Irish Government Offers FOI Law Amendments

17 July 2013

The Irish government July 17 announced that it will soon offer a bill to make a variety of changes to the freedom of information law.

More public bodies will be brought under the act’s purview, according to the announcement, made by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin. This extension will cover the National Assets Management Agency  (NAMA), a government-backed financial body established to help bail out the Irish economy, and to a lesser degree the Central Bank of Ireland. A court in February ruled that NAM should be covered. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

In addition, as explained in a summary of the proposed amendments, “The 2003 Act limited the potential for access to records relating to services provided by a commercial state body or a private body under a contract for services to a public body.”

In a variety of ways, the proposal would loosen restrictions on the release of materials that are part of the deliberative process.

Regarding exemptions, “it is proposed to narrow the scope of the mandatory exemptions relating to certain diplomatic and defence records and to restore a harm test in some cases.”

Records estimating the cost of legislative proposals would no longer be exempted.

Among other things, the proposal will bring down some charges for handling requests. 

The charge an internal review of a refusal will be cut from 75 euros to 35 euros. Fees for the appeal of continued refusal to the information commissioner will be reduced from  150 euros to 50 euros. The 15 euro charge for an initial application will remain the same.

Cabinet-related records will be exempted from release for five years, not 10.

Many of the proposal would roll-back amendment made in 2003 to the 1997 FOI law.

The minister said, “The FOI Bill seeks in essence to ensure that Ireland’s FOI regime is restored to the top tier of legal frameworks internationally for facilitating access to official information.  The Bill will substantially restore the legislation and extend it to almost all public bodies, as well as consolidating and modernising it to improve the functioning of the Act and to improve the structure of the legislative framework.”

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