Freedom of information (FOI)

Introduction

You have the right to get copies of records held by public bodies under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Acts.

This may include:

  • Records that relate to you personally
  • Any other records created since 21 April 1998

FOI only applies to FOI bodies. These are mostly bodies that are publicly funded (for example, government departments).

If you want to apply for records that are held about you by a private organisation, you can apply under data protection laws.

FOI allows the public to have information about what the Government is doing and it is often used by journalists, campaigners and opposition parties.

You can get information that is held about you by public bodies for free in most cases. In some situations, the information may be redacted or withheld (see ‘your rights under FOI’ below).

The laws on freedom of information are set out in the Freedom of Information Act 2014 and its amendments and regulations.

Organisations that are covered by FOI

FOI laws apply to public bodies unless they are exempt. FOI bodies include:

  • Government departments
  • Bodies that were set up by an Act of the Oireachtas (for example, the Consumer and Competition Authority was set up by the Consumer and Competition Protection Act 2014), or established by a Minister or the Government
  • A company where the majority of the shares are held by or on behalf of a Minister of the Government, or any of its subsidiaries
  • A higher education institute that is publicly funded
  • Some non-public bodies that get a lot of public funding

A full list of FOI bodies is on the website of the FOI policy unit.

Some information, even if it is held by an FOI body, is exempt from FOI (see ‘Your rights under FOI’ below).

If you want to request information that is held on you by a company or organisation that is not listed, you can make a subject access request under data protection law (the GDPR).

Publication schemes

FOI bodies must have a publication scheme in place. This means that the FOI body should publish as much information as possible in a way that is open and easy to access, without the need for an FOI request. This information should be published under the following headings:

  • Information about the body
  • Services provided to the public
  • Decision making processes for major policy proposals
  • Financial information
  • Procurement
  • FOI disclosures log and other information to be published routinely

Your rights under FOI

FOI gives you the right to:

  • Access records held by FOI bodies
  • Have your personal records corrected if the information is incorrect, incomplete or misleading
  • Get a reason for decisions made by public bodies that affect you

Records that are included

You can ask for records under FOI from the date that the Freedom of Information Act applies to the body concerned. This is known as the ‘effective date’. For most bodies, the effective date is 21 April 1998. You can ask for records from before the effective date if either:

  • The record relates to personal information about you
  • You need a record from before the effective date to understand later records

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.

Records that are exempt

Some types of records are exempt from FOI. Exemptions are either mandatory or discretionary. For discretionary exemptions, the FOI body should try to balance the public interest against any harm that releasing the records could cause.

The following are some examples of records that may be exempt from FOI:

  • National security and international relations
  • Meetings of the Government
  • Information that was given in confidence or commercially sensitive information
  • Personal information (of someone other than the requester)

How to make an FOI request

Before you apply, you should check if the information you want to get is publicly available already. Many FOI bodies publish detailed information on their websites. You may also be able to get the information you need by speaking to their FOI officer, or another member of staff.

If you decide to make making an application, you should:

  1. Check if there is an FOI form on the FOI body’s website (you don’t have to use a form, but it may make the application easier). Check also the address to make an FOI request. Some organisations have regional FOI officers.
  2. Complete the form, or (if there is no form) write a letter, or email, and state that you are making the request under the Freedom of Information Act 2014
  3. Make your request as specific as possible and give as much information as you can to help the FOI body find the records you need. If you are seeking personal information, enclose a copy of identification.

What happens after you make a request?

The FOI body must acknowledge your request within 2 weeks. In most cases, the FOI body can respond to your request within 4 weeks. The FOI body may ask for more time to complete your request if, for example, there are a lot of documents to consider. They must notify you in writing if they wish to extend the time, and they cannot extend it for more than a further 4 weeks.

FOI fees

You do not have to pay to access your own personal records.

Non-personal records

For non-personal records, the following fees apply:

Type of request or application Standard fee Reduced fee(for medical card holders)
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

Charges for search, retrieval and copying

You may also be charged for the time the body spends searching and retrieving records, and for copying costs. If the cost is under €101, no charge applies. If the cost is above this, you will be charged in full, up to a maximum of €500.

It is unlikely that you will be charged for personal records unless there is a very large quantity.

If the cost for the time and copying would be greater than €700, the FOI body can refuse to process your request unless you revise your request to bring the costs down below €700.

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

Refusals and appeals

The FOI body may refuse your request in whole or in part. They must tell you in writing of their decision, and they must give you a reason why they have refused to grant you access to a record (or part of a record).

They must also give you information about how to appeal.

Appeals

You can request a review of the decision to refuse your application by writing to the FOI officer within 3 weeks of the decision (or after 4 weeks from your FOI request if you have not received a response). The review must be carried out by a member of staff who is more senior than the person who made the original decision.

If you are still unhappy with the outcome of your application, you can make an appeal to the Information Commissioner.

Further information

Further information on FOI procedures and laws are on the Freedom of Information website. This website is operated by the FOI policy unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

To make an FOI request, you should contact the FOI body that holds the records you want to get.

Freedom of Information Central Policy Unit

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

Floor 3, 7-9 Merrion Row
Dublin 2
D02 V223

Tel: 01 604 5245

Page edited: 9 November 2021