Sunday, 11 November 2012

North and South

Ireland, North and South, is subject to two different Freedom of Information regimes. Here's a summary of the differences.

The Law

FOI Legislation in the Republic of Ireland

FOI Legislation in Northern Ireland

The Republic's FOI law is older: it came into effect in 1998 and was amended in 2003. The law that applies in Northern Ireland is the same one as in England and Wales (the law in Scotland is slightly different), which came into effect in 2005.


In the South, the law includes a right to personal information; in the North, personal information requests are dealt with under the Data Protection Act instead.


In the South, requests have to refer to the Act, and be made to the head of the organization; in the North, any request to a public authority can be considered as an FOI request.


The legislation in the Republic covers records; in the North, the legislation covers information contained within records - sometimes used as a non-too subtle way of holding back information. The Act in the North is also retrospective - it covers records from all periods - whereas in the South it covers only records produced after 1998 (except personal data).


The Southern legislation covers a narrower range of public authorities than the North. For instance, schools are not covered, whereas under the British Act they are.


A very big difference here. In the South, a fee must be paid for anything other than personal information requests, and there are additional fees for a review request and an appeal to the Information Commissioner. In Northern Ireland, all parts of the process are free. The existence of costs, especially for appeals, is a major disincentive to enforcing the Act.

There are other differences, and some interesting similarities - for instance, the British legislation has an exemption for royal correspondence, while the Irish legislation has a similar exemption for the President's correspondence. If I come across any other important differences, I will mention them in this blog.

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