Study of Section 15 and 16 Manuals published by Public Bodies

Study of Section 15 and 16 Manuals of those public bodies subject to the Freedom of Information Act, 1997 as at October 1999 - Investigation by the Office of the Information Commissioner under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997.

Introduction

The Freedom of Information Act, 1997 (FOI Act) requires those public bodies which are subject to it to publish two reference books for the benefit of the public. These reference books are usually referred to as the Section 15 manual and the Section 16 manual after the sections of the Act which require their publication. The Section 15 manual is a reference book which contains a general description of the organisation, its functions, powers and duties and the classes of records held by it. Section 16 requires the publication of the rules, practices, guidelines and interpretations used by the body, including an index of any precedents kept by the body, for the purposes of decisions made under any enactment or scheme which affects members of the public.

Scope and Methodology

The study took the form of an investigation by the Office of the Information Commissioner under Section 36 of the FOI Act. In September 1999 a questionnaire was sent to all 181 bodies which, at the time, were subject to the Act.

In addition, a detailed assessment was made of the Section 15 and 16 manuals of a small sample of 12 bodies. In order to get the views of FOI users, a questionnaire was sent to every person who had made an application to the Information Commissioner for a review of an FOI decision of a public body. A third questionnaire was sent to a number of interest groups and key user groups, for example trade union and business groups and voluntary sector organisations.

Survey of Public Bodies - Findings

Overall compliance

  • Eighty three per cent (83%)of public bodies had published a Section 15 manual and 75% of public bodies had published a Section 16 manual within the timescale prescribed in the FOI Act.
  • At the time of the survey (17 months after the prescribed date for some bodies and 11 months for others) 94% of bodies had published a Section 15 manual and 88% had published a Section 16 manual with 88% having published both.
  • Eleven bodies reported not having published either a Section 15 or 16 manual at the time of the survey and a further nine had not produced a Section 16 manual.

Publication Format

  • All of the Section 15 manuals are available in paper format. Fifty two per cent (52%) of the Section 15 manuals are also available in one additional format and 8% are available in two additional formats. Other than paper, the typical other publication formats used are the internet or on computer disk/CD ROM.
  • Ninety eight per cent (98%) of the Section 16 manuals have been published in paper format. Three public bodies (the Eastern Health Board, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs) have published electronic versions only. Thirty six per cent of Section 16 manuals have been published in two formats and 6% have been published in three formats. Publication on the internet or on computer disk/CD ROM are the typical additional formats.

Distribution of the Manuals

  • Eighty two per cent (82%) of public bodies have their Section 15 manuals available for inspection at certain of their offices; 85% of Section 16 manuals are available in this way. Thirty per cent (30%) of the bodies reported that the manuals may be borrowed from nominated offices. Fifteen per cent (15%) of the public bodies have their Section 15 manuals available for purchase and the equivalent figure for Section 16 manuals is nineteen per cent.

Updating the manuals

  • The public bodies were asked if they had in place a mechanism for ensuring that the manuals are kept up to date. Fewer than 60% reported as having such a mechanism and, of those, 28% at most had actually reviewed the manuals since first publication. Over 40% of public bodies say they have no mechanism for review of their manuals.

Survey of FOI Users

Findings

  • The most striking finding was the low level of awareness of the existence of the manuals among the FOI respondents. Over 60% of the respondents said that they were unaware of the manuals. This figure is the more remarkable as the respondents were people with a considerable degree of exposure to FOI and its processes in that they had requested the Information Commissioner to review the decision of a public body.
  • Of those aware of the existence of the manuals prior to making an FOI request, slightly more than half (54%) actually consulted a manual at that stage.
  • Those who had consulted a manual in advance were asked whether they had found it useful in broad terms and whether it had assisted or directed them in making their request. Seventy nine per cent (79%) of this group said that the manuals had assisted them in making their FOI request.

Survey of Representative Bodies

The total sample in this survey was small with only 21 bodies being contacted. Of these, 13 (or 61%) replied to the questionnaire. Because of these limitations, the information gleaned in this survey must be taken as no more than indicative.

Findings

  • Nine of the 13 respondent bodies were aware of the existence of the manuals and four were unaware of the manuals.
  • Seven of the respondent bodies reported that they had used one or more of the manuals. They were asked if the manuals had assisted or directed them in making an FOI request. Five bodies considered that the manuals clarified how and to whom an FOI request should be made; two considered that the manuals clarified the range of records available from the public body and two considered that the manuals consulted clarified the types of records available from the public body without the necessity of using the FOI Act.

Assessment of the Manuals of Twelve Public Bodies

The Section 15 and 16 manuals of 12 public bodies were given detailed individual assessment. A cross section of the public bodies to which the Act applied as at October 1999 was selected as follows: six Government Departments, two health boards, two local authorities and two other public bodies. Arising from these assessments, a checklist to assist public bodies in the production or revision of the manuals was devised.

Issues Arising

The study identified a number of issues which require further consideration and/or clarification. Section 16, in particular, has not been implemented in a uniform manner across the public bodies concerned, and this suggests some confusion as to what the Section actually requires. Some bodies did not, in their Section 16 manuals, publish the texts of the rules, guidelines, circulars etc. which the Section encompasses. Instead, these bodies published short summaries of the actual texts or, in some cases, simply a list of the relevant items. It is clear that Section 16 requires the publication of the full text of such items.

Another issue to arise in relation to Section 16 is whether there is a requirement to publish all of the relevant items within the one publication or whether, in the alternative, it is sufficient that the individual items be published separately. The study concludes, on balance, that it was the intention of the Oireachtas that there should be a single Section 16 manual in which all the relevant items are published together. However, the study does recognise the difficulties this can sometimes create particularly for those public bodies which are required to publish large amounts of complex information. There are some suggestions to deal with this.

Other issues to arise relate to: responsibility for publication in the case of smaller local authorities; delays in complying with the statutory publication deadline; and issues relating to the preparation and review of the manuals. These issues are discussed in more detail in the study.

Finally, the report includes a checklist to assist public bodies in the revision of their manuals. It offers guidance on presentation, publication and distribution of the manuals and emphasises the need for public bodies to put greater effort into marketing the manuals as a useful tool for FOI requesters and as a valuable source of information about individual public bodies.

A hard copy of the full study is also available, on request, from the Office of the Information Commissioner, 18 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2. - Telephone 01 6785222 or Fax 01 6610570

Objective

The Freedom of Information Act, 1997 (FOI Act) requires those public bodies which are subject to it to publish two reference books for the benefit of the public. These reference books are usually referred to as the Section 15 manual and the Section 16 manual after the sections of the Act which require their publication.

The Section 15 manual is a reference book which contains a general description of the organisation, its functions, powers and duties and the classes of records held by it. Section 16 requires the publication of the rules, practices, guidelines and interpretations used by the body, including an index of any precedents kept by the body, for the purposes of decisions made under any enactment or scheme which affects members of the public.

The Act came into operation on 21 April 1998 and, at the time of the study, was in operation for eighteen months. In this context, it was considered timely to carry out a study to establish the extent to which bodies subject to the FOI Act had produced Section 15 and 16 manuals and to assess the extent to which these manuals are achieving their purposes.

The Act specifies that Section 15 manuals are intended to help the public ascertain and exercise their rights under the Act. There is no specific statement in the Act regarding the purpose of the Section 16 manuals. The full text of Section 15 and Section 16 is available at Appendix Two.

Scope and Methodology

The study took the form of an investigation under Section 36 of the FOI Act. In September 1999 a questionnaire was sent to all 181 bodies which, at the time, were subject to the Act. Additionally, a detailed assessment was made of the Section 15 and 16 manuals of a small sample of 12 bodies in terms of accessibility, content, lay-out, clarity, comprehensiveness, whether up to date and general user-friendliness.

In order to get the views of FOI users, in October 1999 a questionnaire was sent to every person who had made an application to the Information Commissioner for a review of an FOI decision of a public body. The aim of the questionnaire was to check awareness of the existence of the manuals and to seek users' views on the usefulness of the manuals and on their availability.

A third questionnaire was sent to interest groups and key user groups, for example trade union and business representatives, voluntary sector organisations and others (see Appendix 1).

Method

In October 1999, 181 bodies which were subject to the FOI Act at the time were sent a questionnaire regarding their Section 15 & 16 manuals. The questionnaire dealt with issues such as:

  • confirmation that manuals had been produced
  • the availability and distribution of the manuals
  • whether bilingual or separate Irish versions of the manuals were available
  • whether (and how) manuals were being kept up to date
  • whether the manuals were being used extensively and any suggestions for alternatives to achieve the same objectives and
  • whether manuals were made widely available within own organisation.

One hundred and seventy nine (or 99%) of the public bodies responded. The return from New Ross UDC was received late and therefore was not included in the study. An Coimisiún Logainmneacha explained that it had been subsumed into the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and, therefore, would not be making a separate return.

Limitations of the survey

Before turning to the main findings of this aspect of the survey, it is important to acknowledge that the findings must be read in the context of the limitations of the survey. The data analysed in this survey was provided by the respondent public bodies. Because of the number of public bodies involved, and the timescale for completion of the survey, only very limited cross-checking was carried out to establish the accuracy or validity of the responses made.

However, it is clear that a number of public bodies answered some of the questions with an aspirational as opposed to an actual assessment of the position. Consequently, this must be borne in mind in interpreting the data.

Main Findings

Overall compliance

One hundred and sixty eight public bodies (or 94%) reported that they had published Section 15 manuals and 159 (or 88%) reported having published Section 16 manuals at the time of the survey, with 159 (or 88%) having published both. This contrasts with the 148 (or 83%) who reported the publication of Section 15 manuals by the legally prescribed date and the 134 bodies (or 75%) who reported publication of the Section 16 manuals by the prescribed date.

One hundred and thirty four bodies (or 75%) reported having published both manuals by the prescribed date with 25 bodies (or 13%) having published both after the due date.

Compliance
  Section 15 Section 16
Published by Due Date 148 Bodies 134 Bodies
Published by Date of Survey (October 1999) 168 Bodies 159 Bodies
Not published by Date of Survey 11 Bodies 20 Bodies

No. Respondent Bodies = 179
No. of Questionnaires Issued = 181

A total of 11 bodies reported not having published either a Section 15 or 16 manual by the time of the survey (October 1999) and a further nine had not produced a Section 16 manual.

At the time this study was carried out, Government Departments, local authorities and health boards were the main public bodies covered by the Act. In the case of Government Departments, the prescribed date for publication of the manuals was 21 April 1998. In the case of the health boards and local authorities, the prescribed date was 21 October 1998. (See Appendices Three and Four for details of bodies which failed to comply with the publication requirement).

