Annual Report of the Information Commissioner 2015

Chapter 1: The Year In Review

Table of Contents

Your right to information

The FOI Act 2014 provides for a general right of access to records held by public bodies and also provides that records should be released unless they are found to be exempt. The Act gives people the right to have personal information about them held by public bodies corrected or updated and gives people the right to be given reasons for decisions taken by public bodies, where those decisions expressly affect them.

The primary role of the Office of the Information Commissioner is to conduct independent reviews of decisions made by public bodies on FOI requests, where members of the public are dissatisfied with responses to those requests. As Information Commissioner, I have a further role in reviewing and publishing commentaries on the practical operation of the Act.

The FOI Act applies to all public bodies that conform to the definition of public body in Section 6(1) of the Act (unless they are specifically exempt or partially exempt under the provisions of Section 42 or Schedule 1 of the Act), and includes bodies such as Government Departments and Offices, local authorities, the Health Service Executive, voluntary hospitals, and universities. As new public bodies are established they will automatically be subject to FOI unless they are specifically exempt by order made by the Minister.

The European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2014 provide an additional means of access for people who want environmental information. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has published a set of Guidance Notes which can be accessed via the website of the Commissioner for Environmental Information at www.ocei.ie.

Both access regimes are legally independent of each other, as are my roles of Information Commissioner and Commissioner for Environmental Information.

Introduction

This is my third Annual Report as Information Commissioner covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 2015. Part II of this Report concerns my work during the year as Commissioner for Environmental Information.

On the back of a productive year in 2014, my Office enjoyed yet another very productive year in 2015 and I am once again pleased to be in a position to report on key achievements in the delivery of an effective and efficient service that can only be attributed to the hard work and commitment of my staff and other stakeholders involved in the FOI regime.

At the beginning of the year, I set specific challenging targets aimed at improving case turnaround times and optimising the percentage of cases closed within four months, as provided for in the Act.

It is a positive commentary on the dedication and commitment of the staff of my Office that I can report that of the 125 reviews that were on hand in my Office at the end of 2015, 93% were less than six months old, with just three cases being older than eight months. Furthermore, of all the reviews completed during the year, 53% were closed within four months, a significant increase on recent years. I report in more detail on these achievements and others later in this Chapter.

During the year, my Office continued to build constructively on its commitment to developing additional supports for public bodies. For example, work is ongoing on the development and publication of a series of guidance notes that should assist public bodies in the interpretation and understanding of the provisions of the Act. My Office has also developed, and will shortly publish, a suite of questions to assist caseworkers in drawing attention to the key issues that should be addressed when inviting submissions from public bodies.

Staff of my Office also attended meetings of the Interdepartmental Working Group and Public Service Users Network in 2015, to provide feedback on how public bodies might improve their FOI processing and their engagements with my Office.

My Office also significantly updated and subsequently published a comprehensive procedures manual which reflects the many changes we introduced in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our services. The manual provides a detailed explanation of how my Office conducts reviews under section 22 of the Act. The revised procedures, as reflected in the manual, are aimed at ensuring consistency and fairness in our approach to dealing with reviews. I believe the manual will also be of benefit to any and all who engage with my Office in the application of the Act.

The FOI Act 2014 extended FOI to a range of new bodies, a number of which are partially included under FOI, such as the Central Bank, the NTMA and NAMA. The new Act also removed the requirement to pay up-front fees for making FOI requests. It is not surprising, therefore, that the number of FOI requests made to public bodies in 2015 has increased by 38% on 2014.

My Office also received applications for review concerning a larger number of public bodies in 2015 than in previous years. In 2014, we accepted applications concerning 76 different bodies. In 2015 that number rose to 101.

The new Act has brought with it some specific challenges for my Office. A number of new bodies are still coming to grips with the complexities of the legislation, with the challenging timelines for complying with the various provisions and with the increased resource implications. As a result, my Office was not always in a position to complete reviews as quickly as we would have liked.

It is also noteworthy that some public bodies that have been subject to the provisions of the Act for many years continue to fall short in meeting their statutory requirements. For example, later on in this Report, I comment on the increase in the number of deemed refusals of requests by bodies and the number of notices issued by my Office under sections 23 and 45 of the FOI Act to enforce compliance with the Act. In the year ahead, my Office will continue to work with such bodies, old and new, with a view to improving the manner in which they deliver on the requirements of the Act.

