Freedom of Information – What is it about?
The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was implemented for Government Departments and other public sector agencies on 21 April 1998 the updated Freedom of Information (FOI) Act came into effect on the 14th of October 2014. The FOI Act establishes three new statutory rights:
- A legal right for each person to access information held by public bodies.
- A legal right for each person to have official information relating to him/herself amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading.
- A legal right to obtain reasons for decisions affecting oneself (refers only to decisions taken on or after the Act applied to Screen Skills Ireland / Fís Éireann).
The Act asserts the right of members of the public to obtain access to official information in possession of Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest and the right of privacy of individuals. The FOI Act is designed to allow public access to information held by public bodies which is NOT routinely available through other sources. Access to information under the Act is subject to certain exemptions and involves specific procedures and time limits.
What information can you apply for under the FOI Act?
Under the FOI Act, anyone is entitled to apply for access to information not otherwise publicly available. Each person has a right to:
- access to records held by Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI)
- correction of personal information relating to oneself held by Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) where it is inaccurate, incomplete or misleading
- access to reasons for decision made by Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) directly affecting oneself.
The following records come within the scope of the Act:
- all records relating to personal information held by Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) irrespective of when created
- all other records created from the Act’s commencement date, 21 April 1998
- any other records necessary to the understanding of a current record
- Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) is obliged to respond to the request within 4 weeks.
Making Your Application
Applications must be in writing and should indicate that the information is sought under the FOI Act. If applications are submitted by email, some proof of identity may be sought. If information is desired in a particular form – eg. photocopy or computer disk – this should be stated in your application. Please give as much detail as possible to enable staff of Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann to identify the record. If you have difficulty in identifying the precise records that you require, the FOI Officer will be happy to assist you in preparing your request. Applications for information under the FOI Act should be addressed to: Elizabeth Fraser Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Screen Skills Ireland 14-16 Lord Edward Street, Dublin 2, Ireland Tel: + 353 1 6775301 Fax: + 353 1 6798040 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Information Decisions: Right to Review and Appeal
The Act sets out a series of exemptions to protect sensitive information where its disclosure may damage key interests of the State or of third parties. Where the Board invokes these provisions to withhold information, the decision may be appealed. Decisions in relation to deferral of access, charges, forms of access etc. may also be the subject of appeal. Details of the appeals mechanisms are as follows:
Is the first decision final?
You may seek internal review of the initial decision that will be carried out by a senior member of staff if:
- a) you are dissatisfied with the initial response received i.e. refusal of information, form of access, charges, etc, or b) you have not received a reply within 4 weeks of your initial application. This is deemed to be a refusal of your request and allows you to proceed to internal review.
Requests for internal review should be marked ‘FOI Review’ and submitted in writing to: Désirée Finnegan CEO Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI), 23 Dock Road, Galway, Ireland Tel: + 353 91 561398 Fax: + 353 91 561405 Email: email@example.com Such a request for internal review must be submitted within 4 weeks of the initial decision. Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) must complete the review within 3 weeks. Internal review must normally be completed before an appeal may be made to the Information Commissioner.
How do you make an appeal to the Information Commissioner?
Following completion of internal review, you may seek independent review of the decision from the Information Commissioner. Also if you have not received a reply to your application for internal review within 3 weeks, this is deemed to be a refusal and you may appeal the matter to the Commissioner. Appeals in writing may be made directly to the Information Commissioner at the following address: Office of the Information Commissioner,18 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2 Phone: +353 1 6785222 Fax: +353 1 6610570 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
How much does it cost to make an application?
As of 14 October 2014, no initial application fee applies. There is no application fee if your request is for personal information. The fee for internal review under Section 21 is €30 (€10 for medical card holders and their dependants).
Search and Retrieval and Copying Fees
Fees may also apply in respect of the time spent searching and retrieving records that are released to you on foot of you request and in respect of the copying of any records released. Such fees are unlikely to arise if your request is for personal information. There is a minimum threshold of €100 below which no search, retrieval and copying fees can be charged. Once the charge exceeds €100, full fees apply. There is a cap on the amount of search, retrieval and copying fees that can be charged of €500. There is a further upper limit on estimated search, retrieval and copying fees at €700 above which an FOI body can refuse to process a request, unless the requester is prepared to refine the request to bring the search, retrieval and copying fees below the limit. The rates of these fees are as follows:
- €20.95 per hour – search and retrieval
- €0.04 per sheet for a photocopy
- €0.51 for a 3 and a half inch computer disk
- €10.16 for a CD-ROM containing copy documents
- €6.35 for a radiograph (X-ray) containing copy documents
A deposit may be payable where the total fee is likely to exceed €51. In these circumstances, Screen Skills Ireland part of Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) will, if requested, assist the member of the public to amend the request so as to reduce or eliminate the amount of the deposit. Charges may be waived in the following circumstances:
- Where the cost of collecting and accounting for the fee would exceed the amount of the fee itself (a guideline of less than €10 is used in this respect);
- Where the information in the record would be of particular assistance to the understanding of an issue of national importance.
A charge applies to most internal and independent reviews (Information Commissioner) concerning access to non-personal records. There is a reduction for medical card holders. These will be notified to you at the appropriate time by the relevant public body. The fee for internal review under Section 21 is now €30 (€10 for medical card holders and their dependants) and the fee for appeals to the Information Commissioner under Section 22 is €50 (€15 for medical card holders and their dependants)