8th of May 2002
Attendance: Appendix A
1. Minutes of previous meeting
The minutes of the IWG meeting of 28 February 2002 as amended were agreed.
2. Report from Civil Service Users Network
Ms. Barrett updated the meeting on the outcome of CSUN meetings of 5 December 2001, 17 January 2002, 26 February 2002, 15 March 2002 and 25 April 2002. An update on the CSUN had not been included on the "Special IDWG meeting" agenda held on 28 February 2002. Main issues arising included:
(a) requests had been received in respect of Ministers/Ministers of States gifts; Ministers' diary re official openings; Ministers' 2001 entertainment, foreign travel and subsistence and gifts given; Ministers/Ministers of State trips abroad for St. Patrick's Day
(b) statistics for both monthly returns to the CSUN and in relation to returns for the Annual Report for the Information Commissioner had been addressed
(c) updates on the work of the IDWG subgroup on the IC Compliance Report had been discussed at each meeting
(d) observations/suggestions in relation to the FOI website had been discussed
3. Report from Public Service Users Network
No major developments were reported from the PSUN meeting of 11 April 2002. In response to a query from Ms. Barrett, Mr. Dowling said that it was expected that the next meeting of the PSUN would take place in the Autumn..
4. Information Commissioner's Report – Compliance by public bodies – subgroup.
Mr. Quinlan informed members that the draft Outline Action Plan and draft "Best Practice Model" prepared by the subgroup is at an editing stage and should be finalised shortly. When finalised drafts will issue to subgroup members to sign off.
Areas that have been visited include:
the role of the FOI Unit (what has to be done on a day to day basis)
The finalised draft documents will be circulated to members prior to their discussion at the next meeting. It is intended that the "Best Practice Model" will help public bodies to achieve compliance with FOI.
5. Update on Training
Mr. Dowling referred to the previous special IWG meeting dealing with training. He referred to the CPU's plans to introduce a refresher training component to FOI training. He stressed the need for the further development of in-house training and the need to draw on the extensive in-house experience in public bodies and the examination of ways of offering this to other organisations. He reiterated the CPU's proposal to put a screening process in place, involving the IWG or PSUN members, in relation to the examination of expressions of interest from external suppliers to supply FOI training. He indicated to members that CPU are planning to run wider public service FOI events later in the year and that the FOI Conference will be held in Dublin Castle on 10 October 2002.
Mr. Hyland updated members on the current position regarding the E-learning project. At the previous meeting, Mr. Heffernan CMOD had informed the meeting that a dedicated unit for E-learning is to be established by CMOD and that FOI was among those areas for consideration as a pilot project. Mr. Hyland informed members that a team has now been set up between CMOD and CPU to examine part of the decision maker training by E-learning. Mr. Hyland said that, if implemented, it was hoped that considerable time currently allotted to the start of current decision maker training would be eliminated and would allow more time to be devoted to case studies and areas where particular exemptions are appropriate/inappropriate. A particular E-learning package currently in use in the Institutes of Technology is being examined. Members will be updated as the project develops.
There followed some discussion on the question of establishing a subgroup of the IDWG to look at all aspects of training. The group could examine the whole issue of training including areas in the FOI Manual that need updating. Ms. Barrett referred again to the need for updating in particular to information relating to section 22 in the FOI Manual. It was agreed that the approach on these matters might await the finalisation of the Outline Action Plan in response to the Information Commissioner Report on Compliance.
Mr. Dowling stressed the need for senior management support for FOI and for the release of staff to attend training courses. Ms. Barrett referred again to the fact that as the number of bodies coming under FOI expands and with huge staff turnover if there was a case for additional training staff to be allocated in the CPU on a full time basis. This could be examined by a training subgroup.
Ms. Whelan pointed out that there is not a dedicated FOI Unit in several Government Departments and with turnover of staff whether it would be possible for CPU to provide "special training" for newly appointed FOI officers. Ms. Barrett informed the meeting that she had been recently approached by other newly appointed FOI officers regarding the same issue. The chairman asked for the next meeting the CPU to consider this request on "special training" and if CPU would nominate a specific member of staff to deal with training issues. The chairman had to leave the meeting at this stage and it was agreed to take item relating to the FOI exemptions (previously discussed at meeting of 28 February – see 10 below).
6. High Court Decision
Mr. R. Fox referred to draft CPU Notice (#19) offering guidance on High Court judgment EH and EPH v the Information Commissioner (4 April 2001) where the Court found that it would be a contempt of court for a public body to release a record under FOI if the same record had already been released through the process of discovery in the courts (circulated at previous meeting). Mr. Fox said that further legal advice had been received and that the original draft CPU Notice had been amended. A copy of the latest draft had been included in today's pack
Members were asked to provide any comments they had on the latest draft to the CPU and that it is intended to issue the final CPU Notice within the next ten days.
7. Comments on Legal Advices circulated at previous meeting
Ms. Barrett referred to AG0285 and AG0290 involving references to Section 32 of the Act. This was an issue raised by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment at the January meeting with the CPU at which it was suggested that items which Departments had agreed could be included in the Third schedule during the Oireachtas Committee considerations might now in fact be scheduled as the opportunity arose. In response to clarification for the criteria for inclusion of public bodies in the third schedule of the Act (AG 0286), CPU indicated that if the public body is in receipt of significant funding and/or perform an important statutory function that they should be considered for inclusion. CPU will be contacting Government Departments regarding the next phase of extensions in the second half of the year.
