Minutes of Freedom of Information Interdepartmental Working Group
14th April 2005
Attendance: See Appendix A
Chair: Mr. Ronan Fox, CPU, Department of Finance
Secretary: Ms Caitriona O’Brien, CPU, Department of Finance
1. Minutes of previous meeting
The minutes of the meeting of 20th January 2005 were agreed.
· Access to Information on the Environment
Regulations in relation to the new Directive had now been drafted and will be submitted to Government in the next few weeks. In the interim the existing regulations continue to apply.
· CPU Notice on Risk Management
Draft had been circulated for obs/comments to members. There had been little response and the finalised CPU Notice will issue within the next few weeks.
· FOI Processing initiative in Queensland
Mr McCourt reported on discussions at recent CSUN meeting indicating that there was some interest in the concept of scanning FOI documents. However, a number of issues were highlighted, including cost benefits particularly in cases where records are released and the file is then closed, and the issue of who would take responsibility for scanning, marking and redacting documents in bodies with decentralised decision making structures. It was felt at this stage that the project should not be followed up.
2. Report from Civil Service Users Network
Mr. McCourt provided an update on recent CSUN meetings. The network had met once since the last IDWG. A number of issues were discussed, including:-
- One interdepartmental request dealing with credit card spending by Ministers had been co-ordinated.
- The extension of the Act to new bodies was discussed. A brief synopsis of providers of tracking systems was given, and a template action plan prepared for use within the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment was circulated to network members to assist with planning the roll out to new bodies.
- Access to Information on the Environment provisions were discussed.
- The FOI processing initiative in Queensland was discussed.
3. Training/Training Subgroup
Ms O’ Brien reported that four Advanced Training Courses has taken place since the last IDWG. The half day “refresher” was proving particularly popular with attendees.
On the Training Subgroup, it was noted again that the response to the training needs questionnaire, with the notable exception of local authorities and enterprise bodies, had been very poor and this would have an impact on the end-product. The Chair noted however, that much useful work had been done by the members of the subgroup and that it was hoped to produce a final draft shortly.
4. E-learning project update
Mr. Quinlan reminded members on the joint working group between CPU and CMOD to explore the possibility of an e-learning product for FOI. The joint working group group had agreed to invite members from CSUN, the local authorities and HSE to assist in the running of the project. A draft Request for Tender (RFT) had been drawn up, which when finalised will be circulated to IDWG members.
5. Legal Advices
Mr. Quinlan summarised legal advices 0328 and 380 relating to meetings of the Government.
6. Information Commissioner Decisions/High Court Judgments
Mr. Quinlan. referred to summaries of IC decisions 010358, 020084, 010226, 040093, 031099, 040310, 010194, 030622, 040004, 040005 and 000103 circulated prior to the meeting. IC decision No: 031099 relates to a promotion competition and the decision places clear limits on the degree to which a body must go to explain the outcome of the competition. The substantive must be explained but the individual components which feed into that position may not have to be individually explained. In relation to IC decision No. 0101947 the IC commented on personal information in relation to the views or opinions about another person about an individual concerning to allegations of improper behaviour. High Court judgments – Matthew and Kathleen Ryan v Information Commissioner – section 10(1)(a) affirming the Commissioners interpretation of role in search cases and Mr Barney Sheedy v Information Commissioner & Minister for Education and Science & Irish Times (League tables and now appealed to Supreme Court) which were circulated prior to the meeting were discussed.
7. Restructuring of Health Services – FOI arrangements
Mr. Ray Smyth, Department of Health & Children made a short presentation on FOI arrangements following the restructuring of the Health Services.
· confirmed that the HSE is covered by FOI,
· outlined how to make an FOI request to the Executive,
· clarified happens to requests already submitted to health boards,
· confirmed details of access to older records created by health boards.
A copy of the main points of the presentation is attached at Appendix B. Mr. Smyth also circulated contact details of FOI Officers in each area.
