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Dáil footage reuploaded to Oireachtas website after being taken down

Politicians and journalists argued that it showed a lack of transparency from the State.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar giving his first Dáil speech in 2007. This video footage is no longer accessible online through the Oireachtas website.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar giving his first Dáil speech in 2007. This video footage is no longer accessible online through the Oireachtas website.
Image: Houses of the Oireachtas via TheJournal.ie

Updated at 7pm

VIDEO FOOTAGE OF debates from Leinster House prior to 2014 have been reuploaded to the Oireachtas website after being removed.

The footage of Dáil debates, spanning from 1990 to 2014 and which were previously accessible online, were removed from the internet. If someone wanted to access the footage – which is often used by journalists, researchers and academics – they would have had to submit a request to access the footage.

But after anger from both politicians and journalists, the videos were reuploaded and will remain on the government site for the time being.

The change in the archives was first highlighted in The Irish Daily Mail this weekend by journalist and DIT lecturer Ken Foxe, who said the footage was “particularly popular on social media in catching out politicians making U-turns”.

He said the first formal request for footage has already taken a week to process:

So, why was it removed?

A spokesperson for the Houses of the Oireachtas said the affected files date back 10 years and “in no conceivable way could be deemed to have covered the entire proceedings of the Houses and committees”.

However, the archive did include key moments in Irish political history, such as when Taoiseach Enda Kenny blasted the Vatican following the Cloyne report in 2011.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

And Leo Varadkar’s first speech in the Dáil in 2007.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The spokesperson clarified that the files which were removed all relate to 2014 and earlier. The reason for their removal is apparently due to the format in which they were recorded.

“These files were only recorded in WMV format. As you may know, WMV is a proprietary Microsoft file format which is now obsolete. Many of our users could not access/play these files and we were increasingly being contacted by users who were having difficulty playing the files,” a spokesperson explained.

We switched over exclusively to recording mp4 files in 2015 and stopped recording WMV files at that time. Switching to the more versatile mp4 file format for our video has ensured that the majority of users can view our videos without difficulty.

“We did leave the older files online, but the recent change you refer to has been triggered as our service provider decommissioned the infrastructure on which these files were hosted.”

Another reason cited for their removal from the Oireachtas website is that their “web analytics showed that there was minimal traffic going to video files older than the last month or so”.

How would you access the files if the footage was removed?

The Houses of the Oireachtas said that when the video footage wasn’t accessible online, the official report of Dáil debates remained – namely, the transcripts of what was said.

If you want to see the live action of a debate before 2014, you would have had to submit a request for the footage and the Houses of the Oireachtas Broadcasting Unit can facilitate access to the older files.

“Anyone looking for video/audio records can request these from our Broadcasting Unit. These only go back as far as 1990 as that is when televising of the proceedings commenced, however some media organisations may have footage/audio from before then,” said the spokesperson, adding that the official report or transcript going back to 1919 will soon be available to the public.

“I think this illustrates our commitment to transparency and e-democracy.”

Who made the decision?

Since Foxe reported that access was now only available by request, a number of politicians and journalists have inquired about the decision-making process, particularly focussing on whether elected members of the House were notified or debated the change.

TheJournal.ie asked the Houses of the Oireachtas if there was any discussion with those in government and who made the final decision on the matter.

“The development of our new website is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas and not government,” said the spokesperson.

Fianna Fáil Communications spokesman TD Timmy Dooley told TheJournal.ie today that the removing the public’s access to the footage made “no sense”, particularly at a time when most organisations are making a concerted effort to digitise their data and make it easily accessible.

“I think to ensure that our parliament is transparent, open and accountable it is important as far as is possible, that proceedings of the House is made available to the public in an archived fashion to the greatest extent possible,” he said.

Information that was held online should remain online. I know it may be difficult to digitise older information, but what was available online should continue to be accessible for the purposes of journalists.

- With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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