Action 3.3 – Reform of FOI

Action 3.3 – Reform of FOI

 

Commitment Completion Template

Action 3.3 – Reform of FOI

Lead implementing agency

Department of Public Expenditure & Reform

Name of responsible person from implementing agency

Evelyn O’Connor

Title, Department

Principal, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

Email

Evelyn.O’Connor@per.gov.ie

Phone

604 5311

Other actors involved

Government

Department of Public Expenditure & Reform in consultation with public bodies and the Office of the Attorney General be involved in the delivery of this action.   All public bodies will be involved in implementation once the Bill is enacted.

 

CSOs, private sector, working groups, multilaterals

N/A

Main Objective

Reform of FOI

Brief Description of Commitment

(140 character limit)

Implementing a comprehensive reform of Ireland’s Freedom of Information legislation through the FOI Bill 2013 and the establishment of a Code of Practice for FOI as referenced above.

Relevance

Briefly describe the way

in which this commitment

is relevant to further advancing OGP values

of access to information, public accountability, civic participation, and technology and innovation for openness and accountability. (A

detailed description of these values is available in the OGP

Values Guidance Note.)

This commitment addresses the grand challenges of improving public services and increasing public integrity.  It is relevant to the advancement of transparency, accountability and public participation.

 

The new FOI Act came into force on 14 October 2014.  It removed the main substantive restrictions in access to official information which had been introduced in 2003 providing access to records which would previously have been excluded. 

 

The Act also extends the powers of the Information Commissioner and introduces provisions to ensure that FOI requests for information held electronically are dealt with effectively.  It also clarifies that there is a general right of access to records held by public bodies and introduces new policies and principles clarifying that FOI bodies must have regard to the need to achieve greater openness in their activities and adherence to the principle of transparency and to strengthen accountability and improve the quality of decision-making.  

 

It also extended FOI to all public bodies unless specifically exempt in whole or in part and provides a framework for the extension of FOI to non-public bodies in receipt of significant funding from the Exchequer.  The legislation also provided an opportunity for a necessary consolidation, modernisation and updating of the legislation and the legislation was simplified and restructured to make it more accessible to the citizen.   

 

The new Act applies to all public bodies including newly established bodies that conform to the definition of public body in Section 6 of the Act (a very broad definition designed to bring as many bodies as possible within remit), unless they are specifically exempt or part-exempt for necessary reasons such as to protect the economic interests of the State. The Act brought a number of long-established high profile excluded bodies within remit for the first time including the Central Bank, An Garda Siochana and many others.

 

The €15 application fee has been abolished and a minimum threshold of €101 (approx. 5 hours) below which no search, retrieval and copying fees can be charged provided the request can be processed within this time period.  A cap of €500 on the charging of search, retrieval and copying was also introduced. 

 

Ambition

Briefly describe the intended policy results of the commitment and how it will either make government more open or improve government through more openness.

The existence of adequate and effective arrangements for governance and accountability within the civil service and between the civil service, the political level and citizens generally is one of the fundamental elements of a democratic system of government.

 

The FOI Act 2014 has provided citizens with a more open and transparent method of obtaining information held by public bodies.  The abolition of the up-front fee for making a request, the reduction of the fees for making appeals, and the minimum threshold and cap limits put in place for search, retrieval and copying have all lead to more accessible information.

 

The Act is in favour of releasing information with the onus on the relevant public body to apply the necessary exemption, usually subject to a public interest test.

 

Completion level

Not started / Limited

Substantial

Completed

 

 

x

Description of the results Include specific activities within the reporting period (first

or second year of the action plan) and, wherever possible, please indicate whether there has been evidence of members of the public using the commitment or whether the commitment has had an effect.

It was aimed that the comprehensive reform of Ireland’s FOI legislation would be implemented through the FOI Bill 2013 and the establishment of a Code of Practice for FOI, and that these would be ongoing to be completed by the end of 2014.

 

The FOI Act 2014 came into force in October 2014.  The Code of Practice for FOI was issued in tandem with the Act.

The following legislation has all been issued subsequently in accordance with various sections of the Act:

  • SI No 531 of 2014 - Freedom of Information Act 2014 (Fees) (No. 2) Regulations 2014
  • SI No 103 of 2015 - Freedom of Information Act 2014 (Commencement Date for Certain Bodies) Order 2015
  • SI No 144 of 2015 - Freedom of Information Act 2014 (Exempted Public Bodies) Order 2015
  • SI No 148 of 2015 - Freedom of Information 2014 (Effective Date for Certain Bodies) Order 2015
  • S.I. 218 of 2016 Freedom of Information Act 2014 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Regulations 2016
  • S.I. 330 of 2016 Freedom of Information Act 2014 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Regulations 2016

 

 

A Model Publication Scheme and associated Guidance which provides for the proactive publication by FOI bodies of official information was published by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in accordance with Section 8 of the FOI Act 2014. Each FOI body was required to complete its own Publication Scheme, based on the Model Publication Scheme, not later than 14 April 2016.

 

Regarding the provision of key principles to guide public bodies in the performance of their functions under the Act; the extensions of the functions/powers of the Information Commissioner; provisions to ensure that FOI requests relating to information held electronically are dealt with effectively; and confirmation that there is a general right of access to records held by public bodies; each of these principles have been addressed in the FOI Act 2014.

 

End date

Q3/2015

Next steps

Further regulations/orders will be made as required

 

Additional information (Description on what remains to be achieved

and any risks or challenges to implementing the commitment.)

The Information Commissioner may examine and report on the extent to which FOI Bodies are in compliance with Section 8 (Publication of information about FOI bodies) of FOI Act 2014.

 

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