Keeping us in the dark: Censorship and Freedom of Information in Ireland

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The author was a Senator in Ireland and describes his efforts to get the Freedom of Information Act passed, plus efforts to pry information out of various bodies.

And what a secretive lot they were. With the benefit of hindsight we now know why the Catholic Church, for example, kept so many secrets for so long. School boards too, many of which were run by the church. Factories kept secrets to do with pollution and health and safety. Banks kept secrets, even building societies refused to say how much directors were paid. Political parties would not change or be open, apart from new parties like the Greens. Of course, too many people benefited from status quo.

The author explains in each case the steps he suggests taking to pry out details from the civil service, trade union, or other body. These can be as simple as telephoning and writing a letter, or as drastic as getting a local TD to ask a question in the Dail - he suggests an Independent TD, who has nothing to lose by making waves. Also just reading Dail records and obtaining other records.

We are also told of various bodies who collect data on us, including Gardai threatening a man with arrest for membership of an unlawful organisation after he attended a meeting at which this Senator spoke. And of attempts to infiltrate and check on the new Irish Housewives Association.

This is quite a snapshot of social history and as computers were coming in, the author recommends joining that new Internet and seeing what can be found. He is critical of journalism softening to selling entertainment and commentary rather than hard news and investigation. The EU was finally to make laws on freedom of information for us. Comparisons with Sweden and America are made, but the book assumes knowledge of Irish figures of the day. Michael D Higgins is twice mentioned by name but not role (he is presently President); I thought the editor ought to have added a role after each name like business owner, politican, arts minister etc to guide readers.

The author was a Senator from 1981 - 1993 and was the only person then to have introduced Freedom of Information to the parliament. At time of publication 1995 he taught Chemical Engineering in Cork and was involved in European-funded research on uptake of clean tech in industry.