PDF-off: the EU-IMF memo

The Department of Finance has published the Memorandum of Understanding between it and the EU/IMF. Along with the Four Year Plan, this is a document that Fianna Fail and the Green Party are using to tie a millstone around the neck of people in Ireland. It commits the government to 'front loading' (I cannot hear that phrase without thinking of babies' nappies) massive cuts in welfare and services. It is a document that fixes their plan (it is not ours) to something larger than Ireland: the IMF itself. Unelected technocrats are now governing the fate of millions of people. Quarterly checks on what is deemed to be 'progress' (you know, fewer teachers in your daughter's school?) will be made to ensure we are staying in line. As the BUDGETJAM liveblog has been noting, further privatisation of state services is also part of these 'adjustments'.

I will leave it to others to parse the details but one thing is clear: this is not a document for the little people. You are not meant to read this and you are certainly not meant to be able to make it usable elsewhere. The government version is one big image meaning the text is not searchable or available to copy and paste (Politico has created a text version embedded below and downloadable here). Paul May has made some good points on his blog recently that the Irish state PDFs large amounts of data:

"The friction involved in getting the most basic information from Irish public institutions acts against informed democracy. We assume that getting insight into how the government spends money is impossible, so we don’t try."

And so it is with the EU/IMF Memo. It is a document that was:

  1. typed up by someone or a few people,
  2. it was compiled into one document
  3. it was PDF'ed and then,
  4. hey, someone decided to scan that PDF to make it inaccessible.

And I do not just mean in an "I'm a geek and I want it" kind of way. It is inaccessible to screen readers and other enabling software that people use everyday. Gavin Sheridan and Mark Coughlan have done some great work over the years on transparency and freedom of information requests. They have tracked how difficult it is to get access to information and then in formats that can be made sense of. Having to take data about public service cuts out of one format into another is a hindrance to democracy. Furthermore, it is a symbol of a civil service that dismisses its citizens' power.

      The Memorandum of Understanding briefly scrambled this writer's pdf reader

        When one of our contributors opened up the Memorandum of Understanding in her pdf reader, this is what she saw...

        MB: Here is the full document, text searchable [ and copy and pasteable ;) ]