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29 May 2022

Kildare politician claims there is an element of ‘shame’ against those who file for Freedom of Information requests

Kildare politician claims there is an element of ‘shame’ against those who file for Freedom of Information requests

Cllr Fiona McLoughin Healy during a motion raised by Fianna Fáil Cllr Suzanne Doyle at the latest Kildare-Newbridge Municipal District (MD) meeting on Wednesday, April 20. PICTURE: File Photo

A councillor expressed her belief that individuals who seek Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are often discouraged or shamed for doing so by county councils across Ireland.

The comments were made by Independent Cllr Fiona McLoughlin-Healy during a motion raised by Fianna Fáil Cllr Suzanne Doyle at the latest Kildare-Newbridge Municipal District (MD) meeting on Wednesday, April 20.

Cllr Doyle asked KCC in her motion to provide a report on the number of FOI requests received from 2019 to date that relate to the MD, in addition to the number of people these emanate from and the call on resources to service the same.

During the motion, Cllr McLoughlin-Healy said that there seems to be a presence of 'FOI shame' in various county councils across the country.

Cllr Fiona McLoughlin-Healy, Independent

She also referenced a recent RTÉ Investigates programme, 'Council Chambers Secrets', which was broadcast on March 25 last.

Cllr McLoughlin-Healy added: "It says something when an organisation charges for FOIs."

She also called for a larger emphasis on webcasting council meetings.

'FRUSTRATING'

Meanwhile, Cllr Doyle criticised the 'voluminous nature' of some of the FOIs, which she said she felt took up too much resources in certain cases — "it is frustrating," she added.

She explained that she felt that FOIs ‘must be used in good faith’, and referred to how criticism and scepticism of the government has increased in recent years.

"Many of us are becoming addicted to outrage, and there is a culture of it here in this MD, which is affecting it.

"There has to be a level of trust within us (as councillors)."

Cllr Mark Stafford added that he agreed with Cllr Doyle, and asked Orla McGee, a Data Protection Officer present at the meeting, if an increase in FOIs processed by Kildare County Council (KCC) has occurred since 2019.

RESPONSE

Ms McGee confirmed that there was an increase, and pointed to the record of FOIs.

In 2019, there were a total of 156, then 158 in 2020, then 160 in 2021.

She added that, so far, 44 FOIs have been processed with KCC so far.

Ms McGee also replied to Cllr Doyle’s critique of 'voluminous' FOIs, explaining: "Where FOI requests are considered too voluminous or would be considered to 'cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption of work (including disruption of work in a particular functional area) of the FOI body concerned', a FOI decision maker can apply an exemption to the request."

In response to Cllr McLoughlin-Healy’s comments about charges for FOIs, Ms McGee said that legislation also mandates for the charging of fees where the FOI requests would take staff time for the search, retrieval and copying of records.

Further information regarding FOIs in relation to KCC can be found by clicking here.

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