In presenting the findings of the survey, where reference is made to Section 15 manuals only, the percentages are calculated by reference to the number of Section 15 manuals published (168). Consequently, where reference is made to Section 16 manuals only, the percentages are calculated by reference to the number of Section 16 manuals published (159). Where no distinction is made, the percentages are calculated against the number of both manuals published (159).

Format of Manuals

The public bodies who had published either manual or both, were asked to identify the format(s) in which the manuals were published, i.e. paper/book, computer disk, website, audio, Braille or any other format. Of those which indicated that they had published the manuals in formats other than those listed in the questionnaire, the main format was an intranet or internal computer system.

Eighty-eight bodies (or 52%) published the Section 15 manual in one format only, 67 (or 40%) in two formats, and 13 (or 8%) in three formats. In relation to the publication of the Section 16 manual, 91 (or 57%) public bodies published it in one format only, 58 (or 36%) in two formats, and 10 (or 6%) in three formats.

Format
  Total Published One format Two formats Three formats
Section 15 168 88 (52%) 67 (40%) 13 (8%)
Section 16 159 91 (57%) 58 (36%) 10 (6%)

For those public bodies which published their Section 15 manual in one format only, the preferred option was paper/book. Indeed all the public bodies published their Section 15 manual in paper form. For those which published their manual in other formats, the preferred options were computer disk or website. One body, the Western Health Board, has an audio version of its Section 15 manual while the Registrar of Friendly Societies has a Braille version.

In relation to the Section 16 manual, all the public bodies, with the exception of the Eastern Health Board, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Community and Family Affairs, publish their manual in paper format. Both the Eastern Health Board and the Revenue Commissioners have their manual available on CD ROM and on their websites while the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has its manual on its website and also on an internal computer system which allows for the manual to be printed out on request.

The public bodies were asked to indicate if the manuals were available in Irish or English or both and whether the manuals were produced in any other language. One hundred and fifty six (or 93%) of the bodies reported that the Section 15 manual is published in English only, while 155 (or 97%) produce their Section 16 manuals in English only.

None of the bodies produce their manuals in Irish only. Three bodies, (Cork Corporation, The Office of the Ombudsman and The Office of the Information Commissioner) i.e. less than 1%, reported that they produce their Section 15 manuals bilingually (English and Irish), nine bodies (or 5%) produce separate Irish and English versions of their Section 15 manual and four bodies (or 3%) produce separate Irish and English versions of their Section 16 manual. Neither manual is published in any language other than Irish or English.

Distribution of the Manuals

The public bodies were asked to indicate how their manuals are made available, the purchase price, and the number of manuals distributed to date. The questionnaire identified specific mechanisms for making the manuals available and the public bodies were asked to indicate whether any other mechanism was utilised in distributing the manuals.

One hundred and thirty seven bodies (or 86%) reported that they made both their Section 15 and Section 16 manuals available for inspection at nominated offices of the organisation. Fifty one (or 32%) bodies allowed for the borrowing of the manuals from a nominated office of the body. One hundred and eight bodies (or 68%) made both manuals available free of charge on request.

One hundred and twenty two (or 73%) public bodies circulated their Section 15 manuals to certain public libraries while 99 (or 62%) of the Section 16 manuals were circulated in this way. Sixty six (or 39%) bodies sent their Section 15 manuals and 46 (or 29%) their Section 16 manuals to certain Citizens Information Centres.

Twenty six (or 15%) bodies charged for their Section 15 manuals while 30 (or 19%) bodies charged for the Section 16 manuals. Only one body, the Companies Registration Office, provided the manuals through the Government Publications Sales Office. Forty five (or 27%) of the bodies had their Section 15 manual available on the organisation's website with 38 (or 24%) of the Section 16 manuals so available.

Distribution of Manuals
  Section 15 Manuals Section 16 Manuals
Available for inspection 137 (82%) 137 (86%)
Available for borrowing 51 (30%) 51 (32%)
Free of charge on request 108 (64%) 108 (68%)
Circulated to public libraries 122 (73%) 99 (62%)
Circulated to C.I.C. * 66 (39%) 46 (29%)
Available for purchase 26 (15%) 30 (19%)
Available via website 45 (27%) 38 (24%)

Total Section 15 manuals published: 168
Total Section 16 manuals published: 159
* Citizens Information Centres

A number of bodies chose other mechanisms of distribution. The Land Registry and Registry of Deeds sent their manuals to their main clients, viz. solicitors, while the Valuation Office sent its manual to its main clients, the local authorities. The Department of Education and Science sent its manual to the main universities. Some of the manuals were circulated to similar or related public bodies for information, for example some of the local authorities sent their manuals to adjoining or closely related authorities.

Manuals for Purchase

Twenty-six (or 15%) public bodies charge for their Section 15 manuals in book form and 30 (or 19%) public bodies charge for their Section 16 manuals. Of these, five public bodies produce composite manuals and charge for the publication as a whole. The most expensive Section 15 manual is that of the Midland Health Board which costs £16.00 and the least expensive is that of Carrick-on-Suir UDC costing £2.50.

The average charge for the Section 15 manual in book form is £6.46. The most expensive Section 16 manual is that produced in six volumes by the Land Registry which costs £214.00 for the complete set. Again, the least expensive Section 16 manual is that of Carrick-on-Suir UDC at £2.50.

Of the bodies which produce the manuals in computer disk or CD ROM format, the average cost of the Section 15 manual in this format is £6.10 and the average for the Section 16 manual is £6.57. The actual cost for a Section 15 manual on disk ranges from a high of £16.00 (Midland Health Board) to £0.40 (Galway Corporation). The range in this format for the Section 16 manuals is from a high of £21.00 (Midland Health Board) to a low of £0.40 (Galway Corporation).

Cost of Manuals
  Section 15 Manuals Section 16 Manuals
  Book CD-ROM/Disk Book CD-ROM/Disk
Most expensive £16.00 £16.00 £214.00 £21.00
Least expensive £ 2.50 £ 0.40 £ 2.50 £ 0.40
Average cost £ 6.46 £ 6.10 £ 16.50 £ 6.57

Numbers of Manuals Distributed

The public bodies were asked to provide approximate numbers of the manuals that had been distributed. One hundred and thirty seven (or 82%) of the respondents gave information in relation to Section 15 manuals distributed in book form. The average number distributed was 344. Seven (or 4%) of the bodies had distributed Section 15 manuals in disk or CD ROM format and the average number of copies distributed was six. In relation to the Section 16 manuals, 118 bodies (or 74%) had provided these manuals in book form with an average number of 208 copies being distributed. Only seven bodies (or 4%) distributed their Section 16 manuals in disk or CD ROM format with an average of 91 copies being distributed.

Internal Distribution

The public bodies were asked to indicate whether all members of staff had been made aware of the existence of the Section 15 and 16 manuals and whether copies had been distributed to them. Many of the public bodies reported that all members of staff had been made aware of the existence of the manuals but only 77 (or 43%) of the public bodies had made arrangements to distribute copies of the manuals to all staff members.

Promotion of Manuals

The public bodies were asked to describe the steps taken by them to promote the existence of the manuals at the time of first publication and, if they had taken such steps, to indicate the form they took. They were also asked to identify any steps currently being taken to promote the manuals. One hundred and twenty five (or 78%) bodies took steps to actively promote the existence of the manuals when first produced and approximately the same number are currently doing so.

The questionnaire mentioned a number of methods of promoting the manuals including posters, print and broadcast media and the web. Public bodies were asked to indicate any other forms of promotion undertaken by them which were not listed in the questionnaire.

Most of the respondents chose more than one mode of publicising the manuals and 25 (or 15%) chose methods that already existed for the dissemination of information about the organisation. These included: staff briefings, circulation of the manuals to Citizens Information Centres or Money Advice and Budgeting Service Centres, discussion at local council meetings, staff newsletters, sending the manuals to the organisation's client base, displaying the manuals in reception areas or on notice boards throughout the organisation.

Most of the organisations which took steps to promote the existence of the manuals when they were first published report that they have continued to do so, although the current methods of promotion are limited in the main to posters, information leaflets, or websites.

Updating Manuals

While promotion of the manuals is important, it is also vital that the manuals which are made available to the public are up to date and contain information on recent developments in the organisation. In order to assess how this is being achieved, public bodies were asked to indicate whether there were mechanisms in place to ensure that the manuals were continually updated.

Ninety six (or 57%) of the respondent public bodies indicated that they had such a mechanism and, of those, 47 (or 28%) had reviewed the manuals since first publication. Of the 47 (or 28%) bodies which indicated that they had updated their Section 15 manual, 36 (or 21%) had carried through the revisions to all formats. Of the 40 (or 25%) who had reviewed the Section 16 manual, 33 (or 21%) had revised the manual in all formats.

Public Bodies Assessment of the Usefulness of the Manuals.

The public bodies were asked to describe any steps which they had taken to measure the usefulness of the manuals either in relation to the public or to staff or both. Only 14 bodies (or 8%) had attempted to measure the usefulness of the Section 15 manuals to the public with 13 bodies (or 8%) having done a similar exercise in relation to their Section 16 Manuals. Twenty seven public bodies (or 16%) had assessed the usefulness of the Section 15 and 16 manuals to staff .

Many of the public bodies responded that they had taken no formal steps to measure the usefulness of the manuals to the public but gave their impressions having regard to the feedback that they had received. The feedback received in comments from members of the public was reported to have been positive.

The questionnaire also sought to establish the usefulness of the manuals to staff and in this regard the majority of the public bodies felt better able to comment. In many instances, through the medium of staff meetings and ongoing training courses, staff were asked to indicate the usefulness to them of the manuals. The majority of the public bodies which replied to this question had found the manuals invaluable as an introduction to the organisation for new staff and that staff in general used the manuals for research, particularly when preparing for interview. Many of the organisations had found that staff were using the manuals as a reference guide in carrying out their work.

The public bodies were also asked to assess whether in their view the publication of the Section 15 and 16 manuals had obviated the need for the publication of further information, increased the need for such publication or considered that it made further publication neither more nor less necessary. One hundred and forty four respondents (or 86%) considered that the publication of other information material was neither more nor less necessary following the publication of the manuals. Nineteen bodies (or 11%) considered that the manuals made the publication of information leaflets less necessary and four bodies (or 2%) indicated that they considered that the Section 15 and 16 manuals made the publication of other information material more necessary.

