Maeve Mc Donagh
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Maeve Mc Donagh

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Maeve Mc Donagh Maeve Mc Donagh Presentation Transcript

  • FOI: The Irish Experience Prof. Maeve McDonagh, University College Cork, Ireland
  • Outline of presentation
    • Background to FOI in Ireland
    • Positive features of Irish FOI Act
    • Limitations of Irish FOI Act
    • The FOI backlash in Ireland
    • Impact of FOI in Ireland
    • Lessons for Chile?
  • Background
    • Corruption in the beef industry investigated from early 1990s
    • Introduction of FOI an election promise in 1994
    • FOI part of a larger programme of public service reform
    • International influences: Australia, New Zealand, Canada
    • FOI Act passed in 1997 and entered into force in 1998
  • Positive features of FOI in Ireland
    • Scope of the Act can include
      • bodies funded out of public purse
      • private contractors providing services on behalf of public bodies
    • Exemptions
      • Most include:
        • Harm test: e.g. prejudice, adverse effect, significant adverse effect
        • Public interest override
      • Exemption relating to meetings of public bodies does not protect prior documents once policy is adopted
    • 3rd parties must be consulted but no veto
  • Positive features of FOI in Ireland
    • Broad definition of record
    • Requirement to proactively publish information including “internal law” of the agency
    • Independent and relatively strong review mechanisms
  • Review mechanisms
    • Internal review
    • Information Commissioner
      • Required to act independently
      • Can order disclosure of records
      • Time limit for bringing appeals: 6 months
      • Time limit for decisions: 4 months
    • Further appeal to courts available up to and including Supreme Court
  • Limitations of the Irish FOI Act: Scope
    • Not all bodies are covered
      • Act only applies to bodies listed in Act or in later Regulations
      • New bodies must be expressly included
      • Police and public corporations can be brought within scope of the Act but so far excluded
    • Certain areas of activity excluded e.g. most records relating to
      • courts and court proceedings
      • legislature
  • Limitations: exemptions
    • Inclusion of an exemption for records protected by secrecy provisions in other laws
    • Some exemptions not subject to harm and/or public interest tests e.g.
      • Cabinet records
      • Information relating to security, defence and international relations
  • The FOI backlash in Ireland
    • Amendments introduced in 2003:
      • Extension of scope of exemption provisions relating to:
        • Cabinet records
        • Deliberative processes
        • Security, Defence & International relations
      • New charges introduced
  • The FOI backlash in Ireland: Charges
    • Fees already in place for:
      • Search & Retrieval: 20 euro per hour
      • Reproduction: 4c per sheet
    • New Fees introduced in 2003:
      • Application fee 15 euro
      • Internal review 75 euro
      • Info Commissioner Appeal 150 euro
    • Exemptions for requests for personal information
  • The FOI backlash in Ireland Contd
    • Surreptitious winding back of the scope of the Act e.g. amendment of the FOI Act by other legislation
      • Health and Safety Act 2005 amended FOI to exclude records held by Health & Safety Authority which relate to its enforcement functions
  • Impact of FOI in Ireland
    • Usage
    • FOI and the media
  • Overall usage of Irish Act:
  • Personal v Non-personal usage
  • Outcome of FOI requests by jurisdiction: 2001 - 2006
  • Applications for review: Ireland
  • FOI and the media: Use of FOI by journalists in Ireland
  • FOI and the media: Newspaper references to FOI
  • Examples of material coming to light as result of FOI
    • Church/State negotiations over compensation for clerical abuse victims
    • Corruption on the part of local politician which had been “quietly” dealt with by local authority
    • The spiralling costs of a proposed new national stadium
    • The state of the public finances before the last election
    • Reports of inspections of nursing homes
    • Details of complaints made by parents against childcare centres
    • Projected costs of a new metro system for Dublin
    • Police overtime costs
    • Statistics on hospital acquired infections
  • Lessons for Chile?
    • Act needs to be as strong as possible at the outset
    • Strong and workable system of review essential
    • Beware of backlash
    • Role of the media invaluable