Information Commissioner says office may be unable to cope
The Office of the Information Commissioner will be unable to cope with processing appeals under the Freedom of Information Acts if additional public bodies are added to those already open for scrutiny, an Oireachtas committee was told yesterday.
Information Commissioner Emily O'Reilly said she was "acutely aware" of the backlog in her office, which deals with appeals after public bodies have rejected applications to release information under FOI.
She told the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform that the optimum deadline for processing appeals was four months, but this occurred in only a quarter of cases.
She said the organisation could not cope at the moment with the staff numbers it had and would not be able to cope with the new bodies.
"No amount of restructuring we can do will make much difference," she said. She said she had written to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform requesting additional staff.
Provisions in the proposed legislation extend the number of statutory bodies which will be subject to FOI scrutiny.
Ms O'Reilly welcomed plans to reduce some fees but said the initial €15 FOI application fee was still "an impediment to the public seeking records".
Séamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said access to information was a feature of modern democracy and all fees should be abolished. He said up front search and retrieval fees were particularly difficult for freelance journalists. "The current charge structure is a disincentive," he said.
He welcomed the extension of the Act to other State bodies and could not think why bodies should not be covered by it.