Written Answers. - Departmental Correspondence.

Noel Ahern

Question:

196 Mr. N. Ahern asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the procedure system and resources used in her 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; her views on whether responding to requests from Oireachtas Members is an integral part of the democratic system; and if she has any proposals to improve this service. [20043/00]

A Lotus notes based system is used in the Department which enables my office and both Minister of State's offices to capture and monitor the status of correspondence received. The following type of detail is held on the system: date received; subject matter; officer to whom correspondence has been forwarded; date for reply; date reply issued. The system is used as a tool to monitor, maintain and follow up in relation to representations received. The system also monitors replies which are outstanding beyond this date.

At present, there are two people in each ministerial office involved in handling representations from Members of the Oireachtas and the public. The advent of Freedom of Information has not had an effect on staffing levels in my office and in the offices of Ministers of State, Deputies Tom Kitt and Noel Treacy. As a general guideline, a final reply should, where possible, issue within two weeks of acknowledgement of the initial correspondence.
I am very conscious of the need for my office to respond in good time to correspondence received both from the Oireachtas and, indeed, from all sources. Accordingly, I have asked my Department to accelerate the process of responding to correspondence and to automate this to the fullest possible extent. At the moment, my Department is embarking on a trial project involving a scanning facility including storage of images of the scanned documentation and, an electronic facility to route the attendant correspondence to relevant officers for reply. The expectation is that this will eliminate a lot of the paper trail and attendant delivery delays currently experienced in routing correspondence for reply.