The Freedom of Information Act 2014 revised, updated and consolidated the freedom of information regime in this country, removed the upfront fee for requests and made the system in general more user-friendly.
The success of this initiative is illustrated by the fact that between 2014 and 2017, the latest year for which figures are available, there was a 67% increase in the number of requests made to public bodies. It is expected that the Information Commissioner's next annual report will show that the number of requests in 2018 exceeded the 33,979 received by civil and public sector organisations in 2017 as part of a consistent upward trend.
Some 85% of the freedom of information requests decided on by public bodies in 2017 were granted in full or in part. Just 3.5% of those who made freedom of information requests in 2017 sought an internal review, which involves a reconsideration of the request at a higher grade in the organisation, after the initial decision was made. Almost 60% of requests in 2017 were for personal information, with the majority of those who made requests being clients of the public body concerned.
The Deputy will agree that by any objective standard, all indications suggest that the freedom of information regime is robust and effective in delivering on the objectives of openness, transparency and accountability of public bodies. However, the success illustrated by the recent year-on-year increases in demand has been accompanied by significant challenges, particularly with regard to the demands placed on public resources.
Against this backdrop, the Department's central policy unit for freedom of information has continued to work closely with stakeholders throughout the Civil Service and the public service with a view towards improving freedom of information practice.
Our aims are to ensure that the objectives of those who make freedom of information requests are met as efficiently as possible, to build technical knowledge capacity and to develop an appreciation of the broader significance of freedom of information legislation for the business of relevant organisations.