On Friday 13 April last, Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall hosted a conference to mark 20 years of Freedom of Information in Ireland. The ground breaking legislation, which provides the public with a right to access information held by public bodies, came into operation in 1998. The Office of the Information Commissioner, the body responsible for reviewing decisions of public bodies under the FOI Act, was also set up that year.
The Information Commissioner said:
“Access to information is a cornerstone of democracy. With the passing of the FOI Act the public had, for the first time, a right to access information held about them and about decisions that affect their everyday lives. The Act has enabled a light to be shone on many areas of public life over the last 20 years and has helped move government from a culture of secrecy to one where open and transparent decision-making is now expected.”
The keynote speaker at the conference was European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, who reflected on her 10 years as Irish Information Commissioner and the challenges she faced including the impact of the imposition of fees for FOI requests in 2003, court challenges, and her appointment as Commissioner for Environmental information.
Eithne Fitzgerald, former Minister of State, who introduced the Freedom of Information Bill in 1997 gave a unique insight into the development of the legislation from ‘conception to adulthood’. RTE Investigations journalist Conor Ryan gave his perspective on using the FOI Act and on how the Act could be improved.
The conference was attended by nearly 170 public officials, academics and representative groups.
Acknowledging the additional resources provided to his Office by the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform, the Information Commissioner highlighted the revised procedures his Office introduced which have resulted in dramatically improved case processing times.
The Office has also launched a new website with an online portal offering a fast and efficient facility to submit applications for review and an enhanced search facility.
The full text of the Information Commissioner’s speech at the conference is available on the Commissioner’s website www.oic.ie
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