Written Answers. - Departmental Correspondence.

Noel Ahern


242 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the procedure, system and resources used in his Department for replying to correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas; the staff numbers involved; if the numbers have been reduced since freedom of information requests were introduced; if staff were diverted to freedom of information cases; if a tracking or follow up system exists; if there is a rule or guideline for sending replies other than acknowledgements; the standard in this regard; the way in which it is monitored; his views on whether responding to requests from Oireachtas Members is an integral part of the democratic system; and if he has any proposals to improve this service. [20044/00]

My Department has a comprehensive system for logging, tracking and replying to correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas. All correspondence received is immediately acknowledged and logged on databases in my office or the Minister of State's office. It is then forwarded to the relevant divisions within the Department for preparation of a detailed response. The databases provide tracking of correspondence by name, date and subject and there is a reminder system in place for unanswered correspondence. The system is administered by the staff in my office and the Minister of State's office and approximately the equivalent of three full time staff are employed on this task. No staff have been diverted from this work to freedom of information cases.

Timely, efficient and comprehensive liaison and interaction with members of the Oireachtas are important functions of my Department. In accordance with the Department's customer action plan 1998, it is Department policy to reply to letters and correspondence within two weeks. If it is not possible to give a full reply within this timescale, it is the policy to issue an interim reply. While the Department's customer action plan is currently under review I am satisfied with the existing plan for dealing with Members of the Oireachtas.