Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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Oireachtas Committee On Funding Domestic Water - A Collusion In Secrecy

A piece last month by James Quigley in  Buncrana Together examines the secrecy surrounding the issue of water charges.
A Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent by us on the 8th September 2017 to the FOI Co-ordinator, Oireachtas Service, has been refused by Mr Thomas Sheridan, Clerk to the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services.

We requested information on 21 private sessions, including voting preferences and agreements of members of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services that concluded business in highly controversial circumstances in April this year.

We asked the FOI Services for:

all submissions, records and minutes of all Private Sessions and any information other than was made public through the Oireachtas site, relating to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, that took place between 13th December 2016 and 11th April 2017.
We believe there were 21 meetings in total and all had private sessions and submissions that were not made public.
We believe we have a right to know what took place in our name, who voted for what and what is the actual truth of events during those proceedings.
We are particularly interested in the 15th February 2017 sessions and all the 10 'Private Sessions' between 28th February 2017 and 11th April 2017.

Mr Sheridan replied

I have reviewed your request, and have considered all of the records to which you refer in the context of the specific provisions in the Freedom of Information Act 2014. Arising from that review, I do not believe that any of the records to which you have requested access falls to be released under the Act, as the Freedom of Information Act 2014 does not apply to those records.

(Read Mr Sheridan’s full reply here)


Facts kept under lock and key

So other than an appeal of Mr Sheridan’s decision, (costing €30), it seems we are not going to be made any the wiser about the many private sessions of the water committee. We suspect that there were many private deals done between individual Oireachtas members and parties, such is the nature of the sordid political game. We know we will not unearth that information, other than some honest member with integrity divulging it. However, we should expect openness and transparency especially in any public representative body such as an Oireachtas Committee and it is a shame and indeed it is ‘fingers up to democracy’ when such a simple thing like knowing what our representatives agreed to or voted on, is being kept under lock and key.

What we do know is the fact that the most important session of all, that of February 15th, including the highly significant paragraph 9.4 of the Water Framework Directive, never got into any final committee report. (see references).


Mr Sheridan sheds light on secrecy

The collusion of all members of the committee in this secrecy and what can only be described as the deliberate omission of the Irish Exemption or any reference to the February 15th session was corroborated in a phone conversation between Thomas Sheridan (Oireachtas secretary) and Enda Craig (Buncrana Together) two weeks ago when Mr Sheridan revealed that contents of reports by the committee was discussed and agreed beforehand by the committee members.

If Mr Sheridan's explanation is the case then surely the corollary to that is that any omissions were also agreed.

Chairman gone AWOL

For a fuller picture of this overt 'collusion in secrecy' it might be interesting to know that a letter was also emailed a month ago to the 'independent' Oireachtas Chairman, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh asking why the February 15th session was completely omitted in any report. We have not receive a reply yet.

References:

The dilemma of paragraph 9.4, our democracy, the Oireachtas Water Committee and Right2Water Ireland

Clouds of suspicion over omission of 9.4 Exemption in Oireachtas Water Committee report

Michael Noonan 'Water Charges Required Under European Law' is a Lie


James Quigley writes for Buncrana Together, a website  run on behalf of the Buncrana Against Irish Water, a democratic local group formed to organise locally to help the national campaign to put an end to the injustices of water charges and Irish Water Ltd.
 

Follow Buncrana Together on Twitter @buncranatogethr

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