The public bodies were asked to comment on their observations in this respect. The commentary falls mainly into three categories. Firstly, some bodies considered that the publication of the manuals prompted an increase in the number of general enquires to the organisation. Secondly, some bodies considered that the publication of the manuals was akin to the requirement to publish an annual report and that it did not affect information provision by the organisation other than in this way. Thirdly, some bodies considered that the publication of the manuals required reconsideration by the body of the kind of material that was made routinely available. A small number of public bodies reported disappointment at the lack of interest demonstrated by the public in their manuals.

Some of the bodies commented that the manuals have given rise to an increase in the level of queries received from the general public. Others noted that the manuals encouraged members of the public to look for more detail on specific services described in the manuals. The majority of the public bodies considered that the publication of the manuals had complemented the material which was already published, in annual reports, directories of services and the like, but had not required the publication of further material formally. One of the bodies took the view that, while the manuals did not require the publication of further information leaflets, it had made the organisation reconsider its position in relation to the kind of material which it made routinely available.

A number of bodies commented that the availability of the manuals has saved time where queries of a general nature have been received which previously would have involved time-consuming collation of the information to answer the specific query. The following comment summarises the experience of the public bodies generally:

"The availability of both publications has made information dissemination easier but it has led to an increase in subsequent queries from the public and changed the way information material is produced as the organisation has become aware of its responsibilities to customers under FOI."

Compliance

Section 15(2) provides that a reference book prepared under Section 15 be made available from 21 April 1998 in the case of Government Departments and Offices, and from 21 October 1998 for the local authorities and health boards. Section 16(2) provides for the Section 16 manual to be made available in similar terms.

The survey findings show that 83% of the respondent public bodies had published their Section 15 manual by the due date and 75% had a Section 16 publication by the due date. At the time of the survey in October 1999, this had risen to 94% in respect of the Section 15 manuals and 89% in respect of the Section 16 manuals.

This means that 31 bodies (17%) failed to publish a Section 15 manual within the statutory timescale and 45 bodies (25%) failed to publish a Section 16 manual within the statutory timescale. By the time of the survey in October 1999, 11 bodies (6%) had not published a Section 15 and 20 (11%) bodies had not published a Section 16 manual (see Appendices 3 and 4).

The following bodies reported that they had not produced either manual at the date of the survey:-

  1. The Irish Manuscripts Commission
  2. The Irish Sports Council
  3. Lismore Town Commissioners
  4. Castlebar UDC
  5. Shannon Town Commissioners
  6. Passage West Town Commissioners
  7. Bantry Town Commissioners
  8. Bandon Town Commissioners
  9. The National Archives
  10. The National Archives Advisory Council
  11. Comhairle na Nimheanna


Each of these bodies was written to and asked to detail their position in relation to the publication of these manuals.

The Irish Manuscripts Commission responded that the text of the manuals was almost complete and would be published shortly.

The Irish Sports Council explained that it was established on a statutory basis on 1 July 1999. Previously it was included in the Section 15 and 16 manuals published by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. The Council stated that it is aware of its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act and intends full compliance following the completion of its Statement of Strategy when "some shape and stability will have defined its activities."

Shannon Town Commissioners responded that the manuals were in the process of preparation. They explained that they were of the view that Clare County Council had responsibility for the publication of the manuals but accept now that responsibility rests with the Town Commissioners.

Lismore Town Commissioners reported that they had not produced a Section 15 or Section 16 manual. However, they stated that the manuals of Waterford County Council included their functions.

Castlebar UDC responded that they are in the process of preparing the manuals.

Cork County Council responded in relation to Passage West Town CommissionersBantry Town Commissioners and Bandon Town Commissioners. The Council explained that the Town Commissioners have limited functions but that if the Information Commissioner required strict compliance with the provisions of the Act by each scheduled public body they would make arrangements to comply. Following some discussion, it was agreed that the Council would await the outcome of this study.

The National Archives and The National Archives Advisory Council responded that they were aware of their lack of compliance with the Act, that it had been intended originally to produce a joint publication on behalf of both bodies but that it was now intended to publish separate manuals in each case. Both bodies responded that it was anticipated that the Section 15 manuals would be published by the end of 1999 and that it was proposed to publish the Section 16 manuals with minimum delay.

Comhairle na Nimheanna replied that it is currently being reconstituted and that it intends to produce a Section 15 manual as soon as the reconstitution is complete. As An Chomhairle is an advisory body and provides no direct services to the public, this Office takes the view that it does not hold information of the type described in Section 16 of the FOI Act. Therefore, the requirement to produce a Section 16 manual does not apply in this case.

The following bodies had not produced a Section 16 manual as required by the Act at the time of the survey although they had each produced a Section 15 manual:

  1. The Public Offices Commission
  2. The Office of the Information Commissioner
  3. The Irish Medicines Board
  4. Templemore UDC
  5. Granard Town Commissioners
  6. Wicklow UDC
  7. Greystones Town Commissioners
  8. Gorey Town Commissioners
  9. The National Gallery of Ireland.

Each of these public bodies was contacted to explain its non-compliance with the provisions of the Act.

The position in the Office of the Information Commissioner was that it was finalising its Section 16 manual and hoped to have it published shortly. The explanation for the delay in the publication of the manual was that the Office was in the process of establishing itself and its procedures and precedents were being developed.

The Public Offices Commission and the Irish Medicines Board had come to the conclusion that they were under no obligation to prepare a Section 16 manual as they felt their operations did not impact on the general public. However, following discussions on this point with this Office, both public bodies decided to publish a Section 16 manual.

Gorey Town Commissioners stated that, in their view, the requirements of Section 16 were met by its Section 15 manual. However, they sought direction from the Information Commissioner as to the adequacy of the current publication in satisfying the requirements of the Act. However, following some discussion, it was agreed to await the outcome of this study before taking further action in this regard.

Greystones Town Commissioners propose to amend their Section 15 manual and republish it as a composite Section 15/16 manual.

Wicklow UDC said it proposes to publish a Section 16 manual shortly.

Longford County Council responded on behalf of Granard Town Commissioners that the County Council Section 16 manual incorporates the functions of the Granard Town Commissioners.

Neither the National Gallery of Ireland nor Templemore UDC responded to the request for an explanation of the position.

Format of Manuals

All of the Section 15 manuals are available in paper format and the preferred additional formats are computer disk or via a website.

Three public bodies, the Eastern Health Board, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs make their Section 16 manual available in electronic format only and it is not possible to get a complete paper copy of these manuals. These bodies have probably chosen this option as the easiest format in which to collate a considerable quantity of material. However, the Land Registry has produced a paper version of its Section 16 manual which runs to six volumes. The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has its Section 16 manual on an internal computer system and has advised staff to download the manuals on request. It is possible that, in practice, most requesters would have a particular area of interest and would seek access to that part of the manual only.

The issue of publishing either of the manuals in an electronic format only requires careful consideration. Undoubtedly, electronic publishing has many advantages and does satisfy the strict requirement of the FOI Act in relation to publishing Section 15 and 16 manuals. At the same time, many people have not yet got easy access to the Internet or to CD Rom facilities.

Clearly, the spirit of the FOI Act is that information should be made available to the greatest extent possible. It should be possible to resolve this problem through a common sense approach which recognises that, in the short to medium term, many people either will not have easy access to a computer or will be reluctant users of information technology.

Thus, where a manual is not published in paper format, it would be most helpful that a short summary be published in paper format which identifies the main items covered in the full manual. Alongside this, the public body should be willing to print a paper copy of any items or sections of the manual where a member of the public so requests.

The use of websites in publishing Section 15 and 16 manuals has great potential especially in terms of the facilities to update material very easily. While many of the Section 15 and 16 manuals sampled are on the web, there was no evidence that any had been updated since first being published on the web - see Chapter VI.

Distribution of the Manuals.

Both Section 15 and 16 manuals are required to be made available for inspection free of charge and for removal free of charge or, at the discretion of the head of the public body or the Minister, for purchase at places determined to be appropriate. Eighty two per cent of the respondent bodies made their Section 15 manuals available for inspection at nominated offices of the organisation while 85% provided access to their Section 16 manuals in this way. The Sections also provide for removal of the manuals free of charge which, in the questionnaire, was described as borrowing the manual for consultation. Thirty per cent of the bodies reported that the manuals may be borrowed from nominated offices.

It is worth noting that not all of the public bodies made their manuals available to Citizen Information Centres and/or public libraries in their areas. This may be explained by the lack of such facilities in a particular area or it may be that the Centres do not have the storage capacity to hold a large number of manuals at one time.

However, those public bodies which have major interaction with the public in general, for example the local authorities, the health boards and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, should endeavour to ensure that their manuals are available from as wide a variety of sources as possible. It is noticeable that the alternative forms of distribution engaged in by particular bodies relate to the nature of the business which they undertake, for example the Land Registry distributed their Section 15 manuals to their main clients, solicitors, nationwide.

Only one body, the Companies Registration Office, has chosen to make its manuals available for purchase from the Government Publications Sales Office, although 26 (15%) charge for the Section 15 manuals in book form and 30 (19%) charge for their Section 16 manuals.

Updating the Manuals

There are obvious difficulties for public bodies in attempting to keep manuals in paper format updated. As the majority of public bodies use this mode of publication, it is not surprising that their manuals have not been updated since first publication. The resources required in time, staff or finance make the regular updating of paper manuals difficult. The provision of these manuals in an electronic format such as computer disk or web access allows for more regular updating to occur with little resource demands on the public body.

The public bodies were asked to say if they had in place a mechanism for ensuring that the manuals are kept up to date. Less than 60% reported as having such a mechanism and of those, 28% at most, had reviewed the manuals since first publication. The fact that the majority of the bodies have their manuals available in paper format only may have contributed to the reluctance to review the manuals.

However, it is surprising that over 40% of public bodies say they have no mechanism for review of the manuals. This may suggest that the approach to the publication of the manuals was purely in response to a statutory imperative rather than an effort to comply with the spirit of the provision to open up information to the public in general. It should be noted, however, that both Section 15 and Section 16 of the Act require revision of the publications where any significant alteration or addition arises. Furthermore, there is a requirement to prepare and publish a revised version of each manual every three years.

Public Bodies Assessment of the Usefulness of the Manuals

Many of the public bodies reported that they had taken no formal steps to measure the usefulness to the public of the manuals but were willing to give their impressions from the feedback received. Some of the bodies have procedures to measure client opinion on an ongoing basis and presented opinion based on that measurement. One public body suggested that a measurement of the usefulness of the manual could be made from the number of "hits" to the website. Measuring the number of hits to a website shows that there is interest in accessing the manuals but it does not establish whether the manuals have proven to be useful to an individual.

