Thursday, 29 April 2021
Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
Freedom of Information
35. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to review the Freedom of Information Act 2014; and if he has embarked on preliminary in drafting a new freedom of information Act and or amendments to the existing legislation. [22465/21]
The 2014 Act consolidated and modernised the FOI system in Ireland, brought a large number of additional bodies in to FOI, and has continued to bed in successfully in the intervening years. The Central Policy Unit for Freedom of Information at my Department continues to monitor the operation of the FOI system, including by regular engagement with the network of FOI Officers throughout the civil and public service and by tracking appeals, court proceedings and other matters as they arise.
To date, no issues have been noted as requiring an urgent amendment to the 2014 Act. The most recent statistics published by the Information Commissioner show that FOI bodies in Ireland processed 41,176 FOI requests in 2019, the highest number since the introduction of FOI legislation. Demand has almost doubled since the introduction of the 2014 Act. 87% of requests were granted in full or in part and in only 3% of cases did the requester seek an internal review, while in only 1% of cases was an independent review sought by the Office of the Information Commissioner. Moreover, in 2019 in only a quarter of cases reviewed by him did the Commissioner issue a decision annulling or varying the decision of the public body concerned. Therefore, at present, all objective indications are that the system is robust and functioning well.
However, my Department will continue to monitor the position and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the FOI system continues to operate effectively and to deliver on its aims of openness, transparency and accountability of public bodies.
36. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he and or his officials have undertaken and or completed work on a project and or research regarding the cost of freedom of information for public bodies; and if he will provide this Deputy with the report or research undertaken regarding this work. [22466/21]
Estimating the cost of FOI for public bodies is something that has proven difficult in all jurisdictions that have attempted it.
A project seeking detailed information on FOI requests processed in the state was commenced in 2016, in terms of the time taken by officials at various grades, however this project was discontinued in early 2017 as it was found to be unduly administratively burdensome.
Following this, consultations were undertaken with stakeholder organisations as to whether a more streamlined and efficient methodology could be used, and a potential approach was devised. The project was at a fairly advanced stage of development when the Covid-19 crisis intervened. At present, this initiative has been paused in order to avoid creating a further administrative burden for bodies that are already under significant pressure in ensuring the continuity of FOI services in the face of unprecedented disruption and high levels of demand.
However, it is proposed to restart this project as soon as the circumstances permit. If the Deputy wishes to contact the Central Policy Unit for Freedom of Information at my Department, further specific details can be provided.