Written Answers. - Departmental Staff.

Noel Ahern

Question:

970 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation 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. [20055/00]

All incoming post to my office, including correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas, is examined and prioritised by my private secretary, who is also responsible for bringing the correspondence to my attention.

All correspondence is entered on a computer database which assigns a reference number to each item, notes the relevant official and division to deal with it and the date by which a reply should be forwarded to my office. Once details have been entered onto the database an acknowledgement of receipt can be generated and issued. This database also tracks correspondence for which a reply is overdue.

The full complement of staff in my private office, a private secretary, two executive officers and two clerical officers, deal with correspondence as part of their duties. In addition each line division in my Department deals with correspondence relevant to the division as part of its ongoing work. It is not possible therefore, to say exactly how many staff are involved.

The implementation of Freedom of Information legislation in my Department did not result in any reduction in the numbers of staff dealing with correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas.

The quality customer service action plan for my Department includes, among its aims, endeavouring to respond to written correspondence within 20 working days of receipt. Reports from the central monitoring system for correspondence on progress towards this aim are regularly examined by my Department's senior management team.

I consider that responding to requests from Members is an integral part of the democratic system and I am happy that my Department has a good track record in this regard which it is consistently aiming to improve.