Update On The Freedom Of Information Bill 2013
On 16 July, 2014, the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Bill 2013 was passed by Dáil Éireann. It now awaits review and potential revision by Seanad Éireann when it resumes on 17 September after the Summer vacation. As yet, no other information is available on when the Bill might finally be enacted. The Bill, as passed by the Dáil, is available here. It contains numerous amendments to that initiated by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on 24 July, 2013. Included are amendments which: remove, and cap, certain FOI fees; extend the scope of service-provider records coming under FOI; particularise the concept of "search and retrieval", and what amounts to taking "reasonable steps" in certain cases; further define the intended contents of FOI bodies' "publication schemes"; and further provide for partially-included, exempt and non-exempt agencies, including Irish Water. A draft Code of Practice for Freedom of Information for Public Bodies has also been published for public consultation. The most significant of the amendments relate to the reform of the FOI fee regime, as set out in section 27 of the Bill, including:
the removal of the application fee for making an FOI request for access to non-personal information; and the introduction of a minimum threshold, and a maximum cap, for search, retrieval and copying fees, such amounts to be prescribed. In a press release of 1 July, 2014, Minister Howlin flagged a proposed 100 minimum threshold under which no fee would be charged, and a 500 maximum cap where charges do arise. Other notable amendments include:
An extended definition of "service provider" to include administrative arrangements between an FOI body and another person. Thus, records held by a service provider relating to the provision of services to an FOI body under an administrative arrangement will be deemed to be held by the FOI body for the purposes of FOI. A new definition of what is included in the "search and retrieval" of records (section 27(2)). Further details of what an FOI body is required...
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