While the FOI Act 2014 has extended the FOI regime to a broad range of additional bodies, it is by no means all-encompassing. Some bodies are included in part only. The manner in which such bodies are partially included has caused particular difficulties which I report on in Chapter 2.

Other areas of public services remain outside the scope of the Act. On this point, I welcomed the publication during the year of a Report by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions which calls for the Act to be extended to include all aspects of the Direct Provision System, which is used to accommodate asylum seekers in Ireland. The Committee also reported that the Information Commissioner should have oversight of the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) as well as the administration of the law relating to immigration and naturalisation.

I also note that while the Act provides for the extension of FOI to bodies in receipt of significant funding from the public purse, I am not aware that any steps have been taken to identify and include such bodies. Nevertheless, I am pleased that the Act has significantly extended the reach of FOI. Indeed, I expect to see the first application for review regarding An Garda Síochána at some stage in 2016.

The Act also included a key innovation relating to the publication of information without the need for FOI requests. The Act requires all FOI bodies to prepare and publish their own publication schemes, which will include details about the body, the services it provides, decision making processes for major policy proposals, financial information, procurement information and an FOI Disclosure Log. I was pleased to see the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform launch, on 14 October 2015, a Model Publication Scheme and related guidance. FOI bodies had six months from that date to prepare and publish their own Publication Schemes together with the underlying documentation.

Overall, as I stated at the beginning of my introduction, I am pleased to report on a productive year for my Office. I want to acknowledge the efforts of all my staff in rising to the challenge of maintaining high standards while integrating new methods, procedures and new legislation.

I want to express my sincere thanks to Bernie McNally, the former Director General. Bernie left the Office in 2015 to take up a new role as Assistant Secretary in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I wish Bernie well in her new role and I thank her for her incisive contribution to the work of the Office during her time here and particularly for the time she devoted to helping me settle into my role, when I first took up my position in 2013.

I am also delighted to welcome Jacqui McCrum as the new Director General. Jacqui comes to the Office with a wealth of experience, having held several senior management positions in a major Irish financial institution and having also worked in the area of change management. In August 2013, Jacqui was appointed Deputy Financial Services Ombudsman for Ireland, a position she held until she took up her current position.

I look forward to working with Jacqui in the years to come, and I have no doubt that my Office will benefit considerably from her extensive range of specialist and management experience.

Peter Tyndall
Information Commissioner
Commissioner for Environmental Information

Office developments in 2015

Strategic Plan 2016 - 2018

2015 saw the completion of my Office’s three year strategic plan for 2013 - 2015. Accordingly, I was pleased to present my first statement of strategy as Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, the sixth such review of strategic objectives by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Information Commissioner (incorporating the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information).

The Strategic Plan 2016 - 2018 sets out our key objectives for the next three years, which will be supported by detailed annual business plans. It builds upon the significant achievements from the last three years and will help us to deliver continuous improvements in the services we provide to our customers.

The plan focuses in particular on extending/improving the impact of my Office on the wider public service, on continuously improving the level of services we provide and in ensuring that our systems and processes allow us to deliver on those objectives. A copy of the plan can be found on my Office’s website.

Developing a first class case management system for the future

One of the objectives of the new strategic plan is that we will develop and enhance our management and administrative frameworks to enable and underpin our objectives of improving the wider public service and delivering an excellent customer focused service. New technologies offer ongoing opportunities to facilitate continuous improvement in the level of service my Office provides to its customers, and to extend and improve the impact the Office has on the wider public service.

In 2015, my Office undertook an in-depth review of its ICT infrastructure and systems and identified scope for significant improvements that will enable and underpin our strategic objectives. As part of an ICT renewal and improvement plan, the Office has committed to the development and implementation of a new case management system that will support the delivery of an effective and efficient service.

My Office has also embarked on a project to deliver a system that can manage documentation, processes, workflow and reporting requirements for varying types of cases. This will include digitalisation of services, automation of routine tasks, the minimisation of data entry and the use of electronic transfers of data between public service organisations. I anticipate that this will deliver better throughput and quality of casework along with an improved service for our customers.