It appears the publication of the manuals has not stimulated a demand by the public for the production of other information material. Why this should be the case is unclear. It may be explained on the basis that the manuals were published in the context of Freedom of Information legislation and have become associated in the public mind with that area alone. Alternatively, it may be that the manuals generally have had a very low impact and level of usage.

Languages in which the Manuals are Available

Only three public bodies, (Cork Corporation, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Information Commissioner) reported as producing their Section 15 manual bilingually, in Irish and English. However, with regard to the Section 15 manual published by Cork Corporation, only the chapter and section headings, the contents page and part of the introduction by the City Manager are actually in Irish.

Nine public bodies, (the Southern Health Board, Donegal County Council, Western Health Board, the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, the North Western Health Board and Loughrea Town Commissioners) reported having produced separate Irish and English versions of their Section 15 manual. Donegal County Council, the North Western Health Board, the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands also produce an Irish version of their Section 16 manual.

The survey also established that versions of the manuals in languages other than Irish or English are not published. This issue was raised in light of the increasing diversity of nationalities who are now living in Ireland and interacting with public bodies here.

Method

A questionnaire was sent to 350 people who had applied to the Information Commissioner for a review in the period up to October 1999. (The Act provides that where a FOI request is refused, the requester has a right of appeal to a more senior official in the public body concerned. In the event of a refusal at this stage, the requester has a right to request the Information Commissioner to review this decision.)

The aim of the questionnaire was to assess the level of awareness among requesters of the existence of the manuals and of the usefulness of the manuals. The sample (350) was small but it was considered that it was representative of most of the classes of requesters who use the Act. The level of awareness of the existence of the manuals among this sample is likely to be higher than among a random sample of the general population.

Of the 350 questionnaires issued, 201 (or 57%) were returned.

Main Findings

Awareness

Each person was asked to say whether he or she was aware that, in accordance with the FOI Act, public bodies publish two information manuals for the benefit of the public. Of the 201 respondents, 121 (60%) replied that they were unaware of the existence of the manuals.

Where the respondents said that they were unaware of the existence of the manuals, they were told that the remaining questions were not relevant and asked to return the questionnaire. The following data was received from the remaining 80 (or 40%) respondents from an original sample of 350.

The next series of questions was designed to establish at what point the respondents became aware of the existence of the manuals and whether the respondents had consulted them before making their FOI request or after making the request, or at all.

Of the 80 respondents who were aware of the existence of the manuals, 71 (or 88%) were aware of them before making their FOI request. Of these, 38 (or 48%) consulted a manual before making a request. Thirty three (or 41%) respondents did not consult a manual before making a request but six (or 8%) of these respondents subsequently consulted a manual.

Respondents who did not make use of the manuals, though aware they existed, were asked to say why, given their awareness of the manuals, they did not make use of them in making the request. Of the 33 who responded to this question, seven (or 21%) replied that, having made enquiries about the manuals, they considered access to them was too difficult and five (or 15%) had the expectation that the manuals would not actually be helpful. Twelve (or 36%) of the respondents had more than one reason for not consulting the manuals. The remainder gave reasons specific to their circumstances or their relationship with the particular public body.

Respondents were asked to describe how they came to be aware of the existence of the manuals. Twenty-five (31%) replied that they became aware from general knowledge, three (4%) were aware from a friend or family member, three (4%) through a library or Citizens Information Centre (CIC), ten (13%) became aware in the process of making their FOI request to a particular public body and five (6%) were advised by a public body other than the one to which the FOI request was made. Other sources of awareness included: working for a public body, the Internet, a politician or professional advisor, staff representatives, a reading of the FOI Act, a course at University, and information leaflets.

Source of Awareness of Manuals
Source Number (Percentage)
General knowledge 25 (31%)
Became aware in the process of making an FOI request 10 (13%)
Advised of existence of the manuals by a public body other than one to which the request was made 5 (6%)
From a friend or family member 3 (4%)
From a Library or CIC 3 (4%)

Using the Manuals

The respondents were asked to describe how they accessed the manuals which they had consulted. Of the 44 respondents who had consulted a manual, 23 (or 52%) requested and received a copy of the manual free of charge, five (or 11%) said they looked it up on the premises of the body concerned and five (or 11%) used a CIC, library or other service. One had used the public body's website and another had temporarily borrowed a copy of the manual. One respondent received a copy of the manual at a conference and another used a CD ROM version. Ten (or 22%) respondents reported they had consulted in more than one way.

Format of the Manuals Consulted

Thirty seven (or 84%) of the respondents who consulted the manuals did so in paper/book format, 13 (or 30%) used computer disk format while six (or 14%) used a website.

Usefulness of the Manuals for the Respondents' Purposes.

Respondents who had consulted a manual were asked to say, in broad terms, whether they found the manuals useful. Of those who answered the question (44), 40 (or 90%) found them useful in broad terms while 30 (or 68%) found that they assisted or directed them in making their FOI request.

Of those who found that the manuals assisted them in making their requests (30), twenty four (or 80%) found that the manuals clarified how, and to whom, an FOI request should be made, ten (or 33%) considered that the manuals clarified the range of records available from the public body, five (or 16%) found that the manuals clarified the type of records available from the public body without the need to use the FOI Act and six (or 20%) found the manuals useful in some other way.

The respondents were asked to say if, in their view, the manuals they had consulted were "user friendly" in the sense of being

  1. well written and easily understood
  2. presented in a logical fashion and well indexed
  3. comprehensive and covering the issues of interest to them.

Thirty five (or 79%) of the 44 respondents found that the manuals were well written and easily understood; 29 respondents (or 65%) reported that they were well indexed and presented in a logical fashion and 27 respondents (or 61%) found that the manuals were comprehensive and covered issues of interest to them. Some respondents selected more than one of the options described above.

Finally, the respondents were asked to say whether they had consulted the Section 15 or 16 manuals of any other public body since consulting the manual of the body to whom they made their FOI request. Eleven respondents replied that they had.

Awareness

The most striking fact arising from this survey was that of the 201 respondents, 121 (over 60%) said that they were unaware of the existence of the manuals. This figure is the more remarkable as the respondents were people with a considerable degree of exposure to FOI and its processes in that they had requested the Information Commissioner to review the decision of a public body.

This raises questions regarding the effectiveness of the promotion of the manuals by public bodies at the time of their publication and on an ongoing basis. Over 70% of the public bodies reported that they had taken steps to promote the existence of the manuals at the time of publication and approximately the same number of bodies say they are continuing to do so.

The survey results suggest that public bodies need to reappraise their approach to the publication and promotion of the manuals. Otherwise, there is every possibility that people will be disadvantaged in exercising their rights under the Act if they are unaware of the functions of a public body and the classes of records held by the body.

The respondents were asked to say why, if they were aware of the manuals, they did not consult them before making their request. Of the 33 (or 46%) who replied that they were aware of the manuals, but did not consult them before making their request, a number of them gave their reasons for not consulting. Seven respondents (or 21%) replied that having made enquiries, they had come to the conclusion that access was too difficult, and five (or 15%) indicated that they had an expectation that the manual would not be helpful.

The respondents concerned did not elaborate further on why they had come to the conclusion that access to the manuals would be too difficult or that the manuals were unlikely to be helpful. In the absence of the context in which these observations are made, it is difficult to draw any concrete conclusions from them. However, it is clear from the views expressed by these members of the public that public bodies need to "market" their manuals more effectively.

Thirty eight respondents (i.e. 54% of those who were aware of the manuals) consulted a manual before making their request. They were asked how they accessed the manuals which they consulted. The majority had received, at their request, a copy of the manual free of charge and a number had consulted a manual either on the premises of the public body or at a Citizens Information Centre or library. Of the 38, 10 respondents (or 26%) indicated that they had consulted manuals in more than one way; one had used the public body's website, another had received a CD-ROM and one had temporarily borrowed the manual.

Usefulness of the Manuals for the Respondents' Purposes

The respondents who had consulted a manual in advance (38) were asked to say if they had found it useful in broad terms and whether it had assisted or directed them in making their request. Thirty (or 79%) of the respondents found that the manuals assisted them in making their FOI request and of these 24 (or 63%) found that the manuals clarified how an FOI request should be made; another 10 (or 26%) found that the manuals clarified the range of records available from the body and five (or 13%) found that the manuals clarified the kind of material available to them without having to use the FOI Act. It would appear that the manuals consulted were mostly Section 15 manuals.

It seems clear, therefore, that in presenting information about the functions and organisation of the public body, and detailing the records held by the public body, the manuals have assisted people in exercising their rights under the Act. On the basis of the experience of these respondents, the manuals would appear to be fulfilling their primary purpose.

"User Friendliness"

Another aspect of access is how easy it is to use the manuals and to extract the information which the person requires. This can encompass basics such as size and layout of the document as well as the language used. In order to gauge the "user friendliness" of the manuals, relevant respondents were asked if, in their view, the manuals they had consulted were "user friendly" in the sense of being well written and easily understood, presented in a logical fashion, well indexed, comprehensive and covering issues of interest to the user. Overall, the experience of using the manuals was reported as positive. Again it should be borne in mind that the manuals consulted were mostly Section 15 manuals. This topic is again considered in the assessment of the manuals of twelve public bodies (Chapter VI).

Method

In order to widen the scope of the investigation, it was decided to circulate a questionnaire to a number of organisations which represent a particular sector, for example trade union and business representatives, voluntary sector organisations and others. Twenty-one questionnaires were distributed of which 13 (or 61%) were returned.

The aim of the questionnaire was to establish the level of awareness of the existence of the Section 15 and Section 16 manuals and the degree to which these manuals have been found useful by these organisations. The results of the survey must be considered of limited application due to the small number of bodies contacted and the smaller number of replies received.

Secondly, the degree of awareness or usefulness is assessed only within the experience of the representative organisation itself. The time limitations placed on the return of the questionnaire meant that "umbrella" organisations did not have an opportunity to consult with their constituent members. Accordingly, the responses received must be treated as no more than indicative.

Main Findings

Awareness

Question No. 1 asked if the respondent was aware of the existence of the manuals. Of the 13 bodies which responded, four bodies replied that they were unaware of the existence of the manuals and nine were aware of the manuals.

Of the nine bodies which were aware of the existence of the manuals, four replied to question No. 2 that they were aware of the manuals through general knowledge, one had become aware through a member organisation, four bodies heard of the manuals from a public body.

Using the Manuals

Question No. 3 addressed a number of aspects of accessing the manuals. Question 3(a) asked respondents to name the public bodies whose manuals they had used. Two of the nine respondents who were aware of the existence of the manuals had not consulted them. The manuals of the following bodies were specifically mentioned as having been consulted: the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Finance, the Department of Social Community and Family Affairs, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, the Department of Justice, the Department of Public Enterprise, the Department of Health and Children, the Eastern Health Board and an unspecified local authority.

