I remember not long after I was first appointed to the Civil Service I was asked to 'man the phones' in our office one morning. A few minutes later the phone rang. A taxpayer had a query. I didn't have the needed information to hand, but I promised to research it and get back to him.
A few minutes later I had the answer and returned his call. I found his response surprising.
'You called back,' he gasped.
'Of course I did,' I said, puzzled. 'I said I would.'
'I know. They always say that. But you did!'
I don't know how fair that image is to those in the employ of the state in general, but there certainly is a bit of an impression out there that getting information out of them is difficult and getting a response to a phone-call, letter, or email, is a slow and painful business.
My most charming exchange of emails with the Office of the Press Ombudsman yesterday following the publication of 'those photos' certainly puts the lie to the notion that communicating with public servants can be difficult. Their promptness in replying was stunning and their courtesy unflagging. But I was surprised to learn that as I was not the subject of the offending images I had no standing on which to make a complaint. I suspect I was not the only one to discover that interesting fact this week.
I take their point that as the Ombudsman publishes the results of his investigations to allow others lodge complaints might cause further distress when the subject prefers to take no action. I also accept that members of the public have alternate ways of expressing their disapproval, such as a refusal to subscribe to their publications further (not really an option when it comes to RTE) or writing a stiff letter to the editor (which may or may not be published).
However, I still think it a pity that in cases where the injured party does complain, and the issue is one of genuine public interest, the general public may not join with their complaint. Not only to show solidarity with the victim but because in such cases publishers invariably put forward the defense they were acting in the public interest. In other words they claim to have been acting in the name of the people of Ireland; in my name. And I would appreciate there being a formal mechanism for me to register my rejection of their claim and my offence that they have attempted to make me a party to their actions in any way.
Perhaps if the legislation in this area is revisited this is a matter that should also be reconsidered.