Written Answers. - Departmental Correspondence.

Noel Ahern


345 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Defence 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. [20047/00]

In general, correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas is received and acknowledged by my office and where appropriate forwarded to the relevant branch of my Department for preparation of a draft reply. This can involve input from various members of staff and, as such, it is not possible to quantify the staff numbers involved or to say how they have been affected by the introduction of requests under the Freedom of Information Act. A tracking system is in place whereby correspondence is recorded and monitored on a weekly basis, with verbal follow-ups issued as required. The tracking system is kept under review on an ongoing basis. Current guidelines for dealing with correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas provide for a final reply to be submitted within 15 working days or, if this is not possible, an interim reply with a final reply within a further five working days.