The Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform has voted to consider amendments to the Freedom of Information Act.

Three Opposition TDs said the committee should recall witnesses including the NUJ and Transparency International because of concerns they had expressed about amendments proposed by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said the minister's proposal that multiple fees could be charged if an official finds that multiple sections of a department have to be consulted would according to some mean "the death of FOI".

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said the amendments were so significant that stakeholders should be recalled before the committee considered them.

She told the minister that the committee was not there as extras and that he needed to hit the pause button.

Fianna Fáil's Sean Fleming also sought the recall of witnesses.

Mr Howlin said you could not have a fee system and allow people to circumvent it by including multiple topics for each request as that is unfair to people who submit a query on just one topic and pay €15 for each request.

He said the committee had worked hard on the FOI bill and he did not want this derailed over a small issue.

There have also been calls to expand the number of public bodies that come under FOI legislation.

Responding to an amendment that called for Irish Water to be subject to FOI, Mr Howlin said that while in principle he wants Irish Water to be subject to FOI, he said it is still being established and he wants it to be properly established before that happens.

The amendment was withdrawn.

Mr Donnelly and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said they thought it would be good for the Office of the President to come under FOI.

But the minister said his advice was that the Head of State should not be drawn into public controversy and should not be subject to debate in the Oireachtas.

He also said that the precedent applied in Ireland was that of the UK where its head of state, the Queen, is exempt from FOI.

Mr Fleming also called on EirGrid and Coillte to be removed from the list of bodies exempted from FOI.

Ms McDonald said she had a long list of bodies, including Bord na Móna and An Post, which she wants removed from the exempt list.

She said she understood that there were some bodies that operated in the commercial arena and there should be exemptions for commercially sensitive information but argued there should not be blanket exemptions for these bodies.

Mr Donnelly said he disagreed with Ms McDonald and Mr Fleming on the commercially sensitive exemption.

He said that if a private bus company could operate the same route as Dublin Bus giving the same service but at less cost to the taxpayer he thought that this is a good thing.

He said private operators should not be put at a disadvantage because the information is not available.

But the minister said that commercial semi-states should not be put at a disadvantage because they are in the public sector.

He said this might also stop other companies sharing information with semi-states as it would be subject to FOI.

Debate on the amendments will resume tomorrow.

The National Union of Journalists wants the committee to adjourn consideration of the bill pending consultation. 

Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley said the new charges would make the use of FOI unaffordable and would undermine the significant reforms contained in the act.

He renewed the union's call for the scrapping of FOI charges. 

Transparency Ireland has also strongly hit out at the amendments.

"The argument that FOI costs too much to administer ignores the reality that the information revealed by use of FOI in the public interest over the past decades has saved the taxpayers millions," Research Manager Nuala Haughey said.