Tuesday 16 January 2018

Minister temporarily withdraws proposal to charge multiple fees for single FOI request

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin

Michael Brennan, Deputy Political Editor

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has temporarily withdrawn his controversial proposal on multiple charges for Freedom of Information requests.

Transparency watchdogs had complained about his plan to charge €15 for each separate query in a single Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Mr Howlin said there was a genuine fear that this would lead to officials charging multiple fees for FOI requests, even if all the questions related to the same subject.

He said that as a result he was going to withdraw his proposed amendment to the FOI bill and would have it redrafted to ensure there were no doubts and no uncertainty

“It’s very important that huge leap in FOI in Ireland that is advanced by this bill is not overshadowed by uncertainty or lack of clarity,” he said.

However,  Mr Howlin’s revised amendment will only guarantee a single €15 charge for an FOI request with multiple questions on the same subject. It will still impose multiple charges of €15 when a single FOI request contains questions on several unrelated subjects.

Mr Howlin was speaking at the Oireachtas Finance Committee, which is currently discussing changes to the 2013 FOI bill. It is expected to be passed into law before Christmas.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was pleased that he had withdrawn his amendment on multiple charges - but said she was opposed to any charges for FOI requests from citizens for non-personal information.

"A charge of any nature acts as a barrier to them seeking information," he said.

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