The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has said it is appalled by the Government's plans to restrict the Freedom of Information Act.

The Bill, published this morning, proposes to ban the release of communications between Ministers on Government business and to extend the time limit for the release of cabinet records from five to ten years.

It would also give the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, the right to set a fee for requests.

In a statement, the ICCL said that as well as this fee, the proposals would extend the grounds for refusing requests.

The Labour Party has described the move as the re-introduction of the culture of secrecy.

The National Union of Journalists said the amendment confirmed its worst fears that the Government was attempting to castrate the Act. Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley challenged Tánaiste Mary Harney to 'publicly debate with the NUJ the reasons for her abandonment of the principles of more open government'.

Mr McCreevy claimed the Bill was 'a sensible, practical measure designed to allow the Government to work effectively while maintaining reasonable public access to records'.