THE GOVERNMENT HAS promised that it will update its way of dealing with Freedom of Information requests to take into account the increased use of computers and the drop in the use of paper records.
Under the new Freedom of Information Bill 2013 which was published by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin last night, existing laws are to be significantly expanded to cover more public bodies and take into account changes in how records are stored.
However the €15 price of submitting a request – which has been criticised by some transparency campaigners – will remain in place.
Brendan Howlin said that the new laws will reverse the restrictions on FoI introduced by the Fianna Fáil-led government in 2003.
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said that the new legislation was a good move for transparency but said the full effectiveness will only become clear when people start using the laws to make requests for information.
Speaking on RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland, O’Reilly said that Minister Brendan Howlin had “had to fight quite a battle” with some public bodies to ensure that they were covered by the new laws.
The National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), the Central Bank and An Garda Siochána will all be subject to FoI requests for the first time.
O’Reilly said that other bodies may fall under the legislation in future but that there needed to be a discussion about how much public money an organisation receives before it is subject to FoI laws.
The new FOI bill will be enacted in the autumn. Some amendments are being made to ensure that highly sensitive security and intelligence information is protected, as well as the refusal of information if it would have a serious effect on the management of the financial interests of the State, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said.
The change to the FoI laws is the biggest in a decade after the existing legislation was significantly restricted by the government of the time in 2003.