Written Answers. - Departmental Correspondence.

Noel Ahern


317 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the procedure, system and resources used in her 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; her views on whether responding to requests from Oireachtas Members is an integral part of the democratic system; and if she has any proposals to improve this service. [20046/00]

Under my Department's customer action plan, all staff are required to deal with correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas and the public in accordance with specific guidelines which state that: all letters will be acknowledged within two working days of their receipt, a full reply will be provided within 20 working days – if this is not possible, an interim reply will be sent explaining the position; the reply will be in clear, simple language and technical terms will be used only where absolutely necessary; and all replies will carry a contact name and telephone number, or fax number and e-mail address, where appropriate. My Department is at present engaged in a review of its customer action plan with a view to further improvements in service standards.

A specific tracking/monitoring system is in operation to ensure that correspondence to my office is acknowledged when received and then followed up without delay. If possible, a full and comprehensive reply is issued without recourse to an acknowledgement. However, in cases where an in-depth examination of correspondence is required in the preparation of a reply, an acknowledgement is issued immediately informing the correspondent that a full reply will issue as soon as possible.

A unit has been set up in my Department to deal with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, including the preparation of rules, practices, guidelines and procedures for dealing with requests under the Act. Under the Freedom of Information Act, Oireachtas Members and members of the public are entitled to obtain access to information in the possession of the public bodies, including Government Departments, to the greatest extent possible, consistent with the public interest. I am fully supportive of a system of public administration which is open and fair to all.