Written Answers. - Departmental Correspondence.

Noel Ahern

Question:

172 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Taoiseach 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 will have examinations made into improving the response to requests. [20042/00]

Replies to correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas, and other correspondence to my private office in the Department, are in general arranged by my office. An initial acknowledgement is issued to the correspondent by my office within two to three days from receipt of the letter, in accordance with standard procedures. Appropriate material for reply is then sought from the relevant division or Department concerned with the subject matter of the correspondence, with the objective of replying substantively within 15 working days of receipt of the letter.

The current level of staffing in my private office with responsibility,inter alia, for correspondence, is nine. There has been no change in this level of staffing due to the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act, 1998, even though the volume of work has increased as a result. However, it should be noted that the number of FOI requests from Members of the Oireachtas has actually been very small – on average seven per annum over the period 1998-2000.

The level of staffing in my Department as at 1 October 2000 is 171. One officer in my Department is responsible for tracking and following up replies to FOI requests, with some assistance at clerical level. The provisions of the Act govern the timeframe and procedures for responses to FOI replies.

While I am satisfied that the response rate to correspondence to Oireachtas Members is more than satisfactory and meets the standards of quality customer care set out in my Department's booklet "Delivering a Quality Service, 1998-99", every effort will continue to be made to improve services within the constraints of resources.