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The Irish Freedom of Information Act (FOI) was introduced to provide citizens with access to government documents. Freedom of Information reform has made it easier for people to request information. How well is this law actually doing? In this article, we will explore the number of requests made.
In December 2022, The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform published an update on the process of reviewing the Freedom of Information Act. This post outlines their progress and highlights information on some key issues. Download the full report.
Overview of the review process timeline
June 2021 – Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath T.D. (current Minister for Finance) announced the review.
September 2021 – Th roadmap document was published, providing stakeholders with details of the process. A consultation on the scope of the review followed. This review concluded in December 2021. (Approx. 1,200 responses were submitted by stakeholders across all sectors).
May 2022 – Conclusion of customer satisfaction survey. (1,100 more responses).
September 2022 – Conclusion of the full public consultation on the key items from the above review. (60 more responses received).
2023 – The process is due for competition in early 2023. Initial findings and recommendations are under consideration.
Increase in the volume of requests received
The updated Freedom of Information Act 2014 came in to effect on 14th October 2014. It’s first full year in operation was 2015. The number of requests received more than doubled between 2013 and 2019. Approx. 18,000 (2013) – 41,000 (2019). 2020 saw a decrease the upward trend resumed in 2021.
The report attributed some of this increase to new bodies coming within the scope of FOI for the first time. All sectors, notably Local Government, saw a marked increased demand for FOI services across this timeframe.
Who is making the Freedom of Information requests and what are they requesting?
The introduction of the 2014 Freedom of Information Act saw a notable change in the types of requests received by public bodies. In 2013, (the last full year where the 1997 Act applied), almost four out of five FOI requests were for personal information. Personal information relates to the requester themselves, and only 20% for non-personal information. From 2015 this ratio dropped to, and stabilized at around 60% personal, and 40% non-personal requests.
The percentage of requesters who identified themselves as journalists doubled from 9.7% in 2013 to around 20% from 2015 onwards. There was a consistent increase in the percentage of requesters who identified themselves as ‘Other’, from 10% in 2013 to almost 20% in 2021.
Requesters who identified themselves as clients of a public body has dropped significantly from its peak of 73% in 2013. Clients are the largest requesters, accounting for 50% of requests in each year since 2015.
The health sector, including the HSE, hospitals, agencies, and services, accounts for almost 50% of the total annual requests between 2016 and 2019, with its maximum level exceeding 80% in 2013. The most common use of FOI is requests for personal information.
What’s next for Freedom of Information?
The review is at well-advanced. Information gathering is complete. Findings and recommendations are under active consideration. The review report is due to be presented and approved by the Government in Q1, 2023 If necessary, new legislation will be presented and a plan of action put into place to ensure successful implementation.
Get more more information at http://www.gov.ie/FOIreform/
What does this mean for Data Protection Officers?
We believe that the number of records requests will continue to grow. DPO’s will come under increased pressure, system such as spreadsheet and solutions that aren’t build specifically for managing requests will start to cause problems. This is discussed in a previous blog.