O’Donoghue, said he gravely resented any suggestion that the Government was in some way trying to shield any Ansbacher account holder. This was false and malicious.
The Minister was reacting to a claim by Mr John Connor (FG) that he intended to “hold in check at all costs” the powers of the Moriarty Tribunal in relation to the accounts.
Mary Banotti appearing before the Old Bailey
and lastly, Pee Flynn.
…though there may be nothing relevant in the document to any of the above.
Footnote: I’m sure someone will note that Bertie met the head of “The Ancient Order of Hibernians” on March 5th 1999. If ever there was a reason to polish up those tin-foil hats, lads… that is surely a secret society.
Seriously though, Bertie sure could open stuff.
Part of what we believe is our job here at thestory.ie is not just to dig out new information via FOI requests. Another important part of the work we are doing will be to make existing information more accessible. We have already started this work through importing TD donations and expenses into Google spreadsheets, centralising the data and opening it up to Google bots. It also allows anyone else to come in and retool or visualise the data we share.
But another important effort is this: publish existing documents in a more accessible format. We have already found hundreds of Government documents online that are scanned without OCR, meaning the contents of the documents are not searchabe, nor (for the moment anyway) are they indexed by Google in a consistent way. Many of these documents are legacy, some from as far back as the mid 1990s.
We have begun a process of downloading these documents, OCRing them, and reuploading them. We will publish all documents to the new thestory.ie Scribd account, as well as to Google Documents. This will mean two things. First the documents will be indexed by Google, second the documents will become instantly more usable to the general public, thus in a small way, creating a more transparent government, and one slightly more accountable to the people. We are under no illusions that this effort will have any instant or major effect, but it will have a gradual one. And this furthers our aims for helping create a more transparent Ireland.