FoI in Ireland: Requests up by one-fifth

The number of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests in Ireland increased by almost one-fifth during 2008, according to the latest annual report published by the Department of Finance.

The 11th report on the operation of the FoI Act showed that the total number of applications made in 2008 was 12,672, an increase of almost 2,000 on the 2007 figures.

The number of requests from journalists was 1,848 or 15 per cent of the total. This was twice the number of requests submitted by journalists the previous year.

The number of non-personal requests was 4,239, the highest total since fees of €15 were introduced in 2003. Before the new charging regime was introduced, non-personal inquiries, including those from journalists, peaked at almost 8,000.

While a marked increase was recorded last year, the highest number of FoI requests was made in 2003, when the total was more than 18,000. This has been attributed to the large number of personal requests made by, and on behalf of, residents of children’s homes and other institutions.

In his introduction to the report, Minister of State Martin Mansergh said the increase was a good development, because it was a reflection of democracy in action. However, he defended the introduction of the fee structure after the Act was amended in 2003: this was seen as the main reason why journalistic inquiries decreased dramatically.

Labour’s deputy leader Joan Burton welcomed the increase but pointed out that the total lagged well behind the figures that pertained before the fees were increased.

“This indicates that the culture of transparency has still not taken hold at senior level in our public administration.”

She called for the Act to be extended to include the 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.

More than three-quarters of requests dealt with in 2008 were granted in full or in part. Five per cent went to internal review with only 1 per cent being appealed to the Information Commissioner.

Freedom of Information requests up by one-fifth (Irish Timnes, 26 November 2009)