Minutes of Freedom of Information Interdepartmental Working Group
6th April 2006
Attendance: See Appendix A
Chair: Mr. Ronan Fox, CPU, Department of Finance
Secretary: Ms Mary McLarney, CPU, Department of Finance
1. Minutes of previous meeting.
The minutes of the meeting of 30th November 2006 were agreed.
2. Access to Information on the Environment
The Government has recently approved the proposals of the Minister for EH&LG for the transposition of EU Directive 2003/4/EC on access to information on the environment. The necessary Ministerial Regulations are currently being drafted. Since there were no proposals to consult directly with Departments on the regulations, Departments with an interest in these regulations who either hold environmental information or have bodies under their aegis that hold such information were advised to contact Dept of EH&LG directly. It was pointed out that the EU Directive has no requirement to cite the AIE regulations. Since the new AIE and FOI regimes will continue to operate in parallel the IDWG were asked for their views on the need to cite the AIE Regulations in the same way that is a requirement to invoke the FOI Act when making an FOI request. There was a general view that this would be desirable to ensure clarity for both the public body and the requester as to which regime applies in relation to a request for environmental information. Mr Pat McCourt agreed to ask CSUN for views at the next meeting. Chairman agreed to relay the views of IDWG, and CSUN when received, to Dept of EH&LG.
3. Joint Committee Review under Section 32
Each Minister of the Government has provided a report to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service on provisions in enactments which authorise or require the non-disclosure of a record [other than a provision already listed in the FOI third schedule].. The number of non-disclosure provisions identified in the various reports was approx. 150. The Commissioner in her report to the Committee agrees Ministers in relation to107 non-disclosure provisions and disagrees on 42.
The Joint Committee met on 22 March, 2006 and agreed to
1. request Ministers to reconsider their reports in the light of the Commissioner’s comments and request a response from Departments on or before 29th April, 2006
2. invite officials from D/Health & Children to appear before the Committee in relation to their Minister’s report under Section 32 on 20th April, 2006.
There was a brief discussion re the term ‘save as otherwise required by law’ when included in secrecy provisions. The Chair pointed out that AG advice on this point was that such provisions should be listed in the third schedule.
The Chair referred to two letters issued to Secretaries General in all Departments since the last IDWG meeting:-
(a) Letter dated 3 February 2006 from Mr Colm Gallagher, Assistant Secretary, Department of Finance regarding the need to inform the CPU and the Office of the Information Commissioner of any developments concerning legislation that may have an impact on the FOI Acts. In this regard it is important for FOI Units to liaise with their Departments to ensure FOI is considered when drafting primary and secondary legislation. In relation to secrecy provisions, consideration should be given to the inclusion of such provisions in the Third Schedule to the FOI Acts at the drafting stage.
(b) Letter dated 23 February, 2006 from Mr Peter Ryan, Assistant Secretary to the Government, Dept of the Taoiseach regarding Section 19 of the FOI Act 1997. The letter stressed the importance of bringing any IC decision to the attention of the Cabinet Secretariat and the Central Policy Unit when it is received. The letter referred in this regard to the time limit of 8 weeks for submission of an appeal to the High Court. The letter also referred to a number of decisions of the IC concerning section 19 of the FOI Act.
5. Report from Civil Service Users Network
Mr Pat Mc Court provided an update on recent CSUN meetings. The report is attached at Appendix B.
6. FOI Extension
Ms O’Brien reported that regulations to extend the Act to over 100 bodies are due to be introduced into the Oireachtas shortly. She pointed out that a resolution approving the regulations in draft form must be passed in each House before they can be made. Four FOI awareness sessions for new bodies had already taken place with a final session scheduled for 28th April. FOI Officers in the relevant parent Departments had already been requested to send details of FOI contacts/officers, names of decision makers and internal reviewers and progress on Section 15 and 16 manuals for new bodies to the CPU. A number of replies are still outstanding and the relevant Departments have been contacted in this regard. Other important issues remaining to be dealt with are training for decision makers in new bodies, gathering statistics and a mechanism for representation of new bodies in an appropriate FOI network.
Ms O’Brien gave an update on training. On-going advanced training was taking place twice a month and Decision Makers once a month in CMOD. Tailored training has ceased for the present due to pressure of work associated with the FOI extension. Due to the lapse of time since the original report of the training subgroup was prepared, it is necessary to reconsider certain aspects of the report and to update it where necessary. A revised draft of the report for approval by the members of the subgroup is being prepared with a view to enabling consideration of the final report by the IDWG at its summer meeting.
Ms McLarney reported that matters arising from a communication from the OIC in relation to issues from the 2004 Annual Report had been addressed by the statistics subgroup. She also said a decision was made to carry out a research exercise on the recording of ‘split requests’ i.e. requests that are broken into several components with each component handled accordingly in a body. The purpose of the exercise was to collect precise data on how these requests are being recorded for statistical purposes. The survey was issued on 21 November 2005 and returns were due by Monday 28th November 2006. Out of 70 responses 59 treat as one request/decision and count as one request/decision and 11 treat as more than one request (split) two or more decisions issued, each part is counted as a request received and each part is counted as a decision issued.
