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Some links to government websites aren't directing to the right places. Here's why

The issues with website links redirecting back to the home page “will eventually cease to occur”, Varadkar said.

THE TAOISEACH HAS said that the “user experience” for people using government websites will “improve over time”, despite many links that appear in search engines not leading to the correct page. 

The issue has been one faced by people seeking to be directed to a specific government department webpage, only to be redirected instead to the home page of that site after clicking through on a search engine such as Google.

Ken Foxe, editor of TheJournal.ie‘s investigative platform Noteworthy, highlighted one example among many others last month. In this case, it was the Department of Transport’s log of freedom of information requests.

It has also been a problem faced by others trying to access information on government web pages. 

Leo Varadkar and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe were asked in the Oireachtas via a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien why pages that appear in online searches weren’t directing to the right web page.

O’Brien asked the “reason links from search engines or other sources to documents found on the website of his Department now link to a Department home page rather than the document itself; his plans to rectify the situation; and the advice taken before the change was implemented”.

Where previously each department had its own dedicated website (welfare.ie or justice.ie, for example), over the past couple of years the government has begun to migrate sites over to one umbrella website called gov.ie.

Varadkar told O’Brien that it is “generally best practice” to have all information required by the public consolidated into “one consistent accessible website”. 

“The most digitally advanced countries within the EU (see the EU eGovernment Benchmark 2018 – Denmark, Estonia, Austria, Latvia and Malta), have already moved to a single digital gateway approach,” the Taoiseach said.

Website content from the departments of the Taoiseach, Public Expenditure and Reform, Rural and Community Development, Transport, Tourism and Sport and Finance is already on the site. 

Varadkar said that content from the websites is reworked and in some cases put into plainer English when it’s moved over, but acknowledged the issue of links being broken and not directing to the right place.

“The migration of a website to a new one with a different address necessarily breaks links to the old website content from external sources,” he said.

This happens in all website migrations, including the department websites in question. This issue is temporary in nature as search engines re-index content on the internet, and also as external sites (that are not search indexes) update their links to point to the new location of content.

He said the issue of broken links will “eventually cease to occur”, and that work is ongoing to try to fix the issues that arise. 

“Between search engine re-indexing and the ongoing efforts based on website analytics, the user experience of gov.ie in regards to the matter the Deputy refers will improve over time,” the Taoiseach added. 

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Sean Murray

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