Who could object to full flow of information?
The guiding principle of a modern, working democracy has to be the universal right to access information. Because information, as every tinpot dictator that ever existed knows, is power.
And in a democracy, power belongs to the people.
That’s why County Councillor Michael O’Shea is on the money by demanding access all areas for information about negligence cases taken, or being taken, against Kerry County Council.
Unsurprisingly, in a country which since independence has adopted the self-maiming default position of secrecy - and hugger-mugger in corners where the light is never allowed to shine - Councillor O’Shea has his work cut out for him.
Despite his best efforts, Kerry County Council has now told him that full disclosure of relevant facts - even those already available to the public by way of court records - cannot be provided by the local authority, on foot of legal advice got to do with data protection law.
Data protection is a largely uncharted and therefore unclear area of jurisprudence, primarily because it is such a recent concept, embracing as it does, privacy rights. But on this issue it’s difficult to resist the notion that Kerry County Council is adopting an overly-strict approach.
Councillor O’Shea wants to know who has sued, and is suing, the Council for negligence. He wants to know the outcomes of cases that have been contested and decided, or settled. Specifically, he wants to know what the awards were in individual cases, what the costs were and to whom they were paid - legal, engineering, medical and the like.
And the question is: WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?
Seeing as how the Council belongs to us; considering that the lawyers, engineers and all others involved in litigation act - by extension - on OUR behalf and are paid by us; and since ALL the money paid out, one way or another, in these cases comes out of our pockets, we have an absolute entitlement to have full disclosure of all the details.
The basic law of this land requires that justice be transacted in open courts, with restrictions in appropriate cases. This underpins the public’s right to details.
Data protection legislation must not be adopted as a bar to the free flow of information.
And, if by some unintended consequence of legislation, the Council if legally barred from disclosing all this information, then the law should be changed.
Personal injury cases - in fact ALL cases involving public money including, for example, contract disputes - should proceed as if behind a glass wall. The goal must be to make all payments - including to whom they are made - subject to public disclosure.
That should be the operating principle, the default position.