Significant Progress in Implementing the new Freedom of Information (FOI) regime

Issued 27 January 2015

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Brendan Howlin T.D., today updated his Cabinet colleagues on the substantial progress already achieved since the comprehensive FOI reform legislation that he sponsored came into force on 14 October 2014.  

The Minister said:-

The Freedom of Information Act 2014 is a far-reaching reform and modernisation of Ireland’s FOI regime. My priority subsequently has been to ensure that the benefits of the legislation are realised through effective implementation”. 

In this context, the Minister highlighted to Government a number of very positive developments:-

  • FOI is being extended to all public bodies – a crucial departure from the pre-existing situation under which a public body had to be explicitly identified under the legislation, in order for FOI to apply. 
  • Over 1,000 civil and public servants have attended briefing sessions on the new legislation.
  • The upfront FOI application fee was abolished immediately following enactment – this was accompanied by a significant re-design of the search and retrieval fees regime in place since 1998 allowing for up to five hours search, retrieval and copying time at no charge and caps on the amount of such fees that can be charged.
  • A Code of Practice on FOI has been published in tandem with the coming into effect of the new legislation and can be downloaded atwww.foi.gov.ie/guidance/code-of-practice. The Code draws heavily on proposals made by an expert group on FOI. The Code promotes best practice in the operation of FOI and seeks to bring about greater efficiency and consistency throughout public bodies in dealing with FOI requests. 
  •  As announced by Minister of State Harris recently, a single FOI Training Framework has been put in place which provides a panel of trainers from which FOI bodies can procure quality-assured training in a consistent and cost-effective manner;
  • A new Central Policy Unit FOI website has been developed and is in place as a resource for public bodies and the general public at www.foi.gov.ie
  •  Work is underway on the development of a draft model publication scheme for FOI which the Minister proposes to make this year.  The introduction of a publication schemes is a major innovation in FOI through which public bodies will be required to publish extensive information on a proactive basis outside of FOI.

 The Minister said 

The new FOI regime which I have put in place will make a major contribution to the achievement of the Government’s objective to secure greater transparency and openness. 

The suite of important implementation measures underway is a clear demonstration of the Government’s determination to ensure that public bodies operate FOI efficiently and effectively and increasingly make official information available proactively under the publication scheme model to be put in place.”

 

ENDS

 

Notes to Editor

 

  • The Freedom of Information Act 2014, enacted on 14 October 2014, provides for the commitments in relation to freedom of information contained in the Programme for Government by removing the main substantive restrictions in access to official information introduced in 2003, extending FOI to all public bodies unless specifically exempt, in whole or in part, and providing a framework for the extension of FOI to non-public bodies in receipt of significant funding from the Exchequer.  The Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003 are repealed under the new Act.

 

  •  Section 27 of the FOI Act 2014 and S.I. 531 of 2014 together provide for the new FOI fees regime.

 

  • Following a Request for Tender, a single FOI Training Framework was put in place in December 2014, which provides a panel of trainers from which FOI bodies can draw from.  Training given by bodies and qualified external providers will undergo quality assurance from the FOI Central Policy Unit with a view to ensuring consistency in standards, approach and core messages. 

 

  •  A new Central Policy Unit FOI website (www.foi.gov.ie) has been developed and is live.  The website is an important information resource for the public bodies and general public alike and will also support the training process.  The website will continue to be enhanced over the coming months.

 

  • The Minister proposes to make a model publication scheme this year which will be designed to provide basic information on the FOI body to the general public in a consistent manner on the websites of FOI bodies.