ID cards Freedom of Information request

Back in January I applied under the new Freedom of Information Act for the correspondence between the British and Irish Governments on the Identity Cards Bill.

In February, I got a reply saying that the Home Office was carrying out a public interest test on whether it should release the information.

Last week, I heard the Department had decided not to disclose the information, after concluding under section 27 of the Freedom of Information Act that the interests of good relations between the two governments outweigh the public interest in disclosure.

They did however send me some documents which they concluded it was in the public interest to disclose. As you can imagine, they were fairly anodyne.

Nevertheless, I have done a story on them for the Irish World.

The trouble with the Freedom of Information Act is that you don’t know what you don’t know. What is it that the Home Office have withheld?

I can’t help wondering with whether part of it doesn’t have something to do with the repeated suggestions (first made by Jack Straw in a letter to David Blunkett)  that UK identity cards will require a parallel Irish scheme.

When this first came up Irish Foreign Minister Michael McDowell came out strongly against ID cards:

“It would alter the current balance between the interests of the State and the rights of the individual to go about their lawful business without being challenged as to who they are.

“The fundamental philosophy is you are not obliged to account for yourself or to carry anything to identify you.

“After 800 years of common law in Ireland it’s something that would require huge reflection and very cogent reasons to change,” he said.

He had not been consulted about this by the British government and he did not believe Ireland would have to adopt identity cards if Britain did. 

However, McDowell is now floating the possibility that Ireland will introduce identity cards.

According to the Sunday Business Post, his Department issued a statement earlier  this year to the effect that: “In circumstances where the UK parliament has recently decided to phase in the introduction of an ID card, Ireland will have to consider what measures are now necessary in this jurisdiction.”

Ireland has often been accused of airbrushing English influence out of its history. It’s ironic that the British Government may now be putting the Irish under pressure to abandon central tenets of the English common law tradition.

Then again, given that the common law tradition is all about checking the power of the executive, perhaps it’s not so surprising after all.



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