Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Questions (207)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

207. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to reform freedom of information legislation following a recent High Court decision overturning a Data Commission decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18393/19]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

While the Deputy has referred to the "Data Commissioner", I assume that this question in fact relates to the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal in Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources v. Information Commissioner, and the subsequent High Court judgment in University College Cork v. Information Commissioner.

The core issue in these judgments relates to the procedures adopted by the Office of the Information Commissioner, in particular the interpretation of section 22(12)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2014, which places an onus on bodies to justify their decisions in the course of a review. My understanding is that the Commissioner intends to appeal the Court of Appeal judgment to the Supreme Court in order to seek further clarity in relation to this question.

In 2017, the last year for which statistics are available, 33,979 FOI requests were made to public bodies, 83% of the FOI requests decided on by public bodies were granted in full or in part, while only 3.5% of requesters sought an internal review by the body as provided for in the 2014 Act. In that same year, the Information Commissioner received 577 requests for review.

As previously outlined, the judgments are not expected at this time to have any significant bearing on FOI practice overall, other than potentially in relation to the Commissioner's review process. The Central Policy Unit for Freedom of Information in my Department will continue to engage closely with the Commissioner's Office, public bodies and the general public in order to gauge the substantive impact on the FOI system in reality.

Therefore, while there are no immediate plans to amend the Freedom of Information Act in response to the judgments, my Department will continue to carefully monitor this issue, pending determination of the Commissioner's appeal, as part of its ongoing role in supporting implementation of the 2014 Act and will take appropriate action according to the circumstances as they develop.