Thursday, 9 November 2017
Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
Freedom of Information Legislation
29. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has satisfied himself with the current functioning of the freedom of information system under the 2014 Act; his plans to amend section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 to give power to him to instruct the Information Commissioner to carry out a review of the operations of the Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47196/17]
As specified in section 43(3) of the Freedom of Information Act 2014, the Information Commissioner is fully independent in the performance of his functions, including those under section 44 of the Act. I have no plans to amend the Act to allow for a Minister to instruct the Commissioner in this regard. To do so would adversely affect the important independent role of the Commissioner.
However, as the Deputy may be aware, an extensive review of the operation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) framework fed into the development of the FOI Act 2014 which introduced a modernised, consolidated, restructured and more accessible FOI system. The Act, alongside an FOI Code of Practice, seeks to bring about greater efficiency, consistency and promote best practice in the operation of FOI throughout public bodies.
FOI gives rise to significant challenges. The number, nature and complexity of requests continues to grow. To support the effective implementation of FOI, the FOI Central Policy Unit at my Department oversees a training framework to ensure consistency in standards and approach. A total of 128 contracts have been awarded with some 8,600 participants receiving training. The Central Policy Unit also provides ongoing support and advice to citizens and to FOI bodies through its website, www.foi.gov.ie and helpdesk and has presented at a number of conferences and training events. Networks for FOI Bodies have been established which provide an excellent means of sharing learning and expertise, assisting in the development of common approaches and facilitating the transfer of learning between FOI bodies.
Some 30,417 FOI requests were processed by public bodies in 2016, a record number and a doubling of the number reached under the previous Act, with some 73% of those requests granted either in full or in part. It is also worth noting that in only 3% of cases did requesters avail of the review mechanism available to them. Furthermore, only 1.5% of requesters seek an independent review by the Information Commissioner. The steps taken by my Department and the low level of appeals gives some indication of the progress being made in the implementation of the 2014 Act and the general satisfaction of requesters.