The Group agreed that that there should be consistency in relation to the recording of split requests and that the subgroup should endeavour to see if a consistent approach by public bodies can be adopted. The Chairman also raised the question of up-front fees and pointed out that it was important that bodies had a mechanism in place to ensure that only one up-front fee is charged in relation to a request that is split and also in relation to any subsequent internal or external review applications arising from the initial request. It was agreed to arrange a meeting of the statistics subgroup to consider these matters. Mr Ray Smyth, Dept of Health & Children said his Department had a well developed system in relation to split requests and agreed to lend his expertise to the subgroup on these issues. An apparent discrepancy in relation to the total number of requests received since April 1998 and those accounted for in terms of outcomes would also be examined by the Group. The Group would also ensure that mechanisms are in place to ensure that statistics are collected from the bodies due to come under the Act this year.
9. Legal Advices /Information Commissioner Decisions/High & Supreme Court Judgments
Ms O’Brien summarised legal advice 0392 concerning the application of section 13 of the Act to an extract from a memorandum for government that was used in another official document. This advice arose from IC decision 030017 which was subsequently referred to by Ms McLarney. It was noted that an appeal to the High Court had been lodged in relation to this decision. Ms McLarney also referred to Information Commissioner Decisions Nos 050184, 050192, 050182, 010056, 050283, 050235, 050236, 040275, 040097 and 030017 copies of which were circulated at the meeting.
Ms McLarney referred to the Supreme Court Judgment relating to Section 28(6) which was issued on 24th January 2006 and High Court Decision on the Waterford City Enterprise Board on 25th January 2006. Mr Pat McCourt gave an account of
the findings in the High Court decision.
10. Any Other Business
IC Annual Report - expected to issue towards end of April or early May.
Harper Case – Decision of UK Information Tribunal re retrieval of deleted data – circulated at the meeting.
FOI Code of Practice for North South Bodies - The group noted that the Code was implemented w.e.f. 1 February 2006
Reminder that IC decisions in hard copy should be sent to Ms Jacinta O’Meara, CPU
Reminder to FOI Officers to circulate email re advanced training in good time.
11.Date of next meeting
A provisional date was set for the next meeting - Thursday 22nd June 2006 at 11 am.
Meeting of FOI Interdepartmental Working Group
6th April 2006
1. Ronan Fox Chairman – CPU
2. Mary McLarney CPU
3. Caitriona O’Brien CPU
4. Ray Williamson Agriculture & Food
5. John Quirk Agriculture & Food
6. Pauline Reynolds Central Statistics Office
7. John Rock Public Appointments Service
8. Patrick McIlwee Valuation Office
9. Pauline Minogue Environment, Heritage &LG
10. Ann Howard Social & Family Affairs
11. Mairead Gaffney Social & Family Affairs
12. Michael Murray Environment, Heritage and LG
13. Mary Reville Revenue
14. Siobhan Egan Foreign Affairs
15. Deirdre McDonnell Education & Science
16. Rita Meehan Finance
17. Anne Roche Justice, Equ. and Law Reform
18. Maeve Hogan Justice, Equ. and Law Reform
19. Tom Walsh Transport
20. Eilish Kenna Transport
21. Bernard Kelly Arts, Sport & Tourism
22. Pat McCourt Enterprise, Trade & Employment
23. Geraldine Fitzpatrick Enterprise, Trade & Employment
24. Nuala Free Comm. Marine & Nat. Resources
25. Ray Smyth Health and Children
26. Brid Dunne Oireachtas
Patricia Williams Taoiseach
Karl Gardiner Foreign Affairs
CSUN report to IDWG meeting on 6th April 2006
1. Two CSUN meetings were held since last IDWG on 30/11/05 – they were on 14 Dec 05 and 7 Feb 06; the next meeting will take place next week on Wednesday 12th April.
2. Thirteen inter-departmental requests discussed in the reporting period:
· Photography contracts and photography commissions
· Avian Flu
· Construction Industry
· Ministerial and political appointees’ expenses, Departmental taxi bill, etc.
· Allegations of sexual abuse
· Minutes from meetings of Department’s top management group
· Home phone bills of Ministerial advisors
· Amount spent on staff training, etc
· Cost of official entertaining
· Department’s Budget for 2006
· Internal Reports completed by the Department since 1st January 2004
· Details of trips taken by the Minister and his officials and by officials where the Minister did not attend
3. Other issues which were discussed included:
· 5 Information Commissioner cases, including one Supreme Court ruling (McK case) and High Court Case (D/ETE v IC [County Enterprise Boards]). The number of new cases coming to our attention on the Commissioner’s web site or from CSUN colleagues remains low.
· The extension of the Act to new bodies.
· The Section 32 Report
· In relation to requests on decentralisation, members were reminded of the need to notify DIG of any such requests
· The Information Commissioner’s new website was noted
· End of year stats absorbed much of our attention, I pleased to say we were able to return them on time, although persuading some of our contributors to return stats continues to be a challenge.
· Legislation with impact on FOI Acts was discussed.
· In relation to risk management members were reminded of the CPU’s advice to consult with internal auditors where requests touching on risk management arise.
· The formal adoption of the North/South Code of Practice on FOI was noted.
· The Information Commissioner’s ruling on extracts from a Memoranda for Government was discussed
· In relation to FOI and international relations, Karl Gardiner reminded members that Foreign Affairs should be notified of any requests touching on Northern Ireland or international relations.
6 April 2006