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RTÉ refused over half of all FOI requests made last year

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RTÉ refused more than half of all Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to it made last year.

The broadcaster’s internal log has revealed that out of 150 requests made by journalists and members of the public, 82 (54pc) were turned down.

Three requests made were withdrawn, while two were handled outside of the FOI remit.

The remainder were granted or partially granted.

The level of refusals was even higher for the first quarter of this year, as RTÉ turned down 65pc of requests.

A total of 34 requests for information were refused out of the 52 submitted in the first three months of the year.

The national broadcaster declined last year to provide details on a wide number of topics for various reasons, stating that some requests were outside the remit of the FOI Act (2014).

These included several re- quests for information relating to the controversial retirement party of a staff member last November.

The reasons for the refusals ranged from issues of confidentiality, commercial sensitivity and personal information to data protection law.

One of the requests turned down last year related to the costs involved in staging The Late Late Toy Show, including the amount paid to third parties and the value of goods and services donated to the show.

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Another request refused was one seeking details of any subvention made by RTÉ toward the use of the on-site creche by staff and families.

It also sought details of how much was paid by RTÉ to the creche operators in 2018.

Details were also requested on the amount of money spent on working from home equipment for RTÉ employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A request to list some of the equipment bought and the cost of each item was turned down.

In its response, RTÉ said that all refusals of questions submitted resulted from its “rigorous application of the FOI Act”.

“Specifically, while the act gives the public the right to access records held by RTÉ, requests are refused where no records exist. RTÉ cannot release what it does not have,” a spokesperson said.

He added that 35 of RTÉ’s refusals last year fell into this category.

“In addition, the FOI Act does not apply to programme-related records. Over 60 refusals (total or partial) by RTÉ in 2020 related to requests for programme-related material,” the spokesperson said.

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath recently announced that work will shortly begin on a review of the FOI Act.

He said that, in general, the FOI system was “robust and functioning well”.

Mr McGrath said that, since 2014, the number of requests being processed had steadily increased, with the number of submissions made in 2019 twice that of those made in 2014.

More than 80pc of requests made to a range of depart-
ments and government bodies were granted in full or in part.

The spokesperson said it was time to find better ways of achieving “trans-
parency in public administration”. I
t would be a “collaborative process”, taking in perspectives from the public sector, academia, activists, journalists and the public.


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