Amendments to FOI legislation will mean higher fees if passed
Proposed amendments to be debated
Brendan Howlin: said the restoration and extension of FOI was “central to the delivery of the Government’s reform agenda to secure greater openness, transparency and accountability of public governance”
Public access to information held by State agencies and bodies is set to become much more expensive if amendments to the new Freedom of Information Bill, due to be debated at committee stage this week, are passed.
The new Bill was introduced after the Government pledged on taking office to “restore the Freedom of Information Act to what it was before it was undermined” and to extend it “to all statutory bodies significantly funded from the public purse”.
Freedom of Information legislation was introduced in 1997 and provided access to government-held information at minimal cost, with some exceptions. However, in 2003, changes were introduced. These included an up-front fee of €15 per request for anything other than personal information, appeals charges and limits to access.
At the launch of the latest Bill in July this year, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said the restoration and extension of FOI was “central to the delivery of the Government’s reform agenda to secure greater openness, transparency and accountability of public governance”.
Though the Bill has reduced the cost of appeals, it has not reversed the initial €15 charge required for FOI requests. And the proposed amendments, due to be debated at the Select Sub-Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform this week, include a clause that could multiply the initial fee required.
It states where a request is made up of two or more parts “seeking separate and distinct information” relating to functions and responsibilities carried out by “different functional areas” of the body to whom the request is made, the requester will be required to pay a separate fee for each part. This could affect, for example, requests to the Health Service Executive where data is required from all HSE hospitals.