Freedom of Information (FOI)

1. What is FOI?

The FOI Act provides, that from 21 April 1998, every person has the following new legal rights:

  • the right to access official records held by Government Departments or other public bodies listed in the Act;
  • the right to have personal information held on them corrected or updated where such information is incomplete, incorrect or misleading; and
  • the right to be given reasons for decisions taken by public bodies that affect them.

These rights mean that from 21 April, 1998 people can seek access to personal information held on them no matter when the information was created, and to other records created after 21 April, 1998.

2 Who has FOI?

FOI exists in the Scandinavian countries, in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the United States and many other EU countries.

3 How does it work?

The Act requires public bodies to respond to requests from the public for information they hold. In most cases, public bodies must give their decision on a request within 4 weeks of receiving it. Also, public bodies must produce reference books setting out the structure of their organisation, the arrangements in place for providing information and any rules, guidelines or practices they use in reaching decisions that effect the public. These books are available from the public bodies concerned, and in many cases from public libraries. Some public bodies will also have their reference books available on the internet and on CD-ROM. 

4 How can a request be made?

Requests must be in writing, along with the fee if applicable (see Number 7 below) , they must specify that they are under the FOI Act and they must be clear enough so that the public body to whom the request is addressed understands what records are being requested. In cases where the public body is not clear what records are being requested, it must assist the requester to put his/her request in such a way that the records being sought can be identified.

5 Can I get access to any information that I seek?

Any official information held by public bodies can be sought under the Act. However, in order to allow Government business to be properly conducted, it will sometimes be necessary to exempt from release certain types of information in some circumstances. These are set out in the Act. Among the key exemptions are records relating to:

  • Government meetings,
  • law enforcement and security,
  • confidential and commercially sensitive information,
  • personal information (other than information relating to the person making the request).

6 What can I do if I am unhappy with a decision on my request?

Requesters can appeal to the public body to re-examine their case. The public body must have the request reviewed by someone more senior than the person who made the original decision. The reviewer can change or agree with the original decision. If the requester is still unhappy with the decision, he or she has the right to appeal the decision to the Information Commissioner. The Commissioner has been appointed specifically to hear appeals from members of the public who are not happy with decisions made on their requests.

The appeal may be subject to an up-front fee (see “Your Questions Answered”, Number 7 below which details charges applicable for appeals.) 

7 Is there a charge for getting information under the FOI Act?

There are two types of charges that apply under the Freedom of Information Act:

Fees that accompany a request for a record other than records containing only personal information relating to oneself.

Fees/deposits in relation to the cost of search and retrieval and copying of records released Requesters can also be charged for the time spent finding records that are to be given to them, and for any photocopying costs incurred by the public body in providing material to the requester. Such costs are very unlikely to arise in the case of personal information. Requesters cannot be charged for the time spent on deciding whether or not to grant their request.

For current fee levels, please contact the Senior Public Service (Contact Us).

8. Is there a charge for appealing a decision of a public body?

Fees are charged for most applications for internal review of a decision of a public body, with a reduced fee applying to medical card holders.  There is no fee for internal review applications concerning only personal information relating to oneself or in relation to a decision to impose a fee or deposit.

Fees are also charged for most applications for review by the Information Commissioner, with a reduced fee applying to medical card holders or in relation to a review concerning certain third party information.  There is no fee for review applications concerning only personal information relating to oneself or in relation to decisions to impose fees or deposits.

For current fee levels, please contact the Senior Public Service (Contact Us).

9. Do I need to make a FOI request to get information from public bodies?

No. Public bodies routinely make information available to the public through information leaflets, publications and in response to enquiries, and on websites such as this (see FAQ). This will continue. FOI provides an additional source of information by facilitating access to records not made routinely available.

Making an FOI request
If you wish to make an FOI request, please contact the Freedom of Information Decision-Maker, Senior Public Service (see Contact Us for details).

If you are seeking to appeal to outcome of an FOI request, please contact the Freedom of Information Appeals Officer, Senior Public Service (see Contact Us for details).