Written Answers. - Departmental Correspondence.

Noel Ahern


916 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform 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. [20054/00]

The procedure for replying to correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas in my Department starts with the receipt of all such correspondence in my office. It is acknowledged by that office and referred for a substantive reply to the relevant area of my Department. That reply is submitted to and issued by my office. Under my Department's customer service action plan, the Department is committed to working towards issuing a reply within 20 working days where possible. In some cases, it is not possible to comply with this guideline where, for example, substantial research into or examination of issues is required.

In order to improve and assist in the processing of such correspondence the Department has put in place an electronic correspondence tracking system. This system has been improved and updated significantly over the last two years. The operation of this system is kept under continuous review and further changes and enhancements will continue to be made in line with requirements as they arise.

Dealing with correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas is an important work requirement for members of staff in the Department as is dealing with requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The degree of involvement of individual staff members in such work will depend on the divisional work area they are assigned to and the nature and volume of such correspondence and requests received. In light of this, it is not feasible to indicate to the Deputy the numbers of staff of my Department dealing with such correspondence.

I can assure the Deputy that the Department will continue to keep under review its systems and procedures for dealing with correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas.