About 8 weeks ago I went looking for a particular transcript of Morris Tribunal evidence, and to my horror discovered that the entire website had been removed. The transcripts are held digitally in an obscure format, for which you need special software (another story in itself), and they were nowhere to be found on the internet. The reports of the Tribunal, all eight of them, were missing too. I went searching on the Department of Justice website, finding the reports only via a site wide search.
This is wrong, I said to myself. Very wrong. If we are to learn any lessons from the Morris Tribunal, all data relating to it must be available online, all transcripts, all rulings, all reports. And they should be held in open formats, or even multiple formats. Taking them down would mean the public can learn nothing of the process or conclusions of the Tribunal. And the Tribunal was not cheap, and the taxpayer footed the bill. The least we can expect is that everything relating to the Tribunal be made public (the same should apply to all Tribunals).
I wanted to get to the bottom of it, so I sent an email to the Department of Justice, seeking the transcripts, and asking why the website was removed. I mailed the press office and got the following reply:
The Morris Tribunal has been wound down due to completion of its work. All its reports are available on the Department’s website at www.justice.ie. We are not aware that transcripts of the Tribunal’s proceedings were ever available.
Yes, apparently there never were transcripts. Even though I had read dozens of them online over the years. I can imagine them saying, since the Tribunal is finished, let’s add some more reports to the Government’s catalogue of reports, and let them collect digital dust.
I replied that there certainly were transcripts, since I had read them. I also wanted to know why there was no dedicated part of the Department’s website for the Morris Tribunal (easily done, just copy the old website and put it at justice.ie/morris). The Department replied:
There is not now, and never has been, a dedicated part of the Department’s website for the Morris Tribunal – the reports were located by doing a search in the search bar. The Tribunal had its own website where all their own stuff was published – I understand the website went on for a while after the Tribunal ended but that it has now ceased altogether.
As there was an absolute huge number of transcripts involved, I understand that if you can identify a specific transcript that you require, the officials here in the Dept will endeavour to track it down for you.
Wow. The Department would deign to give me selected transcripts from a public tribunal, funded by the taxpayer, that examined massive Garda corruption. I felt so…honoured that I could request documents, that as a citizen, I am entitled to see. Not alone that, but the officials would endeavour, which I guess means they may or may not get me the transcripts. Consider me humbled.
Rather that continuing with this line of inquiry, which was clearly getting me nowhere, I contacted Fanore software, the people who were contracted to build the Morris website (and others) for the Department. They were helpful, but since the DoJ were their clients, there was little they could do. Fair enough.
Time to step it up a bit. I wrote and sent the following Freedom of Information request to the Department:
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 Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (“the Department”):
1) The contract between the Department and Fanore Software, relating to the development of the website for the Morris Tribunal.
2) A breakdown of fees relating to the contract.
3) All transcripts of Morris Tribunal public sittings.
4) An archived digital copy of the website (morristribunal.ie), which was made available to the Department by Fanore after the original website was removed.
My preferred form of access to these documents is in digital format. All transcripts of the Tribunal are held in digital format.
It is my understanding that the contract between Fanore Software and the Department has been concluded, as such the provision of the contract and a breakdown of fees should not give rise to any problems of commercial confidentiality, particularly given the unique nature of the contract and the fact that it is no longer active.
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.
Please find enclosed a cheque in the amount of €15 in respect of the fee for a request under the Acts. I look forward to hearing from you in the time period prescribed.
Please contact me by email to discuss any problems which may occur with this request.
I did receive an acknowledgment of my FOI request, but have not yet received the results.
But as of today, August 26, 16 days after my FOI was submitted, and about 8 weeks after I noticed the website was gone, Morristribunal.ie is back. What a curious turn of events.
Gavin 1: Government 0