Question 3(b) was designed to establish how the respondents had consulted the manuals. Of the seven respondents who had consulted the manuals, one consulted the manual on the premises of the public body, one bought a copy of the manual, six accessed the manual via the Internet and three received a copy directly from the public body by post. Four of the respondents had used more than one method of consulting a manual.

Usefulness of the Manuals for the Respondents' Purposes

Question 4 asked the respondents to assess the usefulness of the manuals for their purposes. Question 4(a) asked if the manuals were useful in the context of the business of the organisation, to which all seven of the respondents who had consulted the manuals replied "yes". Question 4(b) asked if the manuals had assisted or directed the respondents in making an FOI request. Two bodies replied negatively, while five bodies responded in the affirmative.

Question 4(c) addressed itself to those who had responded in the affirmative to question 4(b). Five of the respondents considered that the manuals clarified how and to whom an FOI request should be made; two considered that the manuals clarified the range of records available from the public body and two considered that the manuals consulted clarified the types of records available from the public body without the necessity of using the FOI Act.

Question 4(d) attempted to establish if the manuals were "user friendly" by reference to one of three categories: (i) whether the manual was well written and easily understood, (ii) whether the manual was presented in a logical fashion and well indexed and (iii) whether the manual was considered comprehensive and covering the issues of interest to the respondent.

Each of the respondents was invited to answer "yes" or "no" to the above criteria. Six respondents answered this question of which four found the manuals well written and easily understood and two did not. Three respondents found the manuals to be presented logically and well indexed, two respondents did not and one declined to answer. Finally, two respondents found the manual consulted comprehensive and covering issues of interest, three did not and one declined to answer.

Finally, Question 5 asked the respondents to outline any general comments which they might have in relation to public awareness of the manuals, the availability of the manuals or the usefulness of the manuals. Four respondents availed of this opportunity and the comments are summarised below:-

  • One organisation was not aware of the Section 16 manuals until it received this Office's questionnaire. It noted that the hardcopy versions of the manuals will go out of date and indicated that it was unaware of any system to update these manuals other than requesting a revised version from the public body.
  • One of the organisations considered that it had a certain expertise in relation to FOI and understood how the manuals should be used. However, many of the organisation's members both locally and nationally would be less aware of the potential of these manuals.
  • Another organisation pointed out, firstly, that there is very little public awareness of the manuals, secondly, that for those unfamiliar with the structure and functions of the public bodies, the manuals can increase complexity and, thirdly, that the manuals were usually sold at high cost or may only be available via the Internet.
  • Another organisation said that while the organisation itself had not consulted the manuals, many local members may have.

This investigation in relation to the Sections 15 and 16 manuals has identified a number of issues which require further consideration and/or clarification. The fact that Section 16, in particular, has not been implemented in a uniform manner, across the public bodies concerned, raises questions as to what this section actually requires. Other issues to arise relate to: responsibility for publication in the case of smaller local authorities; delays in complying with the statutory publication deadline and issues relating to the preparation and review of the manuals. These issues are discussed below.

Section 16 Manuals - Full Texts or Summaries?

Seven Section 16 manuals were assessed in detail for the purposes of this investigation. Of these, only one manual reproduced the full texts of the various rules, procedures, practices, guidelines etc. of the body. One of the manuals gave the texts of some of the relevant items but not of all of them. The remaining five manuals did not give the actual texts; instead, and in varying degrees of detail, they gave summaries or descriptions of what the items covered. The requirement of Section 16, quite clearly, is to publish the actual rules, procedures, practices, guidelines etc. This means that that the full texts of these items must be published and that it is not enough to summarise or describe them.

Some public bodies may hold the view that publication of the full text of these items is not always that helpful; that these are items produced for internal organisational purposes and may be impenetrable for the ordinary person. It may be the case that not everybody will be immediately capable of understanding such "internal law". However, Section 16 establishes the very important principle that such "law" will be available to any member of the public who requests it.

Section 16 Manual - a Single Publication?

The majority of public bodies have produced a single Section 16 manual in which all of the items required to be published (rules, procedures practices, guidelines etc.) are collected together. A minority of public bodies, principally the local authorities, have chosen not to collect all the Section 16 type items within one publication but to make each of these items separately available on request. As a help to the public, the local authorities have produced a document which describes the range of items which are available under Section 16 - an index, in effect. The question here is whether the practice of the local authorities actually complies with the requirements of Section 16.

Unfortunately, Section 16 does not deal unambiguously with this issue. It is clear that Section 16 requires the publication of a range of items; it is less clear that these items must be published as a single collection. There has been a general view that Section 16 requires the production of a single publication in which all the relevant items are collected. The prevalence of this view is reflected in the practice of the majority of public bodies which have produced single publications. Furthermore, a single publication can be much more useful to members of the public and, to that extent, reflects the underlying spirit of the Act i.e. to make information available to the public "to the greatest extent possible". On the other hand it is at least arguable that, in the absence of an explicit requirement to publish a single manual, publication of the Section 16 type items on a piecemeal basis satisfies the requirements of the section.

On balance, and acknowledging that there is a contrary position, the Information Commissioner tends to the view that the intention of the Oireachtas was that the Section 16 requirement would be met by way of a single publication. However, it must be acknowledged there are practical difficulties associated with this approach where publication is by way of a paper document. For many public bodies, the range and volume of Section 16 type items is very substantial. Individual items of this "internal law" may be subject to frequent revision and, inevitably, new items are being added and existing items deleted on a regular basis. Given the practical difficulties in keeping a (paper) publication up to date - something which Section 16 requires - any paper compilation of such items is liable to become incomplete and even misleading with the passage of time. However, these difficulties do not arise in the case of electronic publishing (website or computer disk) where there is the facility to revise the contents, at little expense, all the time. Unfortunately it would appear, on the basis of the limited assessment of Section 16 manuals undertaken in this investigation, that public bodies are not exploiting this facility to keep web publications up to date.

Perhaps consideration might be given to a modification of Section 16 which respects both the spirit and the intention of the Act while addressing some of the practical difficulties identified above. For some bodies, greater flexibility as to the methods of achieving the objectives of Section 16 would be helpful. One option might be as follows:

  • provide that Section 16 does not require the production of a single paper publication where to do so is problematic;
  • provide, where a single paper publication is not produced and where each item is being made available separately, that a summary document is produced which identifies each of the items captured by Section 16 and which gives a very brief account of the contents of each item (more detail than is given in the "index" documents currently available from the local authorities);
  • provide that all public bodies with their own websites (and this is likely to be the vast majority of public bodies in the near future) are required to publish their Section 16 material in a suitable format on the web to the greatest extent practicable; furthermore, there could be an explicit requirement to maintain the web publication up to date.

A modification of the Act, along these lines, could be achieved through the mechanism of a Ministerial regulation under Section 3(1)(d). In the first instance, this is a matter to be considered by the Central Policy Unit (CPU) of the Department of Finance. In the interim the CPU should consider issuing a good practice guidance notice along the above lines.

Must All Public Bodies Publish a Section 16 Manual?

At the time of the survey (October 1999) 20 public bodies reported that they had not published a Section 16 manual. In establishing the reasons for the failure to produce a manual, two of them - the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) and the Public Offices Commission (POC) - replied that they believed the Section 16 requirement did not apply to their particular situations. Both bodies interpreted Section 16 as applying to a public body only where its activities impact on the general public as a whole rather than on a section or sections of the general public. The IMB and the POC felt that their activities did not impact on the general public and that, accordingly, there was no obligation to publish a Section 16 manual.

As a result of enquiries made arising from this study, both bodies reviewed their positions and decided that they would publish Section 16 manuals. However, their original interpretation of Section 16 merits some consideration.

The requirement to publish a Section 16 manual is set out at Section 16(1)(a) of the Act. The key determinant of the obligation to publish a manual is whether the particular body administers an enactment or scheme which bears, or may bear, on the "rights, privileges, benefits (or) obligations" of "members of the public" or whether such an enactment or scheme may impose penalties or sanctions on "members of the public". In this context, the term "members of the public" should be distinguished from the wider term "the general public". For Section 16 to apply, it would seem to be enough that individual members of the public, or sub-groups of the public generally, are or might be affected. Section 16 does not appear to depend on the public in general being affected.

Put another way, a public body subject to FOI is likely to be exempt from the requirement to publish a Section 16 manual only where it is not involved in the administration of a scheme or enactment. Of the bodies subject to FOI at the time of the survey, only one body appeared not to be covered by Section 16. That body was Comhairle na Nimheanna (The Poisons Council) which is an advisory body only with no executive functions. Its advice - given to the Minister for Health & Children and to the Minister for Agriculture, Food & Rural Development - is of a purely technical nature and can hardly be seen as bearing on the "rights, privileges, benefits (or) obligations" of "members of the public".

Responsibility for Producing the Manuals

The survey showed that some of the smaller local authorities, Town Commissioners and Urban District Councils, had failed to publish Section 15 and 16 manuals. In subsequent contacts with these authorities, two types of argument were made.

The first argument was that Town Commissioners/ Urban District Councils carry out limited functions and that, accordingly, there is no requirement to publish these manuals. This argument is simply invalid. These authorities are providing some service to the public, whatever the scale of its operation, and the Act does not exempt a body from the requirements of Sections 15 and 16 where its operation is on a small scale. The second argument was that the Sections 15 and 16 manuals of the "parent" County Council cover the activities of such smaller authorities and that this satisfies the statutory obligation created by the Act. For example, Longford County Council's manuals are deemed to cover the activities of Granard Town Commissioners.

The requirement of Sections 15 and 16 is that the body concerned "shall cause" the manuals "to be prepared and published". This allows for a certain latitude in relation to the manner of publication and may allow for joint publication with another body. What is important here is that any member of the public wishing to be informed about the status, organisation and activities of a smaller local authority can have easy access to the type of information required to be made available by Sections 15 and 16. If the Section 15/16 material relating to a UDC or Town Commissioners is to be included as part of the manuals of the "parent" County Council, it is essential that the material relating to the subsidiary authority is clearly identified as such. Furthermore, the information being provided must be as comprehensive as would be the case were the authority publishing manuals in its own right. Above all, a person seeking information of the type covered by Sections 15 and 16 should not be at a disadvantage because the body has chosen to publish the relevant material as part of the publication of a related public body.

It should not happen that a person, seeking to identify the type and range of records held by a particular body, finds it difficult to determine which records are held by this body in its own right because the body's manuals have been incorporated with those of another public body. Such a composite publication should clearly delineate the responsibilities of the smaller body and not require an individual to search the entire document for references relevant to the body of interest. Where such a composite publication has been produced, the smaller body must have copies of the publication available from its own offices for any person who may request it.

