Written Answers. - Departmental Correspondence.

Noel Ahern


403 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development 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. [20048/00]

Dealing with correspondence from the Oireachtas is an important aspect of any Department's operations and I am committed to ensuring that it is dealt with in the most efficient manner taking into account the need to deploy resources to all aspects of the Department's priority responsibilities.

Most correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas is addressed directly to my own office or to the offices of the Ministers of State. All correspondence is acknowledged and referred to the relevant section of the Department for preparation of a final reply. If a reply is not received within four weeks, reminders are issued to the person concerned or their superior, as relevant. It is not possible to indicate the number of staff involved in answering correspondence as staff in almost all sections will deal with such correspondence from time to time.

Staff were not specifically diverted from dealing with this correspondence to FOI duties and I have no evidence that the numbers dealing with such correspondence have reduced following the introduction of FOI.

Given the volume of correspondence involved the arrangements work satisfactorily but are subject to periodic review.