The Government has published a new Freedom of Information Bill that will repeal existing legislation on Freedom of Information (FOI) in Ireland. The Bill will serve as a consolidated source of FOI law and extends to cover all public bodies and non-public bodies that receive significant funding from the State.
The Bill clarifies that there is a general right of access to records held by public bodies and that this right of access should only be set aside where the listed exemptions very clearly support a refusal of access. The Bill covers all public bodies but most of the commercial State bodies (such as Bord Gáis and Dublin Bus) are specifically exempt from its application. The definition of a record has been updated to include any electronic data in readable form and the Bill also sets out key principles designed to assist public bodies in the performance of their functions under FOI law.
The position of the Information Commissioner (IC) will also be strengthened with the introduction of provisions allowing the IC to apply for a court order requiring public bodies to comply with a binding decision of the IC. Additionally, it will be an offence under the legislation, with a possible fine of up to €4,000, for an individual to “willfully and without lawful excuse” alter or destroy a record that is the subject to a FOI request.
It is envisaged that this piece of legislation will pass through the Oireachtas relatively quickly with the Government planning for it to be enacted this autumn.