568. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Justice if all freedom of information requests received by her Department for the duration of this Government have been dealt with comprehensively and accurately; and if she or any Departmental officials have expressed any concerns regarding the way in which freedom of information requests have been handled during the same period. [46084/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): I can assure the Deputy that I am committed to fulfilling all obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 and I am satisfied that my Department strives at all times to respond accurately and fully to all requests received.
In the period from June 2020 to end August 2021, my Department has received 1,059 requests and 1,000 decisions have been made.
As the Deputy will appreciate, the restrictions on office attendance during COVID-19 have had some impact on response times, particularly in accessing physical files and hard copy records. The Freedom of Information team followed the guidance of the FOI Central Policy Unit in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in how to provide continuity of services to the greatest extent possible and engaged proactively with requesters where appropriate in an attempt to meet their needs and provide them with the information sought.
Arising from my Department’s commitment to respond effectively to all Freedom of Information requests, an overall examination of processes and procedures in early 2020 included a review of the current model in place for dealing with requests and the updating and publication of the disclosure logs. Additional methods of monitoring our performance include monthly reports to the Management Board of the numbers of requests on hand and decisions made.
In addition, similar to a number of other Departments, a Freedom of Information Review Committee has been established within my Department. The Committee’s role includes determining whether individual Freedom of Information requests and internal reviews have followed all the proper processes and procedures. I am satisfied that this extra level of review has contributed further to ensuring that my Department maintains high and consistent standards in processing and managing FOI requests.
The Freedom of Information team routinely receives and indeed welcomes suggestions and comments from staff and stakeholders. Any feedback from staff and from our external customers regarding Freedom of Information procedures is taken into consideration and informs the continuous review of our FOI processes.