In addition, I want to simplify and increase the options available to all our stakeholders for interacting with the Office, including online access. As such, in 2015, my Office commenced work on the development of an enhanced OIC website. It is envisaged that the new website will include an online portal to facilitate improved access to the Office for members of the public. The portal will offer a fast and efficient facility to submit and manage applications for review online, including quick and secure transfer of data and documents. It is intended that this system will be the first building block for a more expansive system that will be capable of streamlining interactions between all stakeholders in the FOI process.

Guidance notes

As I noted in my Introduction, my Office began the process of developing and publishing a series of Guidance Notes which provide a short commentary on my interpretation and application of the FOI Act 2014. The Notes draw on my decisions and on those of my predecessors, in giving examples of the approach my Office has adopted in the application and interpretation of particular provisions of the Act.

While the application of any provision in any case will always depend on the particular records and the relevant facts and circumstances, these Notes give general guidance on the application of the Act and should serve to assist FOI bodies in their everyday processing of FOI requests.

At the time of writing my Report, nine Guidance Notes were published on my Office’s website. We intend to publish a significant number of further Guidance Notes during 2016. It is noteworthy that we intend to update or amend the Guidance Notes as required, with the result that they should serve as up-to-date reflections of current thinking in relation to the provisions they cover. I hope that all users of the FOI Act, and public bodies in particular, will find them useful.

Irish Language Scheme

During 2015, my Office, along with the Office of the Ombudsman, prepared its third draft scheme under the Official Languages Act 2003. The Scheme (available on www.oic.ie), was approved by the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and will remain in force for a period of 3 years from 29 February 2016, or until a new scheme has been approved, whichever is the later.

Statutory notices issued to public bodies

Notices issued under section 45 of the FOI Act

Under section 45 of the FOI Act, I can require a public body to provide me with any information in its possession or control that I deem to be relevant for the purposes of a review.

My powers under section 45 have been enhanced under the FOI Act 2014. For example, section 45(8) provides that “Where an FOI body fails to comply with a binding decision of the Commissioner under this Act, the Information Commissioner may apply to the court for an order to oblige the FOI body to comply with the decision”.

Each year I report on the number of statutory notices issued by my Office under section 45. I am pleased to report that the number of notices issued by my Office under section 45 continues to decline on a year-by-year basis.

Notices issued under S45 of the FOI Act

In 2015 my Office issued notices under section 45 to the following bodies:

TUSLA - Child and Family Agency (two notices), and one each to South Dublin County Council, St. James’s Hospital and the National Sports Campus Development Authority*.

*The notice to the National Sports Campus Development Authority was issued under section 37 of the FOI Acts 1997-2003.

TUSLA - Child and Family Agency

When my Office receives an application for review, the first step is to seek the decision making records from the public body to determine if the application for review is valid. Bodies are given three working days to comply with such requests, given that the records in question should be readily available for all requests. In the vast majority of cases, the bodies have no difficulty in meeting that deadline.

In a case involving TUSLA, the records were not received within the time requested, so my Office issued a reminder, which was acknowledged. However, a further week passed with no response or explanation from TUSLA. Consequently, my Office issued a notice under section 45 to the Chief Executive of TUSLA and requested the records within one week. As no reply was received, my Office re-issued the notice letter to the office of the Chief Executive but it was a further five days before a response was received from TUSLA acknowledging receipt of that letter. A further week passed and my Office again requested a response. The records were eventually received by my Office six weeks after the initial request was issued and received by TUSLA.

In a second case, my Office wrote to TUSLA on 5 October and requested a response, in the form of a focused submission, within two weeks. A focused submission from a public body provides my Office with more detail about how exemption provisions of the FOI Act were applied by the public body to refuse access to the records requested by the applicant.

In the normal course, it remains at the discretion of the public body as to whether it wishes to make a submission on a review. As section 22(12)(b) of the FOI Act places the onus on the FOI body of satisfying me that its decision to refuse to grant a request was justified, failure to justify a claim for exemption may lead to a decision to direct the release of the records at issue. However, where a public body refuses all or part of a request on the ground that the information sought does not exist or cannot be found, my Office is not generally in a position to progress the review until the body has provided details of the nature of the searches undertaken and of its records management procedures in respect of the records/information sought.

