Speaking this afternoon Sinn Féin spokesperson on enterprise, trade, and employment, Louise O’Reilly TD, has said the widespread use of legal firms by state and semi-state bodies to complete Freedom of Information requests raises serious questions.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“The Freedom of Information system is one of the most effective mechanisms available to ensure transparency amongst public bodies and state agencies, therefore, the practice of using legal firms to answer FOI requests is contrary to the spirt of the FOI system.
“When the Freedom of Information Bill passed through the Dáil in 1997 the Minister of the day stated, ‘Freedom of information is a legal right for every person to ask for and get access to records held by public bodies… It recognises in law that public bodies should be directly accountable to the ordinary public they are there to serve’.
“Notwithstanding complex cases or staffing issues, FOI is something that should be done in-house. Therefore, I was confused and concerned when I received a Parliamentary Question response that IDA Ireland paid legal firms €165,000 to complete FOI requests since 2019.
“In addition, a series of FOI requests, as reported recently in the Irish Examiner, outlined how organisations such as Trinity College Dublin – €60,213, RTÉ – €12,289, DCU – €6,280, UCC – €6,026, and ComReg – €2,964 paid thousands to legal firms to complete FOI requests in recent years.
“The extent to which FOI requests are being outsourced to legal firms is concerning on two fronts, firstly it runs contrary to the spirit of the FOI system itself, and secondly it raises serious questions regarding value for money spending of public money.
“It is imperative that state and semi-state bodies explain why they are paying huge sums of money to legal firms to handle answering FOI requests which could, and should, be carried out in-house.
“The fact that these bodies have not sought additional Government funds to carry this work out in-house indicates that they are happy to pay to outsource this work, generally at the expense of the taxpayer.
“Any public body using outside legal resources for FOI request should be required to run value-for-money exercises against those requests to ensure money is not being wasted on a role that could be performed within the body itself.”