UPDATE: The footage has been restored after a lot of fuss was raised on social media yesterday.
Hopefully, the archive will now be made permanent, searchable, and easy to access for everybody despite the “minimal traffic”.
UPDATE 2: We are still awaiting a clear statement from Oireachtas on what they plan to do with archive and whether its restoration will be permanent.
NEARLY ten years of footage of debates from Leinster House that was accessible to the public has been permanently deleted from the Internet by the Oireachtas.
The massive bank of footage was widely used by journalists, academics, members of the public, and was particularly popular on social media in catching out u-turning politicians.
However, the database disappeared from the Oireachtas website earlier this month without warning because they said there was “minimal traffic” looking at the files.
The move has been condemned by politicians who said it was scarcely believable that a valuable resource like that could simply be let vanish.
Fianna Fáil Communications spokesman TD Timmy Dooley said it made no sense not to have the video record “as easily available” as it had been in the past.
He said: “I would have thought that in terms of the parliament wanting to be more open and transparent — which is part of the mission statement after all — we should be providing easy access to the archives.
“We have our own TV channel so all of this archival information should be made easily available, particularly when you’re encouraging research in the area, outreach into schools, and the opening up of parliament. We shouldn’t be afraid of scrutiny of what we have said in the past on the record in the Dáil.
“There’s no reason why if it’s already been in the public domain, that it should have been removed.”
The Oireachtas said the archive had dated back ten years but had not covered absolutely all proceedings of the Dáil, Seanad, and committees.
They said most of the videos had been in a file type that had become obsolete and were causing some people difficulties when they tried to view them.
“Many of our users could not access or play these files and we were increasingly being contacted by users who were having difficulty,” they said.
However, the material was in fact easily accessible using one of many video players that are available to download for free online, which can easily play the material.
In fact, at one stage the Oireachtas web page on which the videos were available actually had specific instructions for people on how to get the software to view it.
The Oireachtas said: “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.”
Individual clips can still be accessed by request to their Broadcasting Unit, they said.
They said the written copies of the debates available online still remained the “canonical source” for what has been said in the Oireachtas.
However, instances have been discovered where the record has differed markedly from what was actually said in the Dáil including the controversy over whether politician’s expenses could be classified as “private papers” and kept hidden from public view.
The archiving of the footage had originally formed part of the Oireachtas’ eDemocracy Unit, which planned to use the web to open up politics to a wider audience.
The person behind the Twitter account newsworthy.ie, who has used dozens of the clips to show up contradictions or u-turns by politicians over the years, said the Oireachtas excuses for deleting the archive simply did not add up.
For finding clips in future, he must now make a formal request that must then go to an off site archive and takes at least several days to be returned.
A request he submitted for two clips of Leo Varadkar appearing to contradict himself on paying a Sunday premium to employees has still not been dealt with a week later.
He said: “It makes a mockery of the term eDemocracy when access has to be requested formally to the Broadcasting Unit. The cost involved in hosting a web server is minimal particularly if as they are saying there is minimal traffic.
“The official report can at times be inaccurate and sometimes can change the context of what was said to a large degree.”
However, he was told the decision was not going to be reversed and instead a new 18-month rolling archive would be introduced with all footage from before that date then deleted.