In the case in question, my Office required details of the searches undertaken by TUSLA to locate relevant records. As no response was received, two reminders issued before my Office subsequently felt it necessary to issue a section 45 notice letter to the Chief Executive of TUSLA requesting a response within one week. The eventual response was received by my Office seven weeks after the initial request.

South Dublin County Council (SDCC)

In October my Office issued a request to SDCC for a focused submission. Although my Office had several communications with SDCC over the following four weeks, my senior investigator determined that the response of the Council was not sufficient. Accordingly, a section 45 notice was issued to the Chief Executive of SDCC. A response was received by my Office within the time requested in the notice.

St. James’s Hospital

A request was issued to St. James’s Hospital on 20 April for copies of the relevant decision making records. While the Hospital acknowledged receipt of the request from my Office, by 8 May it had not forwarded a response concerning those records. Consequently, my Office issued a notice to the Chief Executive of the Hospital. A response was received within the time requested in the notice letter. However, the response stated that the applicant had not in fact made an FOI request to the Hospital.

I am disappointed that it had taken the Hospital so long to clarify the matter. A timely response would have promptly addressed any confusion the applicant may have experienced with the formal FOI process.

National Sports Campus Development Authority (NSCDA)

I discuss this case in more detail in Chapter 3. I had initially issued a decision in October 2014 annulling a decision of the NSCDA to refuse a request on the ground that the applicant’s request formed part of a pattern of manifestly unreasonable requests for information and I directed that the NSCDA undertake a fresh decision making process on the request.

The applicant found it necessary to apply to my Office for a further review as the NSCDA failed to process the request as required. During the course of the second review, my Office asked the NSCDA to inform the applicant of its position with respect to the records sought. Eventually, my Office found it necessary to write to the Chief Executive of the NSCDA in view of the lack of progress of the applicant’s request. The letter made it clear that I regarded the conduct of the NSCDA as unacceptable, as it had failed to comply with my earlier decision on the same matter.

Consequently, under the provisions of section 37(1)(a) of the FOI Act 1997, I formally required the Chief Executive of the NSCDA, or a delegated Officer, to attend before me for the purposes of providing certain information on the review.

This is of some significance as it represents only the second occasion on which any Information Commissioner has deemed it necessary to issue such a direction under what is now section 45(1)(a) of the FOI Act 2014. As it transpired, the NSCDA had written to the applicant on the same date as I had issued my notice. Accordingly, I decided to suspend the requirement that the Chief Executive attend before me.

Note: As of 1 October 2015, following a merger of the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority, Sport Ireland is the new State Agency with responsibility for sport.

Notices issued under section 23 of the FOI Act

Where I consider that the reasons given by a public body in support of a decision are not adequate, section 23 of the Act empowers me to direct the head of a public body to issue a more comprehensive statement of its reasons for the decision.

Under sections 13(2)(d) and 21(5)(c) of the FOI Act, where an FOI body decides to refuse to grant a request, the notification of the decision to the applicant shall specify

  • the reasons for the refusal,
  • any provisions of the FOI Act pursuant to which the request is refused,
  • the findings on any material issues relevant to the decision, and
  • particulars of any matter relating to the public interest taken into consideration for the purposes of the decision.

Consequently, in certain circumstances, where the details in the original and/or internal review decisions are held to be inadequate, my Office will write to the head of a public body requiring a statement of reasons for a decision.

In 2015 my Office issued notices under section 23 to the heads of the following public bodies;

  • Cavan County Council
  • Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
  • Department of Defence
  • Department of Education and Skills
  • Department of Justice and Equality
  • Department of Social Protection
  • Department of the Taoiseach
  • Dublin Docklands Development Authority
  • HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster
  • South Dublin County Council

The section 23 letters written to the head of each body in 2015 stated that in most cases the public body’s original and/or internal review decisions fell short of the requirements of the FOI Act. Each letter sought a more detailed statement from the public body to be provided within three weeks. In all but one case a letter of reply was received within the three-week deadline. In the remaining case a statement was not issued but the public body instead released the records at issue.