Overall, the Information Commissioner has a strong preference for the production of its own Section 15 manual by each individual body subject to the FOI Act. In the case of the smaller local authorities, details of where its Section 16 material is available (e.g. where published as part of the Section 16 manual of the parent authority) might be included with the Section 15 manual.

Delay in Compliance

There is evidence of delay by some bodies in complying with the requirement to produce Section 15 and Section 16 manuals by the statutory deadline. These delays were mainly in the production of the Section 16 manuals and in many cases amounted to missing the deadline by four to eight weeks. Section 15 lays a particular requirement on the Minister for Finance to publish a reference book which is a collation of summaries of the individual Section 15 manuals published by each of the bodies subject to the FOI Act. Section 15 prescribes that this reference book is to be published by the Minister "not later than 15 months after the commencement of this Act", i.e. by 21 July 1999. At the time of writing (September 2000), this reference book has not yet been published. However, the Department of Finance says that this reference book is to be published in the very near future as part of an expanded State Directory.

General Guidelines for Preparing/Revising Manuals

The FOI Act is being extended on a phased basis to include additional bodies; for example, RTÉ and TG4 are included from May 2000 and further extensions are planned over the next 18 months. Bodies already covered by the Act are required to revise their manuals at least every three years which means that the first tranche of bodies (including all Government Departments) must publish revised manuals by 21 April 2001 at the latest. In this context, perhaps some general guidelines on the production of the manuals might be helpful.

Both manuals are intended for the benefit of the public in a general way but in the case of the Section 15 manual it is explicitly stated that "the purpose of the book is to assist members of the public in ascertaining and exercising their rights under this Act." The Section 16 manual involves the collation and publication of the "internal law" of the body; it does not require that the existing rules, procedures, guidelines etc. should be re-written for the benefit of the public (though it does present an opportunity to rationalise and revise all existing "internal law"). The Section 15 manual, on the other hand, does require the creation of a "reference book" specifically for the public's benefit. The following checklist, while it refers primarily, but not solely, to the Section 15 manual, should be of assistance to public bodies in the revision of the manuals.

Presentation

  1. The manual should have a clear and logical structure
  2. This structure (and how to use the manual) should be explained at the outset.
  3. The ordering and presentation of the material should be based on the needs of the reader and not on the exigencies of the body.
  4. Whereas it will be necessary to outline the organisational structure of the body, it will not always be helpful to organise the reference book around that structure. For example, describing services by reference to the organisational structures for the delivery of those services may be confusing and give rise to major duplication.
  5. The language used should be clear, direct and unambiguous with the minimum reliance on jargon. Where some jargon or technical language is inevitable, the use of a glossary of terms should be considered.
  6. Good design and lay-out (including the use of charts, diagrams and maps, where appropriate) can add considerably to the "user-friendliness" of the manuals as can the provision of a detailed contents page and an index.

Publication and Distribution

  1. Where a manual is being published on the web or by way of computer disk, there should be a search facility which operates across the full range of the manual - this is particularly useful in the case of Section 16 manuals.
  2. Public bodies should "market" the manuals more positively in order to highlight their value to FOI requesters and as a reference source of the public bodies functions, schemes and programmes.
  3. All staff should be familiar with the manuals and in a position to supply them on request.
  4. Full use should be made of electronic media initially by ensuring that the manuals are made available on websites and, where appropriate, in other electronic formats.
  5. Electronic facilities should be exploited to ensure that the information in the manuals is updated regularly.
  6. If the Section 16 manual is to be published solely by electronic means, a summary booklet listing and summarising the material available on the electronic version also should be published.

Introduction

The Section 15 and 16 manuals of 12 public bodies were given detailed individual assessment by this Office. A cross section of the public bodies to which the Act applied as at October 1999 was selected as follows: six Government Departments, two health boards, two local authorities and two other public bodies.

In analysing the Section 15 manuals particular regard was had to their statutory purpose i.e. "to assist members of the public in ascertaining and exercising their rights under the Act". The Section 15 manuals were examined under the headings of user-friendliness, content, format, FOI compliance and general observations. User-friendliness covered such matters as layout, readability, style of writing and presentation. The content heading allowed for an assessment as to whether the manuals were comprehensive, up to date and contained reliable information. The format of the manuals examined was mainly paper although some manuals in electronic version were also assessed. The assessment examined how the manuals met the statutory requirements of Section 15 and made some general observations.

Major difficulties arose in the assessment of the Section 16 manuals of the chosen public bodies. It became apparent that different approaches to meeting the Section 16 requirement had been adopted by different bodies. Some bodies published what amounts to an index of the documents which are comprised in Section 16; the actual texts of the documents were not included. Other bodies published, as Section 16 requires, the actual texts of the relevant documents (rules, procedures etc.). Furthermore, not all of the bodies selected actually had produced a Section 16 manual. One of the health boards had a manual in preparation but it was not intended to make the manual available as one publication; instead members of the public are to be given copies of those parts of the manual concerned with their particular area of interest. Another public body had not produced a Section 16 manual at the time of the study although it has since signalled its intention to publish one.

Two of the local authorities and one of the Departments produced a publication which may be described as an index to the Section 16 material held by the public bodies in question. These publications, while useful in themselves, do not amount to what is envisaged by Section 16 and, accordingly, were not included in the assessments. Ultimately, only seven Section 16 manuals were assessed.

In order to ensure consistency in assessing the Section 16 manuals, standard criteria were used with particular attention being had to the user-friendliness of the manual, how comprehensive it was, and compliance with Section 16 generally.

In presenting the findings of the assessment of the manuals, it has been decided not to identify the public bodies in question. This is on the basis that the sample was selected by this Office and there has been no consultation with the relevant bodies in relation to the assessments. Accordingly, these bodies have not had an opportunity to address the findings of the study. However, it is intended to provide each of the bodies assessed with a detailed review of its manuals.

The following comments are based on the main points of interest, including some weaknesses, which were identified during the assessment.

User-friendliness

The main points to emerge under this heading are outlined below and grouped according to whether they were assessed as positive or negative points. Each of the points highlighted were reflected in one or more of the manuals assessed.

Negatives

  • There was replication of material especially where services are described by reference to the Divisions of the organisations.
  • The absence of an index was a problem especially with the larger manuals.
  • None of the manuals provided any guidance as to the use of the manual, e.g. in the form of "How to Use This Manual". The inclusion of such a guide would assist in navigating the more voluminous manuals produced by some public bodies.
  • Some of the manuals displayed careless editing, proofing and drafting. (In one very large manual, this resulted in a manual that was very difficult for the ordinary reader to follow.)
  • One notable weakness in the manuals is the use of "buzz" words and abbreviations which are not explained.
  • Some manuals showed no internal system of referencing or were badly laid out with no pagination.
  • One of the Departments had its Section 16 manual available electronically on its website and on CD-ROM. The layout of the web version was good consisting of a collection of individual manuals, in Adobe Acrobat pdf format, indexed alphabetically and with each individual manual internally indexed. This Office experienced some difficulty in accessing the manuals as each one had to be downloaded individually - though this may have been a difficulty related to the computer set-up within this Office rather than a general difficulty. As the manuals range in size from 46KB to 1.8MB downloading can prove time consuming. Furthermore, no search facility was identified which covered all of the individual manuals on the site.

Positives

  • Some of the manuals were well laid out and logically organised.
  • Some of the manuals made sensible use of features such as indices, contents pages, and clear organisational charts.
  • It might be expected that some jargon would be used in these manuals but some of the public bodies, when using specialist terms, provided a glossary of those terms.

Accuracy

Some of these manuals were assessed from a position of limited knowledge about the functions of the public body and it was difficult to establish definitively the accuracy or otherwise of the information given. Some instances of misleading information were identified, for example, one Section 15 manual was misleading in creating the impression that services carried out under the auspices of that Department were actually delivered by the Department. Further, this manual had references to its Section 16 manual but that manual, at least at the time of the assessment, consisted only of an index of Section 16 type documents and this was not clear from the references in the Section 15 manual.

In other cases, information was omitted, most notably in one manual where some major areas of responsibility of the public body were not included. On the other hand, one local authority manual included material relating to the Ireland/Wales Maritime Interreg Programme even though that local authority could not benefit from the programme.

Compliance with FOI

In relation to both Section 15 and Section 16 manuals the main failure by the public bodies assessed was in relation to the updating of the manuals. Also, where an electronic version of the manual was available it was not being updated to ensure that significant alterations or additions are included (as required by both sections of the Act).

Section 15

This Office checked the extent to which the manuals complied with Section 15 and, specifically, whether appeal rights other than appeals under FOI were included.

Eight of the 12 manuals examined explained appeal rights other than those under FOI legislation. For example, the local authority manuals detail planning appeals, appeal processes in relation to fire safety certificates and other statutory appeal provisions. Yet, contrary to the statutory requirement, two Departmental manuals failed to name the members of staff to whom FOI requests should be directed.

In the main the manuals detailed the classes of records held but in some cases the description was more detailed than in others. The details of records held, as outlined in one Department manual, were very good in indicating, for example, what kind of personal information was held. However, the quality of the detail varied throughout the manual. Yet, in another manual, the records were listed in such a way as to direct attention to readily available material and discourage the seeking of other information that may be held. For example, the manual referred to the fact that some sections publish information but not for the general public. It may be that this is intended to indicate the type of information to which access may be dependent on an FOI request.

Another notable failing in relation to meeting the requirements of Section 15 was the absence of reference to rights under Section 17 and 18 of the FOI Act - these sections relate to having incorrect personal information amended and the right to be given reasons for actions taken which affect the individual.

An interesting approach to Section 15 was taken in one of the health board manuals which has a separate chapter dealing with FOI and which names contact persons. There is also a chapter relating to using the administrative access procedure for accessing records and it is clear that this health board would prefer that this option be explored before FOI is invoked. The manual also indicated that any decision of the health board in relation to services may be appealed. Details of the social welfare appeals system are also included.

Section 16

Only one of the seven manuals assessed contained the Index of Precedents required by Section 16 and indeed, this manual also seemed to include the full texts of its rules.

The Preamble of one Department manual refers to the exclusion from the manual of material already in the public domain. It also refers to an index of precedents although there was none included in the version assessed.

