A new Freedom of Information Bill (FOI Bill) is due to be published this week. It is expected to be enacted in the autumn along with a new Code of Practice for FOI.

A number of high profile bodies previously outside the scope of the Act will be brought within its remit, including public financial bodies such as NTMA, NAMA, NPRF, and the NDFA, subject to the maintenance of strict confidentiality of their engagement with commercial counterparties.

The Central Bank of Ireland will also be brought within the remit of the Act, other than in relation to records which are subject to professional secrecy obligations.

Scope of Bill

  • The Act will extend FOI to all public bodies. A general definition of a "public body" will replace the restrictive approach of the current FOI Acts 1997 and 2003, which contain a long schedule of specific bodies which are subject to FOI.

  • Any new exemptions under the Act will be explicitly listed, in relation to the individual public body concerned, in Schedule 1 of the Act. Such exemptions will be subject to repeal by Ministerial Order.

  • Certain non-statutory significantly funded bodies (eg. Charities) will be brought within the remit of the Act in due course, following agreement on criteria governing which bodies should be selected as a priority.

  • Commercial State bodies - with some exceptions (eg. Irish Rail) will not be brought within the remit of the Act, other than where they provide services on behalf of public bodies.

  • The Bill provides for the application of FOI to non-public bodies in receipt of significant funding from the State by way of Ministerial Order.

Commencement

Public bodies which were previously beyond the remit of the FOI Acts 1997 and 2003 will have 6 months post-enactment of the legislation to prepare for FOI requests. The Minister may extend the preparation time, up to a maximum of 12 months.

Other Important Amendments

  • Records of all persons, including commercial state bodies and private bodies, who provide a contract for services to a public body, will be brought within the ambit of the new Act (in respect of records related to those services only).

  • Reduction of the time period for which Government records are exempt from 10 years to 5 years.

  • Documents relating to the deliberative processes of a public body must now be released, unless it is shown that such release would be contrary to the public interest. The Act removes the power of the Secretary General of a Government Department to issue a certificate refusing access, and to which no appeal is possible.

  • Reduction in Fees for Internal Review (from €75 to €30), and Appeal to the Information Commissioner (€150 to €50).

  • Clarification that information obtained orally in confidence, and noted by a member of staff of a public body, may qualify for exemption.

  • A new penalty of a Class B fine (i.e. up to €4,000) for a person convicted of the deliberate altering or destruction of records which are the subject of an FOI request.

The Government's Press Release is available here.