Key FOI statistics for the year

The charts in this section of my Report can be viewed in association with the tables of statistics in Chapter 4 and other tables in previous Annual Reports, available on the Office website at www.oic.ie

As in previous years, I wish to acknowledge the efforts made by the lead agencies that collect statistics for inclusion in my Annual Report.

Number of FOI requests to public bodies 2006-2015
Number of FOI requests to public bodies 2006-2015

The total number of requests received by public bodies in 2015 was 27,989, an increase of 38% on the number received in 2014. This is the largest year-on-year increase in requests made to public bodies since 1999. In all likelihood, the increase is due to a combination of the elimination of up-front fees for making FOI requests and the additional bodies that came within the scope of the FOI Act from April 2015 and beyond.

The number of requests on hand within public bodies at the year-end also continues to rise and now stands at 5,337. This total is an increase of 27% on the year-end figure for 2014. While I fully appreciate that the significant increase in requests made has put a strain on undoubtedly limited resources, I would encourage all bodies to ensure that their FOI functions receive adequate resources to allow for effective delivery of FOI services.

Statistical returns

Each year the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) collates details of FOI requests received by the various Government Departments and agencies and makes a return to my Office for inclusion in my Annual Report. Timely return of statistics is essential to allow my Office to compile the relevant statistical tables for analysis.

This year, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport was very late in submitting its return. I would urge all Departments and agencies to put appropriate measures in place to ensure that future requests for statistical returns are met in a timely fashion.

Sectoral breakdown of FOI requests to public bodies
Sectoral breakdown of FOI requests to public bodies

The majority of Government Departments recorded large increases in the number of FOI requests made in 2015. Notable increases in requests received include

Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport - 93 FOI requests recorded in 2014, rising to 243 in 2015; an increase of 161%.

Department of Finance - 165 FOI requests recorded in 2014, rising to 413 in 2015; an increase of 150%.

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation - 62 FOI requests recorded in 2014, rising to 144 in 2015; an increase of 132%.

Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government - 180 FOI requests recorded in 2014, rising to 395 in 2015; an increase of 119%.

Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht - 84 FOI requests recorded in 2014, rising to 163 in 2015; an increase of 94%.

Also, the Department of Defence reported an increase in requests from 11 in 2014 to 94 in 2015, and the number of requests received by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs rose from 37 in 2014 to 77 in 2015.

On the face of it, the Department of Justice and Equality recorded only a very modest increase in requests received, from 920 in 2014 to 941 in 2015. However, in previous years, the Department included in its returns details of FOI requests received by the Irish Prison Service. In July 2015, the Irish Prison Service began recording and reporting on its own statistics. It recorded receipt of 793 requests in the second half of 2015. Had the Department continued to make returns for all requests received by the Irish Prison Service, it would have recorded an increase of 88% in total requests received in 2015, which is more in keeping with the pattern of increases across most Government Departments for the year.

I also note that Irish Water has recorded a large increase in FOI requests received. Irish Water recorded 88 FOI requests in 2014, whereas the number of requests received in 2015 is 561, an increase of 538%.

2015 saw a number of new bodies reporting receipt of FOI requests for the first time as a result of the extension of the FOI regime to all public bodies, including An Garda Síochána (183 requests), the Central Bank (101), the National Asset Management Agency (98) and the National Treasury Management Agency (50).

Type of request to public bodies
Type of request to public bodies

Similar to 2014, the majority of the requests were for access to personal information. However, there was a significant increase in the number of requests made for access to non-personal information in 2015. A more detailed breakdown of the requests received by public bodies can be found in tables 6 to 11, in Chapter 4. In 2014, requests for access to non-personal information accounted for 23% of all requests made in the year, whereas that figure rose to 36% in 2015.

It is reasonable to conclude that the significant increase in non-personal requests made in 2015 is directly attributable to the elimination of up-front fees for making a request as provided for in the FOI Act 2014.

Top ten bodies who received most requests during 2015
Top ten bodies who received most requests during 2015

Type of requester to public bodies
Top ten bodies who received most requests during 2015

It is noteworthy that the number of journalists using FOI has increased significantly in 2015. In recent years requests by journalists generally accounted for approximately 10% of all requests made. In my view, the increase is a positive development as journalists have a significant role to play in ensuring that public bodies are held to account.

