Minutes of Freedom of Information Public Service Users’ Network Meeting
8th May, 2006
Attendance: See Appendix A
Chair: Mary McLarney, CPU, Department of Finance
Secretary: Caitriona O’Brien, CPU, Department of Finance
The Chair welcomed Ms Josephine Kavanagh, Laois County Council
1. Minutes of previous meeting
There was an amendment to the minutes of 16th December 2005. At the last meeting Mr Liam Quirke, HSE said that there was increased number of requests and new structures are being drawn up for dealing with FOI requests across the HSE.
The minutes of the meeting of 16th December, 2005 were then agreed.
2. FOI Developments:
2.1 Local Authority Sector:
Ms Mary Morrissey, Longford Co Co, reported that the local authorities network held a meeting on 1st March, 2006 since the last PSUN.
· County Coroner - The group is still unclear as to whether the County Coroner attached to Local Authorities is FOIable in spite of an AG’s advice on the matter. It was felt by one local authority that it may take a legal case or an OIC decision in relation to this to provide full clarity on the issue.
· Official Languages Act, 2003 and Disability Act, 2005 - Clarification was sought as to whether the Official Languages Act, 2003 places a requirement on local authorities to publish their Section 15 and Section 16 Manuals in Irish. No definitive viewpoint on this but it appears to depend on whether the documents are viewed as “policy documents” – if so, there may be a requirement to publish them in bilingual format. A query was also raised in relation to the Disability Act, 2005 as to whether the manuals were to be made available at the outset in accessible format to persons with disabilities. This will be discussed further at the next meeting.
· FOI Officers Network Annual Conference 2006 – The Conference was held in Portlaoise on the 5th April 2006 with a central theme entitled “Building Trust in Local Government”. The conference was opened by Mr Peter Carey, Laois County Manager. Following on was an interesting mix of speakers from the Consumers Association of Ireland, the Office of the Information Commissioner, an Irish Times Journalist and a speaker from a Waterford firm of solicitors dealing with “Discovery Orders and FOI Legislation”. There was also a presentation by RK Consultants – a company providing training on FOI and Data Protection. The conference was well attended by FOI Officers and topics were considered overall to be useful and practical in approach.
2.2 Health Sector:
Liam Quirke reported that the number of requests received by the Health Service Executive was increasing. He raised the issue of the multi-aspect of requests received from journalists. It is common to receive a letter from a journalist with 4-8 unrelated FOI requests. At the moment the HSE is treating such requests as a single request and charging one fee of €15, as a consequence the true number of requests being dealt with by the HSE is not being reflected in statistical returns. He asked for guidance on this issue.
Liam also reported that the FOI structures that existed under the former Health Boards is still in operation for dealing with current requests.
2.3 Civil Service Users Network:
Ms O’Brien provided an update on recent CSUN meetings. The report is attached at Appendix B.
Ms Alva Moloney, Coordinator for the Enterprise Network Group reported.
· There are no major developments to report from the Enterprise Network.
· There have been a number of changes in the FOI personnel in a number of the Agencies
Mr Tom Turpin gave an update from the Education bodies.
· Universities experienced a decline in the number of requests, especially for non-personal requests
· Non-personal requests had a reduced significance, accounting for only approximately 20% of total requests this year so far
· Anecdotal evidence suggested that though there were fewer requests they tended to be more complex and more difficult to handle
Commencing from the next PSUN meeting the Chair requested each sector to furnish a written update of meetings and activities since the last PSUN meeting. If the representative from the sector cannot attend a meeting another officer from the sector can attend to give the update. The Chair also hopes to attend one meeting of each sector before the end of the year.
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.
The Chair thanked everyone for sending in annual statistics. Two bodies did not furnish their stats to CPU and this will have to be addressed for next years annual returns. 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. 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.
5. Legal Advices
Ms O’Brien summarised legal advices 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.
6. Information Commissioner Decisions/High Court Judgments
Ms McLarney referred to Information Commissioner Decisions Nos 050184, 050192, 050182, 010056, 050283, 050235, 050236, 040275, 040097 and 030017 summaries 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 issued on 25th January 2006.
8. Any Other Business
The Chairman reported on developments in a number of areas of interest to the network:
- FOI Extension - Ms O’Brien reported that regulations to extend the Act to 137 bodies have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It was expected that the Regulations would be considered by the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service shortly after which they would be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas and signed by the Minister. The expected implementation date remains 31st May. Awareness sessions for new bodies have already taken place. 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.
· IC Annual Report - expected to issue on 11 May 2006.
· 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.
Freedom of Information Public Service Users’ Network Meeting
8th May, 2005 – Attendance
Name Public Body
1. Caitriona O’ Brien CPU – Chair
2. Mary McLarney CPU – Secretary
3. Jacinta O’Meara CPU
4. Finola Fahy Voluntary Hospitals
5. Ken Lillis HSE West
6. Sinead Byrne HSE South
7. Donal Devery HSE Dublin
8. C Rutland HSE West
9. Paul McGuire Comhairle
10. Aoife Sweeney NSWQB
11. Karen Vaughey EPA
12. Bernedette Carty SW Appeals Office
13. Josephine Kavanagh Laois Co Co
14. Mary Morrissey Longford Co Co
15. Gerry Lavelle BMW Assembly
16. Alva Moloney Forfas
17. Peter Feeney RTE
18. Dominick Tobin OSI
19. Rosalie Smith-Lynch HSE
20. Tom Turpin TCD
21. Liam Quirke HSE West
Gerry D’Arcy Companies Registration Office
Peter McGrath Institute of Technology
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