Record number of FOI requests made to public bodies
Reviews accepted by Information Commissioner up 32%
30,417 requests under the Freedom of Information Act were made to public bodies in 2016. This was the highest number of FOI requests ever recorded. The number of applications made to the Information Commissioner to review FOI decisions rose by 32% in the same year.
Speaking today, 7 June 2017, at the launch of his Annual Report for 2016 Information Commissioner and Commissioner for Environmental Information Peter Tyndall said:
“Since the removal of fees for FOI requests in 2014 there has been a dramatic increase in the number of requests made to public bodies. The demand has not been met with a sufficient increase in resources to process FOI requests. I am concerned that many public bodies are not treating FOI with as much importance as their other statutory functions.”
Despite the 32% increase in applications for review accepted in 2016, the Commissioner’s Office increased the number of cases it completed by 34%.
An Garda Síochána
The number of FOI requests made to An Garda Síochána increased by 150% (from 183 to 459) in 2016. In one case the Information Commissioner directed An Garda Síochána to release information relating to its staffing levels. When there was a delay in releasing the information the Commissioner said he considered using his powers for the first time to apply for a court order to require An Garda Síochána to comply with his decision. 11 weeks after the Commissioner’s decision An Garda Síochána finally released the information.
At the launch of his Annual Report the Information Commissioner also:
- noted that 2016 was the worst year recorded by his Office for public bodies failing to provide timely decisions. No decision issued by the public body at either the original decision or internal review decision stage in 24% of cases accepted by his Office
- expressed concern about some public bodies who appealed to the High Court in 2016, seeking to challenge the procedures adopted by his Office in the course of a review.
Key decisions made in 2016
The Commissioner also described some of the key decisions he issued in 2016:
- In one case the Commissioner accepted that the Health Products Regulatory Authority was justified in refusing access to the location of research institutions involved in animal testing and the identity of individuals involved. This was because disclosure could reasonably be expected to endanger the life and safety of the individuals. He directed release of some of the remaining information in the inspection reports. The decision has been appealed to the High Court by the HPRA.
- In another case the Commissioner overturned the decision of Galway City Council to refuse access to the names of hotels and B&Bs which were paid by the Council to provide emergency accommodation. A similar decision has been appealed to the High Court by Dublin City Council.
- The Commissioner accepted that the FOI Act does not apply to NAMA in relation to the records it holds which “concern purchasers or potential purchasers of any asset or loan or of any other asset securing loans held or managed by NAMA”.
Commissioner for Environmental Information
Peter Tyndall is also the Commissioner for Environmental Information and reviews decisions of public authorities made under the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations 2007 to 2014.
There was a 68% increase in the number of appeals made to his Office in 2016 while the Commissioner issued 27 decisions, which is more than the four previous years combined.
Key decisions made in 2016:
- In one case, ‘Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages’ sought access to information held by the Marine Institute on disease in farmed salmon. The Commissioner for Environmental Information found that the information should be released, as any possible commercial damage was outweighed by the public interest in transparent regulation of the fish farming industry.
- In another case, access to information held by ESB Networks Ltd. on the power output of an electricity generation facility was requested. The Commissioner found that although release of the information would adversely affect commercial and industrial confidentiality, there was a strong public interest in the transparent operation of renewable energy policy and price support mechanisms.
The 2016 Annual Report is available on the Commissioner's website at www.oic.ie
Further information contact:
Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator - 01 639 5680 / 087 411 0557
Media enquiries contact:
David Nutley, Communications Unit – 01 639 5610 / 086 023 1420