Freedom Of Information Bill 2013

The Freedom of Information Bill 2013 (the "Bill") was published on 25 July 2013 by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin (the "Minister"). The reform rendered by this Bill represents the most significant development in freedom of information ("FOI") law in Ireland in over a decade. The Minister explained that the Bill is intended to "restore the legislation and extend it to almost all public bodies, as well as consolidating and modernising it to improve the functioning of the Act and to improve the structure of the legislative framework".

The Bill represents a major overhaul of the current legislation, the Freedom of Information Act 1997, as amended by the Freedom Of Information (Amendment) Act 2003 (together the "existing Act"), and, if the Bill is enacted in its present form, the scope of FOI will be expanded to include almost all public bodies (including a number of high profile public bodies), as opposed to the specific schedule of approved bodies currently subject to the terms of the existing Act. Some of the key amendments proposed by the Bill are discussed below.

Key Reforms

What bodies will be subject to FOI?

The Bill contains a broad definition of ''public body'' which will effectively enable FOI to apply to all public bodies (an "FOI body") unless specifically exempt. As new public bodies are established, they will automatically be subject to the terms of FOI, although provision is made for the Minister to make an order to specifically exclude certain bodies, in whole or in part, if required. The Bill contains exemptions for some bodies so as not to affect the ability of these bodies to perform their core functions or in the interests of the security or financial position of the State. An Garda Síochána, the National Treasury Management Agency Group, the Central Bank of Ireland ("CBI"), the industrial relations bodies, the Insolvency Service of Ireland and the various Ombudsmen will all enjoy exemptions in part (of varying degrees and kinds). By way of illustration, the records of CBI are covered other than in relation to: (i) confidential personal information relating to the financial or business affairs of any individual; or (ii) confidential financial, commercial or regulatory information relating to the business affairs of any person who holds or has held or who has applied for a licence, authorisation, approval or registration from the CBI, or is otherwise regulated by the CBI, that the CBI has received for the purposes of performing, or in the discharge of, any of its statutory functions (other than when that information is contained in records in summary or collective form, such that persons cannot be identified from the record).

While the Bill continues to exempt in full from FOI most commercial State bodies, records of those parties who provide services to a FOI body under a contract for services, will be subject to the new Act (and this may include commercial state bodies to the extent they provide services to a FOI body).

Have the access rules changed?

As before, the stated objective of the legislation is to ensure that official...

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