Freedom of information

Introduction

The Freedom of Information Act 1997 (FOI Act) as amended by the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003 obliged government departments, the Health Service Executive (HSE), local authorities and a range of other public bodies to publish information on their activities and to make the information that they held, including personal information, available to citizens.

The Freedom of Information Act 2014 came into effect in October 2014 and repealed the 1997 and 2003 Acts. The 2014 Act introduced a number of changes to the Freedom of Information system and widened the range of bodies to which the FOI legislation applies - it now applies to all public bodies, unless they are specifically exempt. It also allows for the Government to prescribe (or designate) other bodies receiving significant public funds, so that the FOI legislation applies to them also.

The old legislation continues to apply to any FOI request that was made before the 2014 Act came into effect. It also applies to any subsequent review or appeal.

Rules

The Freedom of Information Act 2014 provides the following statutory rights:

  • A legal right for each person to access information held by a body to which FOI legislation applies – known as an FOI body
  • A legal right for each person to have official information relating to himself/herself amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading
  • A legal right for each person to obtain reasons for decisions affecting himself/herself.

Publication scheme

Section 8 of the Act requires FOI bodies to prepare a publication scheme concerning the publication of information by the body in conformity with a model publication scheme and guidelines. This provides for the publication of information on an FOI body’s website outside of FOI. An FOI body is required to:

  • Publish information to assist members of the public in their understanding of the body and its functions
  • Publish the information that it holds grouped under the information headings set out in the model publication scheme
  • Explain the procedures to get access to information or to establish what information the body holds

Requests for information

You can ask for the following records:

  • Any records relating to you personally, whenever they were created
  • All other records created after a certain date, which is:
    - 21 October 1998 for the HSE and local authorities
    - 21 April 1998 for public bodies that were covered by the old FOI legislation
    - 21 April 2008 for public bodies that were not covered by the old FOI legislation
    - The date of the prescribing order (or a specified date) for prescribed bodies

A record can be a paper document or information held on computer. It includes, for example, printouts, maps, plans, microfilm, audio-visual material, disks and tapes.

Rates

Section 27 of the Freedom of Information Act 2014 provides for fees and charges. No fees apply where the request involves access to your personal records.

The current fees for non-personal requests are:

Type of request or application Standard fee* Reduced fee**
Initial request for a record Free Free
Internal review €30 €10
Review by Information Commissioner €50 €15
Application for amendment containing incorrect information Free Free
Application for reasons for a decision affecting individual Free Free

* There are no fees where you appeal a decision to charge a fee or deposit, or a fee or deposit of a specific amount.

** Reduced fees apply in respect of medical card holders and their dependants. They also apply in respect of third parties who appeal a decision to release their information on public interest grounds.

Charges for search, retrieval and copying of records

The body may apply charges for the time spent finding and retrieving records, and for any copying costs incurred by it in providing you with the material requested. It is very unlikely that any charges will be applied in respect of personal records, except where a large number of records are involved.

If the cost of search, retrieval and copying is €100 or less, no charge applies. If the charge exceeds €100, full fees apply, but you cannot be charged more than €500.

If the estimated cost of search, retrieval and copying is more than €700, the FOI body can refuse to process your request, unless you revise your request to bring the search, retrieval and copying fees below this limit.

Type of charge Standard charge
Search and retrieval of records €20 per hour
Photocopying 4 cent per sheet
CD-ROM containing copy of documents €10
Radiograph (X-ray) containing copy documents €6

There is an explanation of the fees on foi.gov.ie.

How to apply

It is important to note that you may not need to use the Freedom of Information Act to request information from an FOI body. A large amount of material is already available to the public through websites, information leaflets, publications and responses to enquiries. Most organisations have a dedicated information section, which is available to assist you with general queries, requests for information and publications.

If the information you require is not readily available, you must make your request in writing to the FOI Unit of the body and your application should refer to the Freedom of Information Act 2014. If your application for information does not mention the Act, it will be dealt with as an ordinary request for information. If information is required in a particular form (for example, photocopy or searchable electronic format) you should specify this in your request.

Try to be as specific as you can, to help the body to identify the information you require. Where possible, try to indicate the time period for which you wish to access records (for example, records created between December 2017 and August 2018).

Under the Act, the FOI body must acknowledge a request for records within 2 weeks and, in most cases, respond to it within 4 weeks. If a third party is involved, there may be another 3 weeks before you receive a response.

You can find more information about making an FOI request on foi.gov.ie.

FOI review procedures

If you are not satisfied with the response of the FOI body to any aspect of your request for information (for example, refusal of information, form of access, charges) you can seek to have the decision re-examined. Also, if you have not received a reply within 4 weeks of your initial application (this is deemed to be a refusal of your request) you can seek to have the decision re-examined.

The internal review of an FOI decision is carried out by more senior members of staff within the body and must be made within 3 weeks. An application for review of a decision should be addressed to the FOI Unit of the body involved.

FOI appeals

If you are still unhappy with the decision, you have the right to appeal the decision to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner investigates complaints of non-compliance with FOI legislation and generally promotes a freedom of information culture in the public service.

Where to apply

Send your FOI request to the FOI Unit of the body that holds the records.

To ask for review of a decision, apply to the FOI Unit of the body that made the decision.

If you have a further appeal, you should address it to:

Office of the Information Commissioner

18 Lower Leeson Street
Dublin 2
D02 HE97
Ireland

Opening Hours: 9.15 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday
Tel:+353 (0)1 639 5689
Homepage: http://www.oic.ie
Contact Form: http://www.oic.ie/contact/
Email: info@oic.ie

Further information

For further information on the FOI legislation in general, you can contact:

Freedom of Information Central Policy Unit

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
Floor 3, 7-9 Merrion Row
Dublin 2
D02 V223


Tel: 0761 00 7345/7332
Homepage: http://foi.gov.ie/
Email: cpu@per.gov.ie


Page edited: 8 August 2018