8. Legal Advices
Mr. Fox referred to legal advices circulated prior to the meeting and reported in particular on AG 0295 in relation to section 29(2) – splitting by Information Commissioner of appeal process. He said that this would have to be discussed with the OIC. In the meantime public bodies should continue the current practice adopted by their organisation. AG 0296 in relation to protection afforded to staff by section 23 of the Act was also discussed.
9. Information Commissioner Decisions.
Mr. Higgins, Revenue Commissioners, outlined the details of IC decision nos. 99373 and 99403. Mr Foy, Department of Justice, Equality and law Reform outlined the findings of IC decision no. 000028.
In connection with previous IC cases, Ms. Barrett noted a point of interest for records managers included in IC decision no. 000322 relating to when an official held files, within the Department, that were connected with other duties. She also asked if the findings outlined in letter decision IC no. 000141 relating to increment form had been brought to the attention of the appropriate section in the Department of Finance. CPU had made the necessary section aware of the content.
10. Any Other Business
The chairman had to leave the meeting after item no 5 (training) and it was agreed to take this item prior to his departure. Against the background of the operation of the FOI Act for four years the chairman had previously asked attendees to consult senior management (Assistant Secretary level) in their respective Departments areas as to their experience of the application of FOI exemptions. Following discussion from the floor it was agreed that Departmental representatives would forward this information directly via email to CPU.
Mr. Fox updated members on
draft regulations for the 21 additional public bodies to come under the Act from 1 June 2002. Motions approving of the regulations in draft will not be taken until the new Dáil meets in early June meaning there will be a delay before the regulations can be signed into law by the Minister for Finance. The seven Government Departments involved had been informed and a further guidance note will issue when regulations are to be signed.
draft regulation 1049/01 on public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. A draft information note prepared in conjunction with D/FA for public bodies dealing with EU institutions had been included in today's pack. The information note, when finalised, will issue as an appendix to CPU Notice 18 – FOI and International Relations.
draft CPU Notice on Release of Records. This issue had been discussed at a recent meeting with the OIC. The OIC undertook to consider.
the current position on accepting FOI requests by email. Public bodies were encouraged to continue accepting e-mail requests, subject to the usual checks. The Interpretation Bill when enacted will clarify the legal position of such requests.
Mr Dowling informed members
of the FOI Conference that will be held in Dublin Castle on 10 October 2002. He said that the CPU will be writing to Departments informing them of this event but in the meantime he asked Departmental representatives to inform senior management of the Conference.
that CPU are considering revising future Annual Reports. He referred in particular to statistics and the reporting period. The CPU will be writing out to public bodies in the near future.
that section 15 and 16 manual summaries required under section 15(4) are due for publishing. The State Directory had been used for the previous publication but that it is expected that the summaries will now be published on the dedicated website. The CPU will be writing out to public bodies in the near future.
the recently updated "Your Right to Know" leaflet had been included in today's pack. Additional supplies are available from the CPU and bodies are encouraged to put these in public areas.
Ms. Barrett asked for an update on (i) draft "Business Guide to FOI", (ii) draft CPU Notice on "References received in Confidence" (circulated at IDWG meeting on 22 May 2001), and (iii) draft CPU guidance on "Appeals to the High Court".
In connection with (i) draft "Business Guide to FOI", Mr Dowling said that a draft guide had issued to members on the Business Advisory Group in March 2001 for comments/observations. Members of the group had not responded. This issue will be discussed with the Information Commissioner.
In connection with (ii) draft Notice on "References received in Confidence" the anticipated problem regarding this issue had not emerged. The CPU had therefore decided not to proceed with this as a formal notice. Legal advice received from the Office of the Attorney General is available to members from CPU on request.
In connection with (iii) draft CPU guidance on "Appeals to the High Court" it was agreed that the CPU will follow up on papers forwarded from the CSUN on this issue.
Mr. Quinlan stated that the translation services had informed him that the FOI Act in Irish is currently at first reading stage. It is anticipated that the finalised version will be published by mid June 2002. The Act in Irish will be posted on the website of the Oireachtas and subsequently on the FOI website. The PDF format will be made available to members for their own websites on request.
Meeting of FOI Interdepartmental Working Group
8 May 2002
Gerry Kearney Chairman – Revenue
Des Dowling CPU
Michael Hyland CPU
Ronan Fox CPU
Gerry Quinlan CPU
Jacinta O Meara CPU
Donnchadh O Muineachain Environment and Local Government
Brendan Fox CMOD
Mary Barrett Enterprise, Trade & Employment
Geraldine Lawlor Enterprise, Trade & Employment
Brendan Foy Justice, Equality & Law Reform
Ciara Seymour Justice, Equality & Law Reform
Maria Meyler Revenue
John Rock CSC/LAC
Terry Mc Guinness Public Enterprise
Anita Mc Glynn Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht & the Islands
Patricia Ballantine Finance
Rita Meehan Finance
Tina Cunningham OPW
Fiona Parnell OPW
Mark Considine Revenue
Karl Higgins Revenue
Emer Whelan Foreign Affairs
David V. Craig National Archives
Ray Smyth Health & Children
Lily Lenihan Social, Community & Family Affairs
Christine Tiernan Education & Science
Luke Mulligan Agriculture, Food & Rural Development
Elaine Kelly Taoiseach
Clíona O Rourke Oireachtas