8. FOI Code of Practice for North South Bodies
Ms. O’ Brien informed members that the code of practice should become operational from next September. A public consultation required by statute in the North will commence in June. For the interim period a “practitioner’s liaison group” to include FOI personnel both North and South to focus on issues including training, nomination of decision-makers, internal reviewers had been established. The draft code of practice is still under consideration and will issue in due course.
9. Any Other Business
· In relation to the proposed extension of the FOI Act, the Chairman advised that a Memorandum for the Government on the proposal was near finalisation.
· No date had yet been set for the High Court case relating to CEBs.
Meeting of FOI Interdepartmental Working Group
20th January 2005
1. Ronan Fox Chairman – CPU
2. Gerry Quinlan CPU
3. Caitriona O’Brien CPU
4. Tom Walsh Transport
5. Patricia Ballantine Finance
6. Karl Higgins Revenue
7. Geraldine Fitzpatrick Enterprise, Trade & Employment
8. Pat McCourt Enterprise, Trade & Employment
9. Karl Gardner Foreign Affairs
10. Brendan Farrell Defence
11. Michael Murray Env. Heritage & Local Govt.
12. John Rock Public Appointments Service
13. Ann Howard Social, Comm. & Family Affairs
14. Pat Fannin Oireachtas
15. Ray Smyth Health & Children
Brendan Pockock Env. Heritage & Local Govt.
Catherine Marsh Env. Heritage & Local Govt
Margaret Mulhaire Land Registry
Mary McCarthy Agriculture
From its establishment on January 1, 2005, the Health Service Executive in its entirety will be a public body under the Freedom of Information Act, 1997.
The Health Act 2004 contains a number of provisions relating to the application of FOI to the Executive. The position can be summarised as follows.
- As of January 1, 2005, there is a public right of access to records under the control of the Executive. Where the records are not personal to the requester this right will apply to records dating from October 21, 1998 or later.
- The records of specified bodies dissolved under Part 10 will transfer to the Executive. Where the specified body, such as a health board, was already a public body under FOI, all rights under FOI and the processing of requests in hands will continue undisturbed. There will continue to be a right to a statement of reasons in relation to the actions of a public body prior to its dissolution where these affect the individual requester.
- The General Medical Services (Payments) Board, the Health Service Employers Agency, and the Interim Health Service Executive were not public bodies prior to their dissolution. There will be rights of access and amendment under FOI to the records created by these bodies prior to their dissolution, but there will no FOI right to a statement of reasons for the actions of the dissolved body.
- The Health Act, 2004, contains two restrictions on the disclosure of information. The duty of confidentiality expressed in Section 26 does not impinge on the disclosure under FOI as this restriction is now listed in the Third Schedule of the FOI Act. Section 30 puts draft and unapproved corporate plans prepared under that section outside the scope of FOI for a period of five years.
- In recognition of the scale of the new organisation, the Executive has 6 months within which to comply with the publication requirements of the FOI legislation in preparing a new organisational guide and a digest of policies and procedures.
In anticipation of more detailed advice over the coming weeks the public is advised to make FOI requests to the health facility or office to which they would have made the request in 2004.
FOI and the HSE : Questions and Answers
Is the HSE covered by the Freedom of Information Act?
From what date is the Executive covered?
From January 1, 2005.
How do I make an FOI request to the Executive?
The organisational structures in existence at the end of 2004 will continue to function in relation to their ongoing day to day business. Please submit your request in writing to the relevant FOI office.
What happens to requests already submitted to health boards?
They will be answered within the timescale provided by the Act.
An FOI request has been refused by a health board. Where do I send my request for a review of this decision?
The decision letter should indicate the office to which to send requests for reviews and appeals. Please submit your review request there.
Can I access older records created by health boards?
Yes. These records are now under the control of the Executive.
Can I access the records of other bodies such as the General Medical Services (Payments) Board which have been subsumed by the HSE?
Yes. The GMS (Payments) Board and the Health Service Employers Agency (HSEA) were not public bodies prior to their dissolution. There will be rights of access to the records created by these bodies prior to their dissolution but there will be no FOI right to a statement of reasons for the action of the dissolved body.