There was a 38% increase in Freedom of Information (FOI) requests last year compared with 2014.
This increase is due to a drop in fees for journalists or members of the public who seek the release of information from government departments and public bodies under the FOI Act 2014.
So far in 2016, there has been a 65% increase in FOI requests, compared to the same period last year, according to the information commissioner Peter Tyndall.
Mr Tyndall was speaking yesterday at the launch of the Office of the Information Commissioner’s (OIC) annual report.
Another dramatic increase in relation to information requests relates to Irish Water.
Irish Water reported a 538% increase in requests received for information in 2015, which amounts to 561 requests. In 2014, Irish Water received only 88 requests.
“It was a very significant year in many respects for freedom of information in Ireland. This is the largest year-on-year increase since 1999. Probably the most important single factor there was the removal of the fee for the initial request,” said Mr Tyndall.
He added that the fee had constituted a “significant barrier to transparency,” and had “put people off” requesting information in the past.
The initial request for information cost €15, but this was done away with completely in July 2014.
Under the FOI Act 2014, a member of the public or a journalist can request information from a public body or Government body.
If they are unsatisfied by the decision on their request, they can appeal it to the OIC, however there is a €50 charge for this. It had cost €150 until July 2014.
Mr Tyndall noted that the increase in FOI requests related to non-personal matters.
“The increase as we predicted is mostly non-personal requests, we have seen a rise from 4,600 in 2014 to 10,179 in 2015, not least because of the very active of the new provision by journalists and that all plays an important part in furthering transparency and holding public bodies to account,” said Mr Tyndall.
He added that the OIC was forced to issue five non-compliance notices to public bodies last year.
St James’ Hospital, South Dublin County Council, and the National Sports Campus Development Authority each received one notice, and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, received two.
One of the decisions that the OIC made last year related to the expenses of members of the Oireachtas.
The OIC found that expenses were part of TDs’ and senators’ private papers and the FOI Act 2014 did not apply to them.
However, the information commissioner suggested that the expenses should fall under the legislation.
“I have to say as a personal commentary on that, that in the interest of transparency and openness, I would hope that the Oireachtas might reconsider that position because it seems to me there is a legitimate public interest in understanding what expenses are being paid to members of the Oireachtas.
“It has the perverse effect of suggesting that all might not be right, if it’s not released, whereas if it’s open and transparent then all of those issues can be addressed in the public domain,” Mr Tyndall said.
The OIC’s annual report is available on their website, www.oic.gov.ie.
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