Written answers

Thursday, 8 February 2024

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

Freedom of Information

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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183. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when he will publish legislation to modernise and update the Freedom of Information Act and ethics in public office legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5994/24]

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy’s question highlights a commitment that we made in the 2020 Programme for Government to “reform and consolidate the Ethics in Public Office Legislation”. To action this commitment my Department undertook a review of the statutory framework in advance of bringing new proposals for reform to Government. This Review was completed in December 2022 and its Report submitted to Government. The Government approved the publication of the Report and agreed to the preparation of draft legislation to reform the regime informed by the outcome of the review.

The Report's recommendations focus broadly on five key themes:

  • the legislative framework for Ethics should be underpinned by a set of overarching integrity principles;
  • there should be new specific statutory prohibitions, including on the use of insider information;
  • disclosure requirements should be strengthened to improve transparency and examining whether the regime should encompass more office holders;
  • a strengthening of SIPO; and
  • any post-term employment restrictions contemplated for elected officials/public servants should seek to address matters not already covered by lobbying regulation and should align closely with that legislation.
To further progress the Programme for Government commitment, my Department is now preparing a draft scheme for legislative reform in consultation with relevant Ministers and informed by the outcome of the Review. Drafting of Heads of Bill is significantly advanced, with the ultimate goal of creating a fit-for-purpose, easy to understand and user-friendly ethical framework that contributes to the quality and efficacy of our public administration.

Alongside this work, a review of the FOI regime has also been undertaken and is nearing completion.

The review process has been an open and collaborative one, taking in the views of a wide range of stakeholders. It commenced with a scoping process which sought the views of stakeholders across all sectors in setting the direction of the review. Approximately 1,200 responses were received at this stage of the process from individuals, organisations, and public bodies.

In addition, a customer satisfaction survey was undertaken, which sought the views of both requesters and the staff of public bodies involved in processing requests. 1,100 further responses were received in this project.

Based on key themes identified in the previous stages of information gathering, a full public consultation was undertaken, with 60 further responses received.In order to further tease out particular issues, a series of focus group sessions and interviews were carried out with key stakeholder groups.

This process of engagement was accompanied by a review of international approaches to FOI, seeking to identify best practices and innovations globally.

A progress update was issued to stakeholders at the end of 2022, which summarised key findings in the information gathering process to date, and set out in broad terms the matters under consideration.

There are three main strands. Firstly, a more coherent approach to information governance and access. Secondly, supplementing formal FOI requests with less bureaucratic and more direct ways of achieving transparency, including proactive publication of information. Finally, the review addresses various issues and proposals for improving the FOI request process.

The process of preparing the final review report commenced in mid-2023. This has been undertaken in close collaboration with the Office of the Information Commissioner, but also other policy-holders in related areas, such as the National Archives. The report is now nearing completion. It is intended that the recommendations arising from the review will inform the preparation of amending legislation.

My Department aims to bring both the Heads of Bill for the Ethics Reform and the FOI final review report to Government for approval to publish in the coming months.


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