The inclusion of Irish Water under the Freedom of Information Act will be welcomed by all advocates of openness and transparency.
The new utility now has until the end of February to prepare to deal with FOI requests from the public, writes RTÉ's Richard Dowling, author of Secrets of the State and How to Get Them.
The inclusion of Irish Water, however, highlights the inherent contradiction in the reasoning of why so many other public bodies are exempt from FOI.
Originally, the only semi-State commercial company to come under FOI was to be Irish Rail.
There was no mention of Irish Water until late last year when the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said that as "long as it remains a monopoly" Irish Water should be subject to FOI.
However, he argued that many other public bodies should remain outside the remit of the act because they are commercial semi-State firms who compete with private sector companies.
In reality, the situation is not that clear cut. There are already strong provisions in the act which protect all public bodies from revealing commercially sensitive information.
However, the State's approach is not to trust the legislation or the Ombudsman’s Office in case the ‘wrong’ decision is made. Instead the approach is to make sure all information is secret and that’s achieved by totally excluding the body from public scrutiny – monopoly or not.
It has also been argued that only bodies which receive substantial public funds should be subject to public oversight via FOI.
However, that ignores the fact that the bodies are in charge of hugely valuable, important and money-generating assets owned by the Irish public via the State.
The original 2013 Act specifically excluded Irish Water totally along with 36 other bodies – many of whom face no commercial opposition. In many other countries such agencies and companies would not be exempt from FOI.
For example Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports are totally excluded regardless of the fact that they have no commercial opposition. In contrast the City of Derry Airport is subject to FOI.
All the main ports in the country – Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Drogheda, Shannon, Wicklow, New Ross, Cork, Waterford and even Bantry Bay – are also exempt. All these are monopolies and have no commercial competitors. Yet they are still excluded totally from FOI.
Other bodies excluded are the Commissioners for Irish Lights, Bord na Móna, the Irish Aviation Authority, the Irish National Petroleum Corporation, the Loughs Agency and the National Oil Reserves Agency. Again these do not have commercial opposition.
Neither does the Private Security Authority, the Language Body, the Food Safety Promotion Board, Tourism Ireland or even Waterways Ireland. Some may have a cross-border dimension but that, many advocates would argue, should not be a reason for total exclusion.
Many would argue that it would be logical to expand FOI to all these bodies. To do so would not cause economic collapse or cost the taxpayer millions of euro. Indeed it might do the exact opposite.