21st March 2000
Location: South Block, Department of Finance
Attendance: As per Appendix A
1. Minutes of Previous Meeting
The minutes of the previous meeting of 27 January, 2000 were agreed.
2. Civil Service User Network
Ms. Perry outlined details of the main issues discussed at the last meeting of the network. These included:
the increase in requests from schools and colleges – departments to keep in touch with CSUN on this issue;
variations in pratices regarding fees. Mr. Kearney suggested that the CSUN might look at the possibility of agreeing a template of practice; and
Legal advice has been obtained to the effect that, for new public bodies, section 18 will become effective from the date of the relevant regulations bringing each under FOI.
Public Service Users Network
The main issues which arose at this network meeting were outlined. These were:
the main concerns of the new bodies, i.e. frivolous/vexatious requests and commercial sensitivity,
uncertainty surrounding the appointment of FOI officers in the local authority sector; and
an increase in the number of FOI requests from journalists in the health sector.
As regards local authorities, Mr. Ó Muineacháin, D/Environment and Local Government, pointed out that this problem has not yet been resolved – only 5 local authorities have made FOI Officer appointments to date and the involvement of top management generally in this sector needed to be deepened.
Mr. Cardiff referred to the importance of local authorities rigorously implementing their FOI obligations and to the particular interest in FOI in local authorities by an Oireachtas Committee.
The main items discussed at the meeting of 23 February were:
the need for an assessment of FOI training needs with regard to the different types of training i.e. general awareness, decision maker, advanced and any specific issues which may need a seminar to be set up. Departments were asked to come back with their training requirements by the end of this week so that the CPU could examine them before the next meeting of the subgroup on 29 March 2000.
3. Guidelines on Disability
Background information which led to the current guidelines on disability was provided. The main elements of the guidelines were outlined as follows:
designation of officers to provide a service to requesters with a disability (usually the current FOI officer);
provision of disability awareness training – sources of training set out at appendix A;
ways in which public bodies could improve the service to persons with a disability e.g. production of key documents in video or audio format. CPU will look into this.
Mr. Kearney asked the group to look at the guidelines and to come back to the CPU by the end of next week (31 March) if issues arise.
4. Issues arising from Information Commissioner Findings
An OIC guidance note (February 2000) in relation to sections 20, 21 and 26 of the FOI Act was given to the group. This guidance note, which was considered to be very useful, followed from the meeting with the Information Commissioner, details of which were given at the last IDWG meeting on 27 January 2000.
As regards strengthening working relationships with the Office of the Information Commissioner, the group was asked to contact the OIC with any issues this regard.
Mr. Cardiff referred to a recent Eircom case, where the IC made a wide-ranging finding where the public interest was viewed. Accordingly, there is scope for keeping in mind the wider public interest, e.g. international relations (not just of our own public body) when making decisions.
A number of other recent cases where the IC made findings were mentioned – Emirate Meats & McCarthy, Holmes, and Policywatch.
5. Any Other Business
A number of recent legal advices were circulated, and a brief summary of each was given – these were AG0219, AG0225, AG0226, AG0227. A summary of AG0222a was also circulated. This legal advice also covers the application of section 18 to new bodies.
As regards AG0225, Ms. Perry pointed out that the FOI act currently takes precedence over the Data Protection Act. However, the Data Protection Act is in the process of being updated by the D/Justice, Equality and Law Reform and this raises issues about whether this act will take precedence in due course over the FOI Act.
Feedback on database
A summary of the contents of the database was outlined and its links with related information, such as the Information Commissioner's findings were touched upon. It was also pointed out that CMOD will be providing a brief training session on the database.
Mr. Cardiff gave a brief update on the recent meeting with Oireactas Committees regarding the CSUN report. He also pointed out that, because of the new more lengthy procedures in parliamentary practice re FOI issues, CPU will need a longer lead-in time and much earlier input from departments when draft regulations are being prepared.
The group was advised of FOI research being carried out and encouraged that work.
The inappropriateness of public bodies making FOI requests was confirmed having particular regard to the Long Title of the Act.
Next meeting – end of April.
FOI Central Policy Unit
21 March, 2000
|Name||Department / Office|
|Tom Quinlan John O'Leary
Donncha Ó Muineacháin
Aisling de Búrca
Central Statistics Office
Agriculture, Food & Rural Development
Environment & Local Government
Education & Science
Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht & the Islands
Social, Community & Family Affairs
Enterprise, Trade & Employment
Chairperson of Working Group, Revenue