Release rates by public bodies
Release rates by public bodies

Release rates for 2015 are generally in line with the rates for previous years. More information on release rates can be viewed at table 5, Chapter 4.

Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) caseload

An application for review can be made to my Office by a requester who is not satisfied with a decision of a public body on an FOI request. Decisions made by my Office following a review are legally binding and can be appealed to the High Court only on a point of law.

Applications to OIC 2013 - 2015
Applications to OIC 2013 - 2015

My Office recorded a 27% increase on the number of applications for review received in 2015. Indeed, the number of requests received in 2015 was 35% higher than the number received in 2013. This level of increase is reflective of the increase in FOI requests received by public bodies in the year.

The number of applications which were accepted by my Office in 2015, at 332, represents an increase of 32% over the number accepted in 2014. The discrepancy between the number of applications received and ultimately accepted each year is primarily due to the fact that some applications are deemed by my Office to be invalid or premature (i.e. the application for review has been made to my Office before the full FOI process has been concluded by the public body).

Subject matter of review applications accepted by OIC
Subject matter of review applications accepted by OIC

90% of all applications accepted by my Office in 2015 were concerned with refusals by the bodies to grant access (in part, or in full) to some or all of the records sought.

Applications accepted by OIC by type 2013 – 2015
Applications accepted by OIC by type 2013 – 2015

An application recorded by ‘type’ indicates whether the applicant is seeking access to records which are either of a personal or non-personal nature, or a mix of both. The ‘personal’ figure of 33% for 2015 is the lowest percentage of personal applications accepted by my Office since 2011, whereas the percentages for non-personal and mixed applications are the highest since that year.

Outcome of reviews by OIC in 2015
Outcome of reviews by OIC in 2015

In 2015, my Office reviewed decisions of public bodies in 323 cases, representing a 5% reduction over the 2014 figure of 340.

Settlements and withdrawals

Applications may be settled, withdrawn or discontinued following discussions between the applicant, the public body and my Office.

Withdrawal or settlement of applications often follow as a result of the intervention of my Office, where, for example, a more detailed explanation of a decision is given to the applicant by the public body, or additional records are released or part granted.

Age profile of cases closed by OIC
Age profile of cases closed by OIC

The table above shows how long it took for a review to be completed by my Office. I am very pleased to be in a position to report that 53% of all cases closed in 2015 were closed within four months. This represents a 20% increase on 2014 and a 27% increase on 2013.

Age profile of cases on hand in OIC at end 2015
Age profile of cases on hand in OIC at end 2015

In previous years, my Office reported on the age profile of cases on hand in terms of years. From the time of my appointment, I set challenging objectives for the elimination of the substantial backlog of cases on hand. I am particularly pleased, for the first time since my appointment, to be in a position to report on cases on hand in terms of monthly increments.

At the beginning of 2015, my Office set itself a challenging target of having no cases over eight months old on hand at the end of the year. I am pleased to report that only three of the 125 cases on hand at the end of the year were over eight months old, generally for reasons beyond the control of my Office.

Breakdown by public body of applications for review accepted by OIC
Breakdown by public body of applications for review accepted by OIC
Breakdown of HSE cases accepted by OIC
Breakdown of HSE cases accepted by OIC
Deemed refusals

The FOI Act imposes statutory time limits on public bodies for processing an FOI request. Specifically, a decision on an original request should issue to the requester within four weeks and a decision on a request for an internal review should issue within three weeks.

Where no decision is issued, either at the original request (first stage), or internal review (second stage), or a decision is issued late, the requester has the right to regard that decision by the public body as a ‘deemed refusal’ of access.

Following a deemed refusal at the internal review stage, a requester is entitled to apply to my Office for a review.

The charts below show how many requests were deemed refused in the year at each stage of the request, and where both stages were deemed refused.

Deemed refusals at both stages 2011 - 2015
Deemed refusals at both stages 2011 - 2015

When my Office first commenced reporting, in 2007, on the number of FOI requests that were recorded as deemed refused at both stages, the then Commissioner expressed concern that 8% of all applications accepted by her Office in that year were on the basis of deemed refusals.

