However, that was because most of the requests — 67% — fell outside the scope of the legislation, according to Superintendent Helen Deely, head of the Garda FOI unit.
Speaking at the second national FOI conference in Kilkenny yesterday, Supt Deely said the current status of FOI is that 225 requests have been refused since the legislation to include the organisation came into force in October 2014.
She said they received 364 requests in 2016 covering 795 questions, of which 169 were from journalists and 101 from members of the public. Five requests came from current and former staff for access to personal records. She said some were referred directly to human resources.
Overall, just 24 requests were granted and 54 were partially granted. Supt Deely said it is important to point out that the act only enables members of the public to obtain certain records pertaining to human resources, finance, and procurement, but that some of the requests fell outside these provisions.
Records such as those relating to the Emergency Response Unit, Security and Intelligence, and the Criminal Assets Bureau are exempt.
Supt Deely said they received a “significant number of queries” in relation to audit reports. However, there were occasions when such was the volume of information requested that it was not possible to process within the statutory timeframe and it was deemed a refusal.
The organisation spent the bones of a year preparing for the introduction of the act and 210 people were trained in advance. On the first day that the act took effect within the force, they received 24 FOI requests.
“We anticipated receiving somewhere between 10 and 40 on the first day,” she said.
Of queries received in relation to finance, they included requests for everything from how many hats the force has bought to the cost of firearms and ballistic vests, to how much the Communications Clinic contract was worth, to how much was spent policing the ploughing championships. She said it was only possible to give information on what the Garda were paid to police the event rather than how much it cost, mainly because of complex staffing arrangements.
Supt Deely said the Garda FOI unit has completed 12 internal reviews and three “refusals” were varied on review. Eight were upheld. There were six appeals to the Office of Information Commissioner, with two upheld, one annulled and three decisions awaited. She said a record management policy is now a “high priority”.
“As guards, we keep everything — it’s part of our training,” she said. “You never know when it might be required in court. We have no destruction policy, so we have everything going back to 2008.”
The law applies retrospectively to 2008.