The extension of the scope of the FOI regime that was brought about by the Freedom of Information Act 2014 generally came into effect on 14 April 2015. All entities that fall within the broad definition of ‘public body’, except specified fully or partly exempt bodies, are now in scope of FOI.
The FOI Act 2014 came into force in two main phases. It was applicable to all ‘FOI bodies’ that were in scope of FOI under the FOI Acts 1997&2003 Acts (‘existing FOI bodies’) from the date of its enactment, which was 14 October 2014. Entities that fall within the definition of ‘public body’ but previously were outside the scope of FOI (‘new FOI bodies’) were given a period of 6 months until 14 April 2015 to prepare for the change in their status. Under the 2014 Act, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform could defer the commencement date in relation to a new FOI body date beyond 14 April 2015 until 14 October 2015. The Minister recently exercised this power by deferring the commencement date in relation to An Garda Síochána, Gaslink Independent System Operator Limited, EirGrid plc, ESB Networks Limited and Iarnróid Éireann and their respective subsidiaries until 14 October 2015.
Varied Effective Dates
The FOI Act 2014 also distinguishes between ‘existing FOI bodies’ and ‘new FOI bodies’ regarding the date range of records that are in scope of FOI. For existing FOI bodies, records dating back to 21 April 1998 are generally in scope (although earlier records may be in scope in limited circumstances). In the case of new FOI bodies, the 2014 Act generally applies to records dating back to 21 April 2008. These default effective dates may be amended by ministerial order. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government recently made an order specifying that the effective date for the Private Residential Tenancies Board is 21 April 2012 and for the Refugee Appeals Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal it is 14 October 2014. The deferral of the effective date in relation to the Refugee Appeals Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal is particularly notable, since this gives rise to a substantial temporal restriction on the application of FOI to these bodies (although this restriction will not apply to an individual who requests access to records relating to themselves).
Exempt Public Bodies
Under the FOI Act 2014 the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has the power to make entities that fall within the definition of ‘public body’ wholly or partly exempt from FOI. By an order that was published on the 24th of April, Shannon Group and the Irish Red Cross and their respective subsidiaries have been added to the list of ‘public bodies’ that are fully exempt from FOI. Oifig Choimisinéir na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, the National Treasury Management Agency and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and their respective subsidiaries are partly exempt.
There is one key element of new FOI regime that has yet to come into force. The 2014 Act introduced a new obligation on FOI bodies to develop and make available ‘publication schemes’ regarding the manner in which they will publish certain information. Such schemes must be published by no later than 6 months after the commencement of Section 8 of the 2014 Act. Section 8 will come into effect 12 months after enactment (i.e. on 14 October 2015), or such earlier day as the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform may appoint by order. Assuming that the Minister will not bring the commencement of Section 8 forward, the deadline for publication of publication schemes will be 14 April 2016.