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Thursday 19 October 2017

Tusla 'worst offender' for refusing Freedom of Information requests

Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall
Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall

Gavin White

Tusla was the "worst offender" for not providing a reply to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act last year.

Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall said it was the "worst year we've ever encountered for deemed refusals of requests" at the launch of the Information Commissioner's Annual Report in Dublin yesterday.

Tusla was unable to reply to 20 requests in 2016 compared with seven deemed refusals in 2015 and three in 2014.

"Tusla was the worst offender and there was no decision at either stage of decisions in 20 cases," Mr Tyndall said.

"I know that Tusla was relying on the HSE originally to deal with its FoI requests and it is now putting its resources in place to deal itself with them."

Mr Tyndall said it was "not an acceptable position" and was hoping that Tusla would show "considerable improvement" in 2017.

"The real sense we have is this is a resource issue; I mention Tusla particularly, because they outsourced [Freedom of Information work] to the HSE initially.

"That arrangement was not satisfactory and it is being changed."

A statement from Tusla said the agency handled "extremely complex sensitive information" which lead to a "challenging area of work".

Improvements

The agency met with the Office of the Information Commissioner in 2016 to "discuss improvements" to its management of FoI requests and wanted to stress that "deemed refusals" does not necessarily mean it failed to respond completely to a request.

The statement said Tusla was "currently developing new organisational structures" for FoI management, which involves "centralising and tracking" all requests and will hence improve its efficiency.

The report also said there had been a "dramatic increase" in the number of Freedom of Information requests made to public bodies since the removal of fees for requests in 2014.

A total of 30,417 requests under the FoI Act were made in 2016.

Mr Tyndall said he was "concerned" that public bodies were not treating FoI requests with the same importance as their other statutory functions.

"We all knew the requests would increase as a result of the 2014 act; it just seems that people did not gear up to deal with the consequences of that problem.

"It's very clear that the demand for information has increased substantially during the year," Mr Tyndall said.

The number of Freedom of Information requests made to An Garda Síochána increased by 150pc (from 183 to 459) in 2016.

Irish Independent

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