Freedom of Information (FOI)
A new Freedom of Information Act came into force on 14 October 2014. It provides for the commitments in relation to freedom of information contained in the Programme for Government by removing the main substantive restrictions in access to official information introduced in 2003, extending FOI to all public bodies unless specifically exempt in whole or in part and providing a framework for the extension of FOI to non-public bodies in receipt of significant funding from the Exchequer. The legislation also provided an opportunity for a necessary consolidation modernisation and updating of the legislation. The Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003 are repealed under the new Act. The FOI reform legislation is being introduced in tandem with the introduction of a new Code of Practice developed with the assistance of external FOI experts and advocates to improve the operation of Ireland's FOI regime.
The new Act applies to all public bodies that conform to the definition of public body in Section 6 of the Act, unless they are specifically exempt or part-exempt under the provisions of Section 42 or Schedule 1 of the Act. As new public bodies are established, they will automatically be subject to FOI unless they are specifically exempt by order made by the Minister. In general, bodies that are to be made subject to FOI for the first time under the Act will have 6 months from enactment before FOI is to apply.
The Freedom of Information Act 2014 provides for a completely new FOI fees regime. The Ministerial Order establishing the new fees regime (S.I. 531 of 2014) can be found here. The following is a summary of the new fee structure in respect of non-personal requests:
The €15 application fee has been abolished;
There is a minimum threshold of €101 below which no search, retrieval and copying fees can be charged. Once the charge reaches €101, full fees apply;
There is a cap on the amount of search, retrieval and copying fees that can be charged of €500;
There is a further upper limit on estimated search, retrieval and copying fees at €700 above which an FOI body can refuse to process a request, unless the requester is prepared to refine the request to bring the search, retrieval and copying fees below the limit;
The fee for internal review under Section 21 is now €30 (€10 for medical card holders and their dependants)
The fee for appeals to the Information Commissioner under Section 22 is now €50 (€15 for medical card holders and their dependants).
A key innovation included in the legislation requires public bodies to pre-empt the need for FOI requests by preparing and furnishing publication schemes. Publication Schemes are regarded as best practice internationally and are intended to promote the proactive publication of information outside of FOI. The Minister launched the Model Publication Scheme and Guidance on 14th October 2015. The Scheme sets out the information an FOI body must publish on its website including details about the body, the services it provides, decision making processes for major policy proposals, financial information, procurement information and an FOI Disclosure Log. FOI bodies have six months from that date to prepare and publish their own Publication Schemes together with the underlying documentation.
The requirements of the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 also apply to Teagasc. The Data Protection Acts protect the privacy of individuals whose personal data is being processed. Personal data is information relating to a living individual who can be identified from the data itself or in conjunction with other information held.