Saturday 18 November 2017

Calls to end FoI fees after drop in requests

Aine Kerr Political Correspondent

FREEDOM of Information requests have declined by a staggering 42pc since fees were imposed five years ago, a new report concluded yesterday.

And last night there were calls to slash the "punitive fees" on representative groups, journalists and members of the public making applications under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the Tenth Report on the Freedom of Information Act, the number of requests to some 500 public bodies, including government departments, amounted to 10,704 last year, a decrease of 10pc on 2006, and 42pc since fees were imposed in 2003.

Members of the public made 80pc of the requests for information, while journalists accounted for 8pc, compared to 77pc and 10pc respectively in 2006.

While 76pc of requests to local authorities and 42pc of requests to central government bodies covered non-personal information, the overwhelming majority of requests (91pc) to the HSE covered personal information.

Applications

Responding to the report, Fine Gael's Richard Bruton said there were 7,739 fewer FOI applications last year than in 2003, when fees were imposed by Fianna Fail.

"When Fianna Fail started charging for FOI applications it had an immediate impact on the number of applications, which dropped by 7,739, or 42pc between 2003 and 2007. The Information Commissioner has said this significant reduction is due to the introduction of fees."

"On several occasions the Commissioner has called for a review of the scale and structure of FOI charges," he said.

"The Freedom of Information scheme was created in order to foster a culture of openness and transparency. Yet Fianna Fail's ill-advised decision to impose fees has seriously damaged the scheme," he said.

Last night, junior minister Martin Mansergh defended the "well-embedded FOI regime, which has contributed over the past decade to improving the relationship between the citizen and Government."

"In 2007, there were 10,704 FOI requests, of which 77pc were granted either in part or in full. While this represents a decline in requests from previous years, this must be seen against a backdrop of more effective management of information by public bodies," he said.

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