Information Commissioner, Emily O’Reilly, has launched her Annual Report for 2011. The report focused on a number of key points: the FOI reform; FOI usage; and the ‘Rotunda Case’.
To begin with, Ms O’Reilly welcomed the fact that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is currently working on the arrangements necessary to fulfill the commitments made by in the Programme for Government 2011.
The first commitment made by Government was to legislate to restore the Freedom of Information Act to its pre-2003 state. This was a positive step in the eyes of the Information Commissioner who stated that many of the amendments made to the FOI Act in 2003 ‘represented a step back from the commitment to openness, transparency and accountability which was the key factor in the enactment of the 1997 FOI Act’.
The Programme for Government also pledged to extend the remit of the Act to other public bodies meaning that public bodies, such as the Garda Síochána, the Central Bank, the National Treasury Management Agency, and the National Asset Management Agency, would no longer be outside the scope of the Act. This was an issue which Ms O’Reilly had drawn attention to in both of her previous Annual Reports.
Ms O’Reilly spoke about the usage of the FOI Act in the last year and reported that figures show an increase in the number of requests made, up 8 percent on 2010 and 15 percent on 2009. 16,517 requests were made in total with the highest number (6,141) being made to the Health Service Executive. The second highest number (2,891) was made to voluntary hospitals and mental health services. The majority of requests, 66 percent, were made by members of the ordinary public and 58 percent of requests made were granted in full.
Ms O’Reilly commented on the Supreme Court judgment in the ‘Rotunda Case’ which deemed that information requested by an applicant regarding his mother was protected by the confidentiality provisions in the FOI Act. According to Ms O’Reilly, this judgment shows that ‘the principle of protecting the confidentiality of information given by a hospital patient takes precedence over the right of a person to information about the age of his or her own mother’.
Finally, Ms O’Reilly welcomed the fact that she had been given the opportunity to submit suggestions for change to the Act and hopes the suggestions made by her will ‘increase the effectiveness of the FOI Act and further benefit the public’s right of access to official information’.
Public Affairs Ireland, in association with Mason Hayes & Curran, recently published an updated version of the FOI Sourcebook – a comprehensive and user-friendly guide to the FOI legislation. The Sourcebook, which includes a foreword by the Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly, is designed to be accessible and of benefit to a wide range of people including FOI Officers, legal practitioners, members of the media, and information and records management staff in the public sector. For more information or to purchase a copy, click here.