herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

FOI covers gardai and NAMA for first time

A more powerful Freedom of Information Act coming into force this month will include gardai and NAMA within its powers for the first time.

The new Act, which cleared its final hurdle in the Seanad yesterday, will be in force by mid-October.

Bodies such as the Central Bank, refugee agencies, An Garda Siochana, the National Assets Management Agency, and the National Treasury Management Agency will be subject to the Act which protects the public's right to know about matters concerning State bodies and agencies.

Speaking as he left the Seanad chamber, Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said the new Act represents "a sea change" in how Freedom of Information (FOI) applications will be treated.

"Restoring and enhancing the legislation to the spirit originally intended, the Act will encompass some highly significant improvements and innovations which will substantially transform the environment for FOI in Ireland," he said.

FOI provisions will now apply to all public bodies.

Dublin Labour TD Eric Byrne said Minister Howlin's Bill was further evidence of Labour's commitment to reforming politics and public life in Ireland.

The vast majority of FOI requests will now be free of charge as the €15 application fee will be abolished. Fees will only apply where the preparation time for a request exceeds five hours up to a maximum of €500 for approximately 25 hours research work.

Convicted

The new law includes a new penalty for a person convicted of the deliberate altering or destruction of records which are the subject of an FOI request.

There will be a general right of access to records held by public bodies. Communications between members of Government will no longer be exempt and the 10-year ban on the release of Cabinet records will be halved to five years.

Where a commercial state body provides a service under a contract to a public body, those records will be subject to FOI.

aokeeffe@herald.ie

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