Up to 37,000 freedom of information requests made in 2018

Commissioner’s annual report shows requests increased by 8.5% last year

The Freedom of Information Act 2014 provides for a general right of access to records held by public bodies and also provides that records should be released unless they are found to be exempt. File photograph: Getty

The Freedom of Information Act 2014 provides for a general right of access to records held by public bodies and also provides that records should be released unless they are found to be exempt. File photograph: Getty

 

Nearly 37,000 freedom of information requests were made to public bodies last year, an 8.5 per cent increase on the previous year.

The figure also represents a rise of 32 per cent on 2015, the first full year when fees for making FOI requests were abolished, according to the annual report of the Information Commissioner.

Peter Tyndall, the Information Commissioner, said there is still an “unacceptable” number of cases where public bodies failed to make a decision within the required time frame when an FOI request was received.

The Freedom of Information Act 2014 provides for a general right of access to records held by public bodies and also provides that records should be released unless they are found to be exempt.

Public bodies failed to issue a decision at either the initial decision-making stage or internal review stage in 28 per cent of all cases accepted by the commissioner’s office.

Peter Tyndall, the Information Commissioner, said there is still an “unacceptable” number of cases where public bodies failed to make a decision within the required time frame when an FOI request was received. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Peter Tyndall, the Information Commissioner, said there is still an “unacceptable” number of cases where public bodies failed to make a decision within the required time frame when an FOI request was received. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Mr Tyndall is conducting an investigation of compliance with the relevant deadlines within a select number of public bodies and is due to publish his findings later this year.

There were 543 applications made to the commissioner’s office for a review of decisions while 276 cases were closed last year.

Two of these cases involved requests for records held in the private email accounts of former taoiseach Enda Kenny and former minister for justice and equality Frances Fitzgerald.

The respective departments did not contact either individual when processing the requests as they regarded the email accounts as private. However, as there was evidence that the private email accounts had been used in connection with the official business of the departments, the Information Commissioner directed each department to contact Mr Kenny and Ms Fitzgerald to determine if they held records coming within the scope of the requests.

HSE requests

In another case, the commissioner found that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was not required to provide a redacted copy of CCTV footage in which the applicant was captured as it did not have the necessary facilities to allow it to do so.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) received the highest number of requests (10,706), followed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (2,510) and Tusla (992).

Nearly 37,000 freedom of information requests were made to public bodies last year, an 8.5 per cent increase on the previous year. File photograph: iStockPhoto
Nearly 37,000 freedom of information requests were made to public bodies last year, an 8.5 per cent increase on the previous year. File photograph: iStockPhoto

The Department of Justice and Equality (827), Dublin City Council (774), the Department of Education and Skills (568) and An Garda Síochána (497) also featured in the top 10 public bodies that received the highest number of requests.

While 41 per cent of overall requests received last year were for access to non-personal records, the rate rose to 81 per cent in the case of local authorities.

Just under two-thirds of all requests made to Government departments and State bodies were for access to non-personal information, up from 56 per cent in 2017.

The HSE received requests for access to personal information in 88 per cent of cases.