Dáil Éireann - Volume 540 - 04 July, 2001

Written Answers. - Freedom of Information.

155. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Information Commissioner has been in contact with his Department expressing concern at the manner in which his Department has handled requests under the Freedom of Information Act, 1997. [20350/01]

Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): Under Section 36(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, the Information Commissioner has recently carried out an investigation in relation to the practices and procedures adopted by public bodies for the purposes of compliance with the provisions of the Act generally. My Department was one of the public bodies selected for inclusion in the investigation and co-operated fully with the Office of the Information Commissioner in this regard.

The volume of FOI requests received by my Department on a yearly basis has grown steadily since commencement, with a total of 452 requests received in the year 2000 and in excess of 230 requests received this year to date. While the Act reflects best administrative practice, difficulties have been encountered in meeting the statutory deadlines.

The Information Commissioner's report which was published yesterday recommends that the Department review its procedures for dealing with requests under the FOI Act and take early action to address the deficiencies identified. These deficiencies relate to delays in meeting statutory deadlines, advising on rights of appeal, [651] liaising with the Information Commissioner's office on cases under review. The report, which has just been received, is being examined by senior management at my Department and an action programme will be drawn up to support the operation of the Act on an ongoing basis.

My Department has taken the initiative in releasing records and processes into the public domain at the earliest opportunity by making increasing use of the Internet for public consultation. Both the fluoridation forum and the social services inspectorate routinely publish information and reports on dedicated websites. In addition, work currently under way on the Department's new health strategy and the national anti-poverty strategy has made extensive use of the Internet to support public dialogue and make information more accessible.