What is the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act, 2014 came into force on 14th October  and repeals The Freedom of Information Act 1997 and the Freedom of Information(Amendment) Act 2003. The Acts establish three statutory rights :

  • The right to access official records/information held by Public Bodies.
  • The right to have personal information amended where such information is incomplete, incorrect or misleading.
  • The right to be given reasons for decisions taken by public bodies that directly affect them.

Records covered by the Act include:

  • All records relating to personal information
  • All non-personal records created on or after 21st April1998.
  • This means that members of the public may seek access to personal information held on them, regardless of when the information was created, subject to availability, having regard to the public interest and the right to privacy.

    How can a request be made?

    Requests may be made to:-

    The Freedom of Information Officer,
    Administration Department,
    St. John’s Hospital,
    St. John’s Square,
    Limerick.

    Requests must:

    • Be made in writing or by e-mail.
    • State that the request is made under the F.O.I. Act 2014.
    • Indicate clearly the records/information requested.
    • Specify the manner of access sought; i.e. arrangements to view/discuss the records at the Hospital or to receive a copy of the records.
    • Furnish two of the following documents as evidence of your identity. This will be sought before access to personal information is granted:-
      • original birth certificate;
      • certified coy of an extract of a birth certificate;
      • current passport;
      • a current drivers or provisional licence issued by relevant Licensing Authority
      • naturalisation citizenship’s certificate and official identification card from a Public Body of the State
      • official identification card issued by the Department of Social Community and Family Affairs.
      • a marriage certificate;
      • a degree, school Examination Certificate or report that is less than 2 years old from an Irish school, college or university.
      • overseas passport with current entry permit:

    Officers of the Hospital must assist the Requester to put the request in such a way that it complies with the requirements of the Act. The requester must receive acknowledgment of the request within two weeks and generally a decision within four weeks from the date of receipt of the request.

    How does the F.O.I. Act work?

    The Freedom of Information Act sets down strict time limits for the processing of requests from the public for information they hold. The request must be acknowledged with 2 weeks and the decision must be given within 4 weeks of receiving it. The hospital may extend the four week time-limit for replying to requests if:

    • The request relates to a very large number of records.
    • A large number of requests have been received for the same records.
    • The records relate to a third party who may have to be contacted.

    If the time frame is extended, the requester will receive notice of this before the end of the initial four-week period and the reasons for the delay will be given.

    Can I get access to any information that I seek?

    You will receive a letter stating that your request has been refused and given reasons for the refusal. You will be informed of your rights of review and appeal as set out below.

    Internal Review

    You may seek internal review of the initial decision, which will be carried out by an official at a higher level if:-
    (a) You are dissatisfied with the initial response received e.g. refusal of access, form of access, charges etc.

    (b) You have not received a reply within four weeks of your initial application.  This is deemed to be a refusal of your request and allows you to proceed to Internal Review.

    (c)    Requests for Internal Review should be submitted in writing to the Freedom of Information Officer market “Internal Review”.  It should be submitted within four weeks of the initial decision and the hospital must complete it within three weeks.  The Internal Review must normally be completed before an appeal is made to the Information Commissioner.  Fees in relation to non-personal information for Internal Review are outlined below.

    Appeal to the Information Commissioner

    If, following the completion of the Internal Review, your request has still been refused in part or in full, you may seek independent review of the decision by the Information Commissioner.  Also, if you have not received a reply to your application for Internal Review within three weeks, this is deemed to be a refusal and you may appeal to the Information Commissioner.

    Appeals may be make in writing to:
    The Information Commissioner,
    18 Lower Leeson Street,
    Dublin 2.
    Tel: (01) 6785222      Fax: (01) 6610570     Email: foi@ombudsman.irlgov.ie

    Is there a charge for accessing information under the F.O.I. Act(s)?

    The Freedom of Information Act 2014 provides for a completely new FOI fees regime.  The Ministerial Order establishing the new fees regime (S.I. 531 of 2014) can be found here.  The following is a summary of the new fee structure in respect of non-personal requests:

    • The €15 application fee for non personal records has been abolished;
    • There is a minimum threshold of €101 below which no search, retrieval and copying fees can be charged. Once the charge reaches €101, full fees apply;
    • There is a cap on the amount of search, retrieval and copying fees that can be charged of €500;
    • There is a further upper limit on estimated search, retrieval and copying fees at €700 above which an FOI body can refuse to process a request, unless the requester is prepared to refine the request to bring the search, retrieval and copying fees below the limit;
    • The fee for internal review under Section 21 is now €30 (€10 for medical card holders and their dependents)
    • The fee for appeals to the Information Commissioner under Section 22 is now €50 (€15 for medical card holders and their dependents).

