Tomorrow marks the end of Sunshine week, highlighting the importance of transparency, open government and freedom of information. The week has seen the launch of a wide range of initiatives focused on the themes of transparency and accountability.
Broadly speaking, the open government movement in Ireland has not penetrated government, or the political agenda, in any similar way as countries such as the United States or United Kingdom. There is a lack of political leadership around this issue both at a central and local government level.
In addition, the resources for advocacy in Ireland are more limited than in the U.S. or the U.K. Organizations such as the Sunlight Foundation or OMB Watch, which use technology to show how the government can be more transparent, and take non-machine-readable data and make it more accessible do not exist in Ireland. There is fewer foundations and donors who can sponsor such projects.
Nevertheless, sites such as KildareStreet and theStory do exist to make government data more transparent and accessible. Needless to say these sites have faced various issues with the quality of government data, the fact that data requests need to go through the Freedom of Information process rather than datasets being released.
The government itself, however, has not engaged in any widespread transparency or citizen engagement strategies in a similar manner to the US Open Government initiative. Tim Berners-Lee suggested this week that countries should be judged on their willingness to open up public data to their citizens. He went on to say Open data could now be considered a basic right of citizens:
I think obviously there are more fundamental ones, but within a democratic society if the democracy is going to work you have to have an informed electorate.
In this area, the Irish government falls short.
As a means of ‘engaging with the public’ the Houses of the Oireachtas (the legislative branch of Government) recently created a number of short films to provide an insight into our national parliament. Some of the films are a serious attempt to educate the public on the operations of the government, while others are intended as a light-hearted perspective on legislative decision making.
The seven short films include:
- A Welcome to the Houses of the Oireachtas from the speaker of the Dail (the Ceann Comhairle) – In this film, he introduces Leinster House (home to the Houses of the Parliament), and highlights the need to make its activities more open and transparent:
- Parliament – An explanation of the structure of the national parliament and the election process.
We need to get more people engaged in the democratic process and make it more relevant to today’s Ireland, or we face the prospect of a long term decline in the authority of our systems and ultimately of our democracy. The time has arrived where we need to become more outward looking and open.
Ireland is government by what is know by a Parliamentary democracy. Our national Parliament – the Oireachtas – consists of the office of the President and two houses: Dail Eireann (the House of Representatives) and Seanad Eireann (the Senate).
Anyone who cho0ses the political pathway needs to have a support network in place as they face the variety of challenges in their job. Friends and family are paramount to this.
- At Home – An introduction to some of the country’s politicians in their home environments.
- Budget – An enlightened debate over the compromises involved in passing a budget.
- Bill – A light-hearted look into the process through which a bill becomes law.
- Members – A reflection on political life from members of the Oireachtas.
Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public.