[cross posted from thestory.ie]
No, we don’t have the expenses, yet anyway. But we have started the process. In August I sent the following FOI request to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (the crowd who manage the Dail and Seanad):
August 17, 2009
Request for access to records under the Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003
In accordance with Section 7 of the above mentioned Acts, I wish to request access to the following records which I believe to be held by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (“the Commission”):
1) A breakdown of all expenses claimed by TDs broken down by TD and by the following calendar years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997
2) A breakdown of all expenses claimed by Senators broken down by Senator and by the following calendar years: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997
3) The guidelines provided to TDs and Senators on how they can claim expenses. A guide as to what they are and are not allowed to claim and what documentation is required in order to claim expenses.
My preferred form of access to these documents is in digital format.
Given that much if not all of this information has already been found and produced I do not anticipate that any exemptions will be required nor that any further costs other than the standard €15 charge will be incurred.
If you decide to request further payment I would like to be provided with an itemised fees receipt outlining precisely why an additional cost is required.
I since received a phonecall, outlining that data from 2005 on (since it has been digitised), would be made available in September. So the other part of my FOI refers to information between 1997 (1998 really since the FOI Act does not cover 1997) and 2004, or stuff that has not been digitised and is sitting in boxes somewhere. Today I received an estimated cost for search and retrieval of this information.
There are two newsworthy snippets in the letter. First, the bad news:
“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.”
Yes, you read that right.
Second, the not so bad news:
“… 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
If you require retrieval of these records it is likely to involve a substantial number of man-hours and a corresponding increase in the fee to be charge. I would be grateful if you would let me know if you require those records.”
Why is this not so bad? Well the news aspect firstly. The Houses of the Oireachtas have so far been unable to locate expenses data for a combined period of 29 months. Eh? Not alone that, they want to charge me to find this information. Information that really should be in the public domain anyway. But we have to deal with the system we have…
Why do we want this data? Because we want a full historical account of all expenses claimed on record, for all national public representatives. It is also data that would be integrated into KildareStreet.
I’m gonna throw this question at our readers, what do you think we should do?
I have a few ideas on how to proceed, but I’d like to get some feedback first.