I am very disappointed to have to report that 60 (18%) of the 332 applications accepted by my Office were recorded as deemed refused at both stages of the FOI request in 2015. This is the highest number ever recorded by my Office, since it began reporting on this matter.

As I have stated earlier in this Chapter, I fully appreciate that the significant increase in requests made to public bodies has put a strain on undoubtedly limited resources. Nevertheless, the number of cases where the requester received neither an initial decision nor an internal review decision is unacceptably high. For 2016, my Office will be scrutinising those cases more closely and will be following up with a number of the bodies that account for the large number of deemed refusals at both stages in 2015.

Deemed refusal at both stages by public body - 2015
Deemed refusal at both stages by public body - 2015

The HSE and TUSLA account for half of all requests which were recorded by my Office as deemed refused by a public body at both stages of the FOI request.

Public body - deemed refusal at 1st stage of FOI request
Public body - deemed refusal at 1st stage of FOI request

The total number of applications that were recorded by my Office as deemed refused by the public body at the first stage of the FOI request is 114, or 34% of all reviews accepted by my Office in 2015. Where a deemed refusal occurs at this first stage, the requester is entitled to write to the public body concerned and request an internal review.

Public body - deemed refusal at 2nd stage of FOI request
Public body - deemed refusal at 2nd stage of FOI request

The total number of reviews recorded as deemed refusals at the second stage is 97, or 29% of all reviews accepted by my Office in 2015.

General enquiries to OIC
General enquiries to OIC

My Office recorded a 15% increase in the number of general enquiries in 2015, compared to 2014. The number of enquiries, at 1,462, is the second highest number recorded by my Office in the last ten years.

Fees received by OIC

During 2015, my Office received 178 applications for review where a fee was paid. The total amount received was €9,050. A total of €4,210 was refunded to applicants for the following reasons:

  • applications were either withdrawn, settled, or discontinued;
  • other applications were rejected as invalid, or a fee was not due;
  • the public body had not issued an internal review decision within the time limit (section 19 of the FOI Act refers).

Statutory Certificates issued by Ministers

Section 34 of the FOI Act

Where a Minister of the Government is satisfied that a record is an exempt record, either by virtue of section 32 (Law enforcement and public safety), or section 33 (Security, defence and international relations) and the record is of sufficient sensitivity or seriousness to justify his or her doing so, that Minister may declare the record to be exempt from the application of the FOI Act by issuing a certificate under section 34(1) of the Act.

Each year, Ministers must provide my Office with a report on the number of certificates issued and the provisions of section 32 or section 33 of the FOI Act that applied to the exempt record(s). I must append a copy of any such report to my Annual Report for the year in question.

My Office has been notified of the following certificates renewed or issued under section 34 in 2015.

Three section 34 certificates were renewed by the Minister for Justice and Equality and they will fall for review in 2017. A copy of the notification is attached at Appendix I to this Report.

Three certificates were issued under section 34 of the Act by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. These certificates will fall for review in 2017. A copy of the notification is attached at Appendix I to this Report.

Review under section 34(7)

I was notified by letter dated 3 June 2015 that pursuant to section 34(7) of the FOI Act, the Taoiseach, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation carried out a review of the operation of subsection 34(1) of the Act for the period ended 30 April 2015.

The letter concluded that the Taoiseach, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation were satisfied that it was not necessary to request revocation of any of the 13 certificates reviewed, seven of which were issued by the Minister for Justice and Equality and six by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. A copy of the notification is attached at Appendix II to this Report.

Acknowledgement

I want to acknowledge the support of my Senior Investigators, Elizabeth Dolan and Stephen Rafferty, during the year. I also want to thank all the staff of the Office of the Information Commissioner and the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information for their continuing commitment to our shared values and for their work throughout the year.

My thanks also to Diarmuid Goulding and Bernard McCabe for their assistance in compiling my report as Commissioner for Environmental Information, and to Edmund McDaid for his assistance in compiling the Annual Report.

Irish Examiner - 16/12/2015

Irish Examiner - 16/12/2015


West Cork Times - 17/11/2015

West Cork Times - 17/11/2015


Roscommon People - 20/11/2015

Roscommon People - 20/11/2015




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