The FOI process – a note of praise

It isn’t often here at thestory.ie that we feel in a position to praise a government body for how they handle an FOI request.

All too often there’s something odd about the search and retrieval fee, or the request comes in right at the end (or after) the 20 day period by which requests should be replied to. Or you ask for something in digital format and you get hundreds of printed pages in the post, sent by registered mail (crazily swallowing up a large portion of the €15 fee you paid in the first place). Or the FOI officer misapplies an exemption, or misinterprets their responsibilities, fails to apply a public interest test, fails to give a schedule of records or… I could go on.

Too often a system that’s supposed to be about transparency and openness, active citzenship, open government and all that good stuff, ends up becoming adversarial – a battle of wills between a requester and an administration that all too often sees access to information as a chore rather than as something that benefits us all, citizens and public bodies alike.

So credit where it’s due.

I sent a request two weeks ago to the Department of the Environment. To my astonishment I received two elements of my request back long before the working 20 days were up (This is how it’s supposed to work, often there seems to be sit-out-the-20-days policy, regardless of whether the information is ready). In the three years I’ve been doing FOIs, this is a rare event.

Not alone that, I got it all digitally by email, as requested, including a schedule of records and what exemptions were applied. This was quickly followed by the next element of the request from a different division, with similar results. A third element of the request was then carefully handled in terms of seeking to explain a difficulty with a portion of my request and suggesting an alternative path.

This is how FOI is supposed to work. If there were an FOI gold star for DECLG, I’d give it.

So to the FOI officers, including Mary Boothman and Noel Prunty, and all the good people at the Department of the Environment – cheers! 🙂

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