Monday 23 October 2017

Public bodies 'trying to hide information'

Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall
Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall

Sam Griffin

Bastions of secrecy exist across the public sector and some bodies are trying to withhold information from the public, the Information Commissioner has said.

Peter Tyndall also revealed that he was concerned his office was insufficiently resourced to deal with the extra demands the extension of the Information Act will bring.

Speaking at the launch of his office's annual report, Mr Tyndall said there were "bastions of secrecy" operating within the public sector and that adapting to increased transparency was "proving difficult for some" civil servants.

"I think there are still people who grew up in a civil service culture and in a public service culture where not giving information away was the norm and some of those people are finding it hard to adopt to the new regime," he told the Irish Independent following the release of the report.

"It's not a specific organisation, I think it's just that there are some people across the public sector who find it very hard to be open and transparent. It's a generation thing. I think it will continue to improve over time."

He highlighted a number of public bodies who he said had been "non-cooperative" in 2013, including the Irish Greyhound Board, the National Maternity Hospital, University College Dublin, the Department of Finance and Cork County Council.

Almost 19,000 FoI requests were received last year with 83pc of these granted in part or in full, the report shows. Nearly eight out of every 10 requests were for personal information.

The rate of requests is expected to jump significantly when a raft of new bodies, including the gardai, Nama, and the National Treasury Management Agency, among others, come under the new legislation.

DEMAND

Mr Tyndall said his office had recruited five new personnel to deal with any increase, but warned: "It's likely that demand will increase and it may yet outpace the resources that are available to us." Despite this, he said the legislation should be extended to private companies that provide public services.

The new legislation will see a reduction in the costs of submitting FoI requests but Mr Tyndall said the fees structure was proving "detrimental" and said he "would support the removal of fees entirely".

Two out of every five of the 18,985 requests received last year were for the HSE.

Irish Independent

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