One manual provided a summary of the position pertaining in each service area rather than a collection of the actual policy statements, guidelines, circulars etc. This manual contains lists of the circulars but the full texts are not included. In the case of another manual, there is a listing of the legislation, rules and directives under which the Department in question operates. However, this listing is more comprehensive in relation to some areas of the Department's activities than in others. Some areas have exhaustive detail while others are described very briefly. Some precedents are mentioned, including some High Court rulings, but the case references ah3>Use of Electronic Formats

Eleven of the 12 public bodies assessed have websites. Seven of these have their Section 15 manuals available on their websites and five have included both manuals. This Office examined these manuals to see if they had been updated but the manuals placed on the web were the same as the paper versions published 12 or 18 months prior to the assessment. No evidence of updating of the manuals was found.

Public Bodies Questionnaire

1.Publication
(a) Has your organisation published Section 15 and 16 manuals?
Section 15 - YES ( ) NO ( ) Section 16 manual - YES ( ) NO ( ).

(b) Has your organisation published Section 15 and 16 manuals as separate books or as one composite book?
Separate Books ( ) Composite Book ( )

(c) What were the publication dates for your organisation's Section 15 and 16 manuals
Section 15 ( ) Section 16 ( )

2.Format and Language
(a) In which of the following formats has your organisation made the Section 15 and 16 manuals available?
book (paper) ( ),
computer disk ( )
Internet website ( )
Audio tape ( )
Braille ( )
Other ( )
If "Other", please give details: __________________________________________

(b) Are your organisation's Section 15 and 16 manuals available in:
English language only
Separate English and Irish versions
Bilingual (English and Irish) version
Irish only
Other language (Specify)

3.Distribution Practice
(a) How are your organisation's Section 15 and 16 manuals made available to the public?
(i) Available for inspection at nominated offices of the organisation
(ii) May be borrowed (taken away) from nominated offices of the organisation
iii) Given out, free of charge, on request
(iv) Available for inspection at certain public libraries
(v) Available for inspection at certain Citizens Information Centres
(vi) May be bought at nominated offices of the organisation
(vii) May be bought at the Government Publications Sales Office
(viii) Available on internet website
(ix) Other

In respect of any of the above options, please give specific details. ______________________

(b) If the manual may be purchased, what is the purchase price?
Section 15 : Section 16 :
Book form :
Disk/CD Rom :

(c) Approximately how many copies of the Section 15 and 16 manuals have been distributed to date (other than to staff members?
Section 15 : Section 16 :
Book form :
Disk/CD Rom :

4.. Distribution within Organisation
(a) Have all members of staff been made aware of the existence of the Section 15 and 16 manuals? Y/N

(b) Have all members of staff been given copies of the Section 15 and 16 manuals? Y/N

5. Promotion of Manuals
(a) At the time of first production did your organisation actively promote the existence and availability of the Section 15 and 16 manuals? Y/N

(b) If the answer to (a) is YES, which of the following steps were taken to promote the existence and availability of the Section 15 and 16 manuals
Section 15 Section 16

Use of posters in public offices
Information leaflets
Advertising in print media
Advertising via broadcast media
Internet website
Other (If Other, please give details).

(c) Which of the following steps are currently being taken to promote the existence and availability of the section 15 and 16 manuals?

Section 15 Section 16

Use of posters in public offices
Information leaflets
Advertising in print media
Advertising via broadcast media
Internet website
Other (If Other, please give details).

6. Updating of Section 15 and 16 manuals
(a) Has your organisation a mechanism for ensuring that the Section 15 and 16 manuals are kept up-to-date and that all significant developments are covered? Y/N

(b) Since the date of first publication, have your organisation's Section 15 and 16 manuals been updated or revised? Y/N
(c) If the answer to (b) is YES, how frequently has it been updated or revised?
Section 15 Section 16
Monthly
Between two and three months
Between three and six months
Between six months to one year
As required

(d) Where the manuals have been updated or revised, have the updatings or revisions been done on the manual in all its formats ? Y/N
If no, please give details.

7. Usefulness of Manuals
(a) Has your organisation taken any steps to measure the usefulness to the public
of the manuals? Y/N
If answer is "yes", please detail the measures and results

(b) Has your organisation taken any steps to measure the usefulness to the staff of your organisation of the Section 15 and 16 manuals? Y/N
If answer is "yes", please detail the measures and results

(c) Has the publication of the Section 15 and 16 manuals made the publication of other information material on your organisation
less necessary
more necessary
neither more nor less necessary

Please comment on your assessment.

FOI Users Questionnaire

Name of Respondent :

Please read the accompanying letter before completing this questionnaire.
1.
Awareness
(a) Are you aware that, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, public bodies publish two information manuals (referred to as a "Section 15 manual" and a "Section 16 manual") for the benefit of the public?
YES NO
If the answer above is "NO", the remaining questions are not relevant to your situation. PLEASE SIGN AND RETURN THE QUESTIONNAIRE.

(b) If the answer to (a) is "YES", were you already aware of these manuals when making your FOI request?
YES NO

(c) Did you consult or otherwise make use of the manuals, or one of them, before making your FOI request?
YES NO

(d) If the answer to (c) is "NO", did you subsequently consult or otherwise make use of the manuals, or of one of them?
YES NO

(e) If you were aware of the manuals, but did not make use of them when making your FOI request, was this because:
you were uncertain as to how or where the manuals were available
you made enquiries about the manuals but felt access was too difficult (e.g. in terms of the time it would take, the inconvenience involved, costs)
you felt no need to consult the manuals
your expectation was that the manuals would not actually be helpful
other reason (please specify)______________________________

YOU MAY TICK MORE THAN ONE BOX IN ANSWERING THE ABOVE QUESTION

2.Source of Awareness
(a) Did you learn of the existence of the manuals from:
your own general knowledge of FOI (e.g. what you picked up from the media)
a friend or family member
a library or Citizens Information Centre or other information service
a local politician or a professional adviser (e.g. solicitor or accountant or social
worker)
from the particular public body (to which you made the FOI request)
from a public body (other than one to which you made a FOI request)

3.Using manuals
(a) If you have used a manual, please name the public body (or bodies) whose Section 15 and/or Section 16 manuals you have consulted ________________________________

(b) When consulting the manuals, or one of the manuals, did you do so by:
looking it up on the premises of the public body concerned (e.g. in the offices of the department, health board, local authority or other body in question)?
temporarily borrowing, and taking home with you, a copy of the manual(s)?
receiving a copy of the manual(s) free of charge?
buying a copy of the manual(s)?
looking it up in a public library, Citizens Information Centre or other information service?
accessing it on the public body's internet website?
some other arrangement (please specify) _____________________________

(c) Section 15 and 16 manuals are produced in a variety of formats. In your own case, in which of the following formats did you consult the manual(s):
in book (paper) format
on computer disk format
on internet website
in some other format (please specify)____________________________

4.USEFULNESS OF MANUALS
(a) In broad terms, did you find the manual(s) useful? Y/N

(b) Did you find the manual(s) assisted or directed you in making your FOI request? Y/N

(c) If the answer to (b) is "YES", please indicate which of the following, in your opinion, best describes the usefulness of the manuals to you in making your FOI request:
the manuals clarified how, and to whom, a FOI request should be made
the manuals clarified the range of records available from the public body
the manuals clarified the type of records available from the body without the need to use the FOI Act
the manuals were useful in some other way (please specify) ___________________

(d) Did you find the material in the manuals "user friendly" in the sense of being:

well written and easily understood Y/N
presented in a logical fashion and well indexed Y/N
comprehensive and covering the issues of interest to you Y/N

5.OTHER MANUALS
(a) Since using the manuals for a particular body (to whom your FOI request related), have you looked up the Section 15 and 16 manuals of any other public bodies? Y/N

Thank you for taking the time to complete this questionnaire. Please return it, using the enclosed pre-paid envelope, to Carol Ivory, Office of the Information Commissioner, 18 Lr. Leeson St. Dublin 2. We would be grateful to receive the completed questionnaire byFriday, 29 October 1999 at the latest.

Representative Bodies Questionnaire

Name of Respondent Body :

Please read the accompanying letter before completing this questionnaire.
1.
Awareness
(a) Are you aware that, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, public bodies publish two information manuals (referred to as a "Section 15 manual" and a "Section 16 manual") for the benefit of the public? Y/N

If the answer above is "NO", the remaining questions are not relevant. PLEASE SIGN AND RETURN THE QUESTIONNAIRE.

2.Source of awareness
(a) Did you learn of the existence of the manuals from:
general knowledge of FOI (e.g. picked up from the media)
one of your own member organisations or affiliates
from a public body (in the course of making a FOI request)
from a public body (other than in the course of making a FOI request)
other source (please specify) ____________________

3.Using manuals
(a) If you have used a manual, please name the public body (or bodies) whose Section 15 and/or Section 16 manuals you have consulted ______________________________________

(b) When consulting the manuals, or one of the manuals, did you do so by:
looking it up on the premises of the public body concerned (e.g. in the offices of the department, health board, local authority or other body in question)?
temporarily borrowing, and taking away with you, a copy of the manual(s)?
buying a copy of the manual(s)?
looking it up in a public library, Citizens Information Centre or other information service?
accessing it on the public body's internet website?
some other arrangement (please specify)______________________

(c) Section 15 and 16 manuals are produced in a variety of formats. In your own case, in which of the following formats did you consult the manual(s):

in book (paper) format
on computer disk format
on internet website
in some other format (please specify)_________________________

4.Usefulness of manuals
(a) In broad terms, did you find the manual(s) useful in the context of your organisation's business? Y/N

(b) Did you find the manual(s) assisted or directed you in making a FOI request? Y/N

(c) If the answer to (b) is "YES", please say whether the manuals:
clarified how, and to whom, a FOI request should be made
clarified the range of records available from the public body
clarified the type of records available from the body without the need to use the FOI Act
were useful in some other way (please specify) ____________________________

(d) Did you find the material in the manuals "user friendly" in the sense of being:
well written and easily understood
presented in a logical fashion and well indexed
comprehensive and covering the issues of interest to you

5.General comments
If you wish to make any comments regarding (a) public awareness of the manuals or (b) the availability of the manuals or (c) the usefulness of the manuals, please enter your comments below:

Thank you for taking the time to complete this questionnaire. Please return it, using the enclosed pre-paid envelope, to Carol Ivory, Office of the Information Commissioner, 18 Lr. Leeson St. Dublin 2. We would be grateful to receive the completed questionnaire byFriday, 13 November 1999 at the latest.

