FOI Requests Increase 'Significantly'

The Information Commission has revealed today the amount of requests under the Freedom of Information Act has "increased significantly".

In her annual report, the Information Commissioner Emily O'Reilly said that last year had seen an upsurge of 13% in FOI requests to public bodies.

Commissioner O'Reilly said the overall number of FOI requests to public bodies in 2009 had increased significantly and that "more thoughtful usage" had resulted in the Act being used as a tool to help ensure proper accountability in public administration.

"An example of this is the extensive media reports throughout the year of expenses paid by public bodies, particularly for travel by officials or board members of those bodies," the commissioner said.

She also welcomed the release of expenses records by public bodies at the first stage of request without requesters having to come to her Office for review.

However, the report also criticised the practice of removing public bodies that have been subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) from the scope of the act and noted that a number of key public bodies, such as An Garda Siochána, the Vocational Educational Committees, the National Treasury Management Agency and the newly established National Assets Management Agency, still remained outside the scope of FOI.

This morning Labours spokeswoman on Finance Joan Burton welcomed today's report, and congratulated the commissioner for the excellent work that she and her staff were doing.

"The increase in requests for information under Freedom of Information legislation is positive, but at 14,290 still falls far short of the 17,196 applications received in 2002, before the fees were increased. This indicates that the culture of transparency has still not taken hold at senior level in our public administration," Ms Burton said.

She added: "I believe that the scope of FOI needs to be extended. In particular if transparency in the economic management of our country is to mean anything, State institutions such as the NAMA, Central Bank and Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ireland, the National Treasury Management Agency, the National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission and the State Claims Agency, should be brought under the scope of FOI."


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