    The search and copying charge may apply to non-personal information.  Section 27 of the F.O.I. Act 2014 provides for fees as follows:

    • €20.00 per hour – search and retrieval
    • €10.00 per CD-ROM 
    • €0.04 cents per sheet in relation to photocopying
    • €6.00 for an x-ray film
    • €0.50 for 3 inch computer diskette.

    Requesters cannot be charged for time spent on deciding whether or not to grant their request.

    Freedom of Information Act 2014

    All legislation pertaining to the Freedom of Information Act can be found at www.foi.gov.ie

    Publication Scheme

    A key innovation included in the legislation requires public bodies to pre-empt the need for FOI requests by preparing and furnishing publication schemes. Publication Schemes are regarded as best practice internationally and are intended to promote the proactive publication of information outside of FOI.  The publication schemes will set out in a comprehensive way the information an organisation publishes on its website including details on the body’s role, responsibilities and activities.  The FOI reform legislation is being introduced in tandem with the introduction of a new Code of Practice developed with the assistance of external FOI experts and advocates to improve the operation of Ireland’s FOI regime.  The Publication Scheme shall be published not later than 6 months after the commencement of Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 2014.

    Further Information

    For further information please contact:

    Freedom of Information Officer
    Administration Department
    St. John’s Hospital
    St. John’s Square
    Limerick. Telephone; +0353 61 462253
    Fax: +0353 61 415231
    E-mail: foi@stjohnshospital.ie

    Is it always necessary to make a F.O.I. request to get information from public bodies?

    No – You may be able to obtain the information you require by other means such as:

    • By discussion with the relevant member of the Hospital’s staff.
    • By information leaflets, annual reports, etc. which the Hospital publishes.

    Personal/Medical records should be requested/accessed through our Administrative Access procedure. Only information which cannot be released under our Routine Access or Administrative Access policies should be dealt with under Freedom of Information Act(s). It is hospital policy to try and deal with Administrative Access requests within or less than the same time limits as Freedom of Information requests.

    Administrative access applications may be made by writing to

    The Administration Department.
    St. John’s Hospital,
    St. John’s Square,
    Limerick.

    Requests must:

    • Be made in writing or by e-mail.
    • Indicate clearly the records / information requested.
    • Specify the manner of access sought; i.e. arrangements to view/discuss the records at the Hospital or to receive a copy of the records.
    • Furnish two of the following documents as evidence of your identity.  This will be sought before access to personal information is granted:-
      • original birth certificate;
      • certified copy of an extract of a birth certificate;
      • current passport;
      • a current drivers or provisional licence issued by the relevant Licensing Authority
      • naturalisation citizenship’s certificate and official identification card from a Public Body of the State
      • official identification card issued by the Department of Social Community and Family Affairs.
      • a marriage certificate:
      • a degree, school Examination Certificate or report that is less than 2 years old from an Irish school, college or university.
      • overseas passport with current entry permit:

    Exceptions to Administrative Access

    In the unusual circumstances where access to a record for information cannot be provided to you directly under administrative access, you will be informed of this and advised of the option of making an application under the Freedom of Information Act 2014.  Likewise, certain information may be of such a sensitive nature that requests for access can only be dealt with under the Freedom of Information legislation.  Requests for records of deceased persons must be processed under the FOI Act.

    Freedom of Information Act 1997, Amendment Act 2003 and 2014

    All legislation pertaining to the Freedom of Information Act (and it’s subsequent amendments) can be found here: The Freedom of Information Website

    Publications

    An Information Guide to the Services and Schemes provided by the Hospital prepared in accordance with Sections 15 & 16 of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and (Amendment) Act 2003

    Further Information

    For further information please contact:

    Freedom of Information Officer
    Administration Department
    St. John’s Hospital
    St. John’s Square
    Limerick. Telephone; +0353 61 462253
    Fax: +0353 61 415231
    E-mail: foi@stjohnshospital.ie