Nearly 34,000 Freedom Of Information requests made to public bodies

Speaking [ today 10 May ] at the launch of his annual report for 2017, Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall has called for more resources to be allocated to public bodies to deal with the increased number of Freedom of Information requests.                        

Almost 34,000 requests were made to public bodies in 2017 – a 67% increase since the removal of fees for FOI requests in 2014, and 11% more requests than in 2016.                   

The Information Commissioner said that 2017 was the worst year on record in terms of public bodies failing to make a decision in time on FOI requests.  In 29% of cases accepted by his Office, the public body failed to issue a timely decision both at the original decision making stage and the internal review stage of the FOI process.

The Information Commissioner said:

“I fully accept that public bodies must meet the increasing demand for their services and they often have to make difficult decisions in terms of prioritising the allocation of resources.  However, the administration of the FOI Act is a statutory function which should be afforded as much weight as any other statutory function.”

Despite a 12% increase in cases accepted in 2017 (497) the Office of the Information Commissioner completed 16% more cases than in 2016 and 93% more than 2013.  The time taken by the Office to complete cases has also dramatically improved, with 63% completed within 4 months and 98% within 12 months.

During 2017 the Information Commissioner made a number of key decisions directing release of information including:

  • details held by Dublin City Council of hotels and B&Bs providing emergency accommodation to homeless people (Page 52)
  • correspondence between the Department of Social Protection and the Data Protection Commissioner in relation to the Public Services Card (Page 55)
  • contractual information held by the Department of Justice and Equality relating to the operation of road safety cameras (Page 58)

The Commissioner also recently launched a new website www.oic.ie  with enhanced online services for both the public and for our other stakeholders.  It includes an online portal offering a fast and efficient facility to submit applications for review, an enhanced search facility and a suite of Guidance Notes for public bodies.

The Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information (OCEI)

Environmental Commissioner receives record number of appeals

The Information Commissioner is also the Commissioner for Environmental Information.  The role of the Commissioner for Environmental Information is to decide on appeals by members of the public who are not satisfied with the outcome of their requests to public authorities for environmental information under the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations 2007 to 2014.

The OCEI received 52 appeals of decisions made by public authorities in response to requests made under the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) regulations.   This is the same number as in 2016 which is the largest number since the Office was established in 2007. 

The Office completed 51 cases in 2017 – the highest since the Office was established.  The Commissioner also issued more formal decisions (35) than in any previous year.  

Similar to the performance by public bodies under the FOI Act, 2017 saw the highest number of cases seen by the Environmental Commissioner where the public authority failed to issue a decision within the required time frame either at the initial decision stage or appeal stage.  In 40% of the 51 cases completed by the OCEI public authorities failed to make a decision in the first instance.

Among the cases dealt with by the Commissioner for Environmental Information in 2017 were:

  • A case where the Commissioner was unable to determine whether information on meetings in a Government Minister’s electronic diary amounted to ‘environmental information’.  This was as a result of the version of the diary used by the original decision maker not being available to the Commissioner.  The diary was that of the then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys.  (Page 91)
  • In a number of cases the Commissioner has had to consider whether the request was ‘manifestly unreasonable’.  The Commissioner has warned that making a very broad request can run the risk of a refusal and encouraged both applicants and public authorities to discuss the scope of AIE requests.  In case involving a request to the Environmental Protection Agency for “all records” in the possession of the EPA relating to the Enva plant in Co. Laois the EPA said it would take 130 person hours to process the request.  Having examined the EPA’s submission in detail the Commissioner was satisfied that processing the request would impose an unreasonable burden on the EPA.  (Page 92)

The Commissioner for Environmental Information also launched a new website with an enhanced search facility and additional resources for public authorities: www.ocei.ie.

END

 

For Media queries:

Dave Nutley
Head of Communications
Office of the Information Commissioner

Phone: 01 639 5610 or 086 023 1420

E mail: david.nutley@ombudsman.ie

18 Lower Leeson Street
Dublin 2

www.oic.ie
www.ocei.ie

Issued by the Office of the Information Commissioner