Maeve Mc Donagh


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Maeve Mc Donagh

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