Freedom of Information requests may extend to all state-funded bodies

Bodies like the GAA and charities such as Concern and Goal could be forced to open up their books to public scrutiny under new Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

The Government is looking to extend the reach of FOI legislation over non-public bodies that receive state funding, such as sporting groups and charities.

The Cabinet agreed yesterday that all public bodies – including An Garda Siochana, the National Asset Management Agency and the Central Bank – will be open to public scrutiny for the first time.

A spokesman said criteria for non-public organisations that could be subject to the new legislation would come down to “balancing the public interest with appropriate proportionality”.

“It would be bodies in receipt of significant funding (grants) from departments but we wouldn’t like to pre-empt our discussions with departments and advise on which bodies might be captured by this at this time,” said the spokesman.

“The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will consult with relevant line departments to agree the governing criteria for determining which bodies would be appropriate for bringing under the FOI Act at this time.”

He added that these groups would be brought in on a case by case basis.

The spokesman said no set criteria had been agreed upon as to which non-public bodies would fall under the extended reach of the FOI laws.

However, it could include the level of funding provided to a body, the percentage of that funding within the body’s overall budget, whether the grants are provided annually as opposed to once-off and the nature of the functions provided by the body and the extent to which it provides a service to the public.

Following yesterday’s announcement, the Government is to draft a Bill outlining that all state bodies will be subject to sharing inside information with the public upon request – with the exception of cases involving commercial or security sensitive information.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said he expects to publish the Bill later this year and the next phase he plans to consider is its reach over non-public bodies.

“Securing greater public access to official information has a critical role to play in strengthening the openness, transparency and accountability of the Irish administrative and political system,” Mr Howlin added.

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