Written Answers. - Departmental Correspondence.

Noel Ahern

Question:

475 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance 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. [20049/00]

Correspondence addressed to the Minister of Finance is distributed by staff in my private office to the appropriate line section of my Department for consideration and preparation of a draft reply. The number of staff in my private office primarily engaged in the task of distributing all incoming correspondence and co-ordinating draft replies received back from line sections has remained constant at three in recent years.

Preparing draft replies to Ministerial correspondence is an integral part of the duties of a large proportion of the staff of my Department. The amount of staff time spent on dealing with correspondence varies in line with the amount and complexity of correspondence and the overall staff complement of the Department.

The instructions to staff in line sections are that correspondence should be dealt with promptly and, specifically, that if a final reply to correspondence cannot be prepared within seven days, an acknowledgement/holding reply should be prepared. A computer based correspondence tracking system has been in place for a number of years. A review of procedures for handling ministerial correspondence is currently under way and a number of modifications is envisaged.

While the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act has clearly imposed additional demands on the staff of all Departments, every effort continues to be made to reply expeditiously to representations from members of the Houses of the Oireachtas.