15. - (1) A public body shall cause to be prepared and published and to be made available in accordance with subsection (7) a reference book containing:

(a) a general description of its structure and organisation, functions, powers and duties, any services it provides for the public and the procedures by which any such services may be availed of by the public,

(b) a general description of the classes of records held by it, giving such particulars as are reasonably necessary to facilitate the exercise of the right of access,

(c) a general description of the matters referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 16 (1),

(d) the arrangements made by the body -
(i) to enable a person to obtain access to records held by the body,

(ii) to enable an individual to apply for the amendment of any such records that relate to personal information in respect of the individual, and

(iii) to enable a person to whom section 18 (1) applies to obtain the information specified therein,

(e) the names and designations of the members of the staff of the body responsible for carrying out the arrangements aforesaid (unless the head of the body reasonably believes that publication of that information could threaten the physical safety or well-being of the persons),

(f) the address or addresses at which requests under section 7 or applications under section 17 or 18 should be given,

(g) appropriate information concerning -

(i) any rights of review or appeal in respect of decisions made by the body (including rights of review and appeal under this Act), and

(ii) the procedure governing the exercise of those rights and any time limits governing such exercise,

(h) any other information that the head of the body considers relevant for the purpose of facilitating the exercise of the right of access, and

(i) information in relation to such other matters (if any) as may be prescribed.

(2) A reference book prepared under subsection (1) shall be made available in accordance with subsection (7)

(a) in case the body concerned is a body specified in paragraph 1 (other than subparagraph (3)(4) and (5)) of the First Schedule, upon the commencement of this Act,

(b) in case the body is a local authority, upon the commencement of the said subparagraph (3),

(c) in case the body is a health board, upon the commencement of the said subparagraph (4), and

(d) in case the body is a body standing prescribed under section 3 for the purposes of the said subparagraph (5), upon such prescription, and thereafter a version, appropriately revised, of the book shall be prepared and published and shall be made available as aforesaid by the body not less frequently than 3 years after the latest such book was so made available by the body and as soon as may be after any significant alterations or additions fall to be made in or to the latest such book so made available.

(3) In preparing a reference book under subsection (1), a public body shall have regard to the fact that the purpose of the book is to assist members of the public in ascertaining and exercising their rights under this Act.

(4) At the time of the publication of a reference book under subsection (1) or (2), the body concerned shall furnish to the Minister a summary thereof and the Minister shall cause the summaries furnished to him or her under this subsection to be collated and shall cause a reference book containing the summaries as so collated to be published and to be made available in accordance with subsection (7) not later than 15 months after the commencement of this Act and thereafter not less frequently than 3 years after the latest such book is published and so made available and as soon as may be after
any significant alterations or additions fall to be made in or to the latest such book so made available.

(5) The Minister shall ensure that appropriate measures are taken by public bodies, as respects training of staff, organisational arrangements and such other matters as the Minister considers appropriate, for the purpose of facilitating compliance by the bodies with this Act and, without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (b) of section 3 (1), may, by regulations made under that paragraph after consultation with the Commissioner and the Director of the National Archives (within the meaning of the National Archives Act, 1986), make provision for the management and maintenance of records held by public bodies.

(6) (a) As soon as may be after the end of a period specified in paragraph (d), the Minister shall prepare a report in writing of the measures taken by public bodies pursuant to subsection (5) during that period.

(b) A report under this subsection shall include a report of any measures taken by a public body during the period to which the report relates consequent upon a report under section 36 (4).

(c) The Minister shall cause a copy of a report under this subsection to be furnished as soon as may be to the committee (within the meaning of section 32).

(d) The periods referred to in paragraph (a) are:

(i) the period of 3 months beginning on the commenc- ement of this Act, and

(ii) the period of 12 months beginning on the expiration of the period aforesaid and each subsequent period of 12 months beginning on the expiration of the period of 12 months immediately preceding.

(7) A book referred to in subsection (1)(2) or (4) shall be made available for inspection free of charge, and for removal free of charge or, at the discretion of the head concerned or the Minister, as may be appropriate, for purchase, at such places as the head or, as may be appropriate, the Minister may determine and the head or the Minister, as may be appropriate, shall cause notice of those places to be published in such manner as he or she considers adequate for the purposes of this section and, if the book relates to a local authority or a health board, a copy of it shall be given to each member of the
authority or board.

(8) Subsection (1) does not apply to any matter by reason of which a record in which it is included is an exempt record.

16.- (1) A public body shall cause to be prepared and published and to be made available in accordance with subsection (5) -

(a) the rules, procedures, practices, guidelines and interpretations used by the body, and an index of any precedents kept by the body, for the purposes of decisions, determinations or recommendations, under or for the purposes of any enactment or scheme administered by the body with respect to rights, privileges, benefits, obligations, penalties or other sanctions to which members of the public are or may be entitled or subject under the enactment or scheme, and

(b) appropriate information in relation to the manner or intended manner of administration of any such enactment or scheme.

(2) A publication prepared under subsection (1) shall be made available in accordance with subsection (5) -

(a) in case the body concerned is a body specified in paragraph 1 (other than subparagraph (3), (4) or (5)) of the First Schedule, upon the commencement of this Act,

(b) in case the body is a local authority, upon the commencement of the said subparagraph (3),

(c) in case the body is a health board, upon the commencement of the said subparagraph (4), and

(d) In case the body is a body standing prescribed under section 3 for the purposes of the said subparagraph (5), upon such prescription, and thereafter a version, appropriately revised, of the publication shall be prepared and published and shall be made available as aforesaid by the body not less frequently than 3 years after the latest such publication was so made available by the body and as soon as may be after any significant alterations or additions fall to be made in or to the latest such publication so made available.

(3) If the material specified in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) is not published and made available in accordance with this section or the material so published and purporting to be the material aforesaid is incomplete or inaccurate and a person shows

(a) that he or she was not aware of a rule, procedure, practice, guideline, interpretation or precedent referred to in subsection (1) (a) (''the rule") or of a particular requirement of the rule, and

(b) that, but for such non-publication, non-availability, incompleteness or incorrectness, as the case may be, he or she would have been so aware, the public body concerned shall, if and in so far as it is practicable to do so, ensure that the person is not subjected to any prejudice (not being a penalty imposed by a court upon conviction of an offence) by reason only of the application of the rule or requirement if the person could lawfully have avoided that prejudice if he or she had been aware of the rule or requirement.

(4) Subsection (3) shall not apply in a case where the public body concerned shows that reasonable steps were taken by it to bring the rule or requirement concerned to the notice of those affected by it.

(5) A publication referred to in subsection (1) or (2) shall be made available for inspection free of charge, and for removal free of charge or, at the discretion of the head concerned, for purchase, at such places as the head concerned may determine and the head shall cause notice of those places to be published in such manner as he or she considers adequate for the purposes of this section and if the publication relates to a local authority or a health board, a copy of it shall be given to each member of the authority or board.

(6) A precedent referred to in an index specified in subsection (1) shall, on request therefor to the public body concerned, be made available to the person concerned in accordance with subsection (5).

(7) Subsection (1) does not apply to any matter by reason of which a record in which it is included is an exempt record.

A) Bodies which failed to publish Section 15 manuals by statutory deadline

Public body Publication date
Appeal Commissioners (Tax) 28/1/99
Arklow UDC 24/10/98
Athlone UDC 30/11/98
Bandon Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Bantry Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Birr UDC 4/11/98
Cashel UDC 1/11/98
Castlebar UDC Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Comhairle na Nimheanna Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Comptroller and Auditor General 24/4/98
Defence Forces 1/5/98
Department of the Marine 31/5/98
Edenderry Town Commissioners 31/12/98
Enniscorthy UDC 1/11/98
Film Censors Office 1/10/98
Gorey Town Commissioners 8/12/98
Lismore Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
National Library of Ireland 31/5/98
National Museum of Ireland 1/8/98
Office of the Information Commissioner 31/3/99
Passage West Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Public Offices Commission 3/6/98
Shannon Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
State Laboratory 31/7/98
Templemore UDC 21/11/98
The Irish Manuscripts Commission Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The Irish Sports Council Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The National Archives Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The National Archives Advisory Council Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Tullamore UDC 1/11/98
Valuation Office 31/5/98


 

B) Bodies which failed to publish Section 16 manuals by statutory deadline

Public body Publication date
Appeal Commissioners (Tax) 28/1/99
Arklow UDC 24/10/98
Athlone UDC 30/11/98
Bandon Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Bantry Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Birr UDC 4/11/98
Cashel UDC 1/4/99
Castlebar UDC Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Cork County Council 30/11/98
Comhairle na Nimheanna Not obliged to produce a manual
Comptroller and Auditor General 7/7/98
Defence Forces 1/5/98
Department of Foreign Affairs 1/7/98
Department of the Marine 31/5/98
Edenderry Town Commissioners 31/12/98
Enniscorthy UDC 4/2/99
Film Censors Office 1/10/98
Greystones Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Gorey Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Granard Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange 1/7/98
Lismore Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Midland Health Board 6/7/99
National Library of Ireland 31/5/98
National Museum of Ireland 1/8/98
North Eastern Health Board 31/5/99
North Western Health Board 21/6/99
Office of the Information Commissioner Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Passage West Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Public Offices Commission 3/6/98
Shannon Town Commissioners Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Southern Health Board 30/11/98
State Laboratory 31/7/98
Templemore UDC Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The Irish Manuscripts Commission Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The Irish Medicines Board Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The Irish Sports Council Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The National Archives Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The National Archives Advisory Council Not published at date of survey - October 1999
The National Gallery of Ireland Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Tullamore UDC 1/11/98
Western Health Board 31/10/99
Wexford Corporation 24/2/99
Wicklow UDC Not published at date of survey - October 1999
Valuation Office 31/5/98

A) Bodies which failed to publish Section 15 manuals by October 1999 (Date of Survey)

  1. Bandon Town Commissioners
  2. Bantry Town Commissioners
  3. Castlebar UDC
  4. Comhairle na Nimheanna
  5. Lismore Town Commissioners
  6. Passage West Town Commissioners
  7. Shannon Town Commissioners
  8. The Irish Manuscripts Commission
  9. The Irish Sports Council
  10. The National Archives
  11. The National Archives Advisory Council

B) Bodies which failed to publish Section 16 manuals by October 1999 (Date of Survey)

  1. Bandon Town Commissioners
  2. Bantry Town Commissioners
  3. Castlebar UDC
  4. Comhairle na Nimheanna (not obliged to produce a manual)
  5. Granard Town Commissioners
  6. Gorey Town Commissioners
  7. Greystones Town Commissioners
  8. Lismore Town Commissioners
  9. Office of the Information Commissioner
  10. Passage West Town Commissioners
  11. Public Offices Commission
  12. Shannon Town Commissioners
  13. Templemore UDC
  14. The Irish Manuscripts Commission
  15. The Irish Medicines Board
  16. The Irish Sports Council
  17. The National Archives
  18. The National Archives Advisory Council
  19. The National Gallery of Ireland
  20. Wicklow UDC