The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 1997 which came into operation on 21 April, 1998, establishes three new statutory rights:
- a legal right for each person to access information held by public bodies;
- a legal right for each person to have official information relating to him/herself amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading;
- a legal right to obtain reasons for decisions affecting oneself.
The Act asserts the right of members of the public to obtain access to official information to the greatest extent possible consistent with the public interest and the right to privacy of individuals. The Act is designed to allow public access to information held by public bodies which is NOT routinely available through other sources. Access to information under the Act is subject to certain exemptions and involves specific procedures and time limits.
The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003 introduced a number of amendments notably in relation to fees. Upfront fees now apply to all non -personal FOI requests under Section 7 of the FOI Act (requests for access to records) and applications under Section 14 (Internal Review) and Section 34 (Review by the Information Commissioner) – see chapter 4 for details.
This reference book has been prepared and published in accordance with the requirements of section 15 of the Act. Its purpose is to facilitate access to official information held by the Civil Defence Board. It does this by outlining the functions and structure of the Board, the services provided and how they may be availed of, by setting out information on the classes of records held, and by showing how a request under the FOI Acts can be made to the Board.
The Board currently makes information routinely available to the public in relation to its functions, activities and schemes. Such information will continue to be available informally without the need to use the FOI Acts. This reference book highlights where information of this nature is available.
The Board’s Strategic Plan is probably the most important source document. This document can be obtained by writing to the FOI Officer, Civil Defence Board, Benamore, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. Alternatively the document can be viewed by logging on to our website www.civildefence.ie.
2. POLICY ON CONFIDENTIALITY AND FOI
Part III of the Act (Exempt Records) sets out a series of related measures to protect information relating to key areas of Government activity, parliamentary and court matters, as well as third party information of a personal, commercial and confidential nature. Within that general context, however, the Civil Defence Board will try to provide every requester with as much assistance and information as possible.
If, for any reason, it is wished that information provided to the Board should not be disclosed because of its sensitive nature, then it is incumbent upon the person or body when supplying the information to make clear this wish and to specify the reasons for the sensitivity. The Civil Defence Board will consult with any individual or body supplying sensitive information before making a decision on any Freedom of Information request received in respect of such information.
3. HOW TO GET INFORMATION UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
3.1 Applications under the FOI Act
The following records come within the scope of the Act:
- all records relating to personal information held by the Board irrespective of when created;
- all other records created from the commencement of the 1997 Act;
- any other records necessary to the understanding of a current record.
We are obliged to respond to a FOI request within 4 weeks.
Applications for information under the FOI Act in relation to the Civil Defence Board should be addressed to:
|Ms Eileen Joyce,|
|Civil Defence Board,|
|Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.|
|Phone: (0505) 25354. |
|Fax: (0505) 25344. |
Note: Applications should be in writing and should indicate that the information is sought under the FOI Act. If information is desired in a particular form, e.g. photocopy or computer disk, this should also be mentioned in your application. Please give as much detail as possible to enable us to identify the information required. If you have difficulty in identifying the precise information which you require, we will be happy to assist you in preparing your request. In the interests of protecting personal information and ensuring that this is only made available to those entitled to it, please include a telephone number when writing to us, or provide some means whereby we can check that you are who you say you are.
3.2 Rights of Review and Appeal
The FOI Acts set out a series of exemptions to protect sensitive information where its disclosure may damage key interests of the State or of third parties. Where a public body invokes these provisions to withhold information, the decision may be appealed. Decisions in relation to deferral of access, charges, form of access, etc., may also be the subject of appeal. Details of the appeals mechanisms are as follows:
Applicants may seek internal review of the initial decision which will be carried out by an official at a higher level if:
(a) the applicant is dissatisfied with the initial response received i.e. refusal of information, form of access, charges, etc., or
(b) the applicant has not received a reply within four weeks of the initial application. (This is deemed to be a refusal of your request and allows you to proceed to internal review).
A request for an internal review must be submitted within four weeks of the initial decision. The Civil Defence Board must complete the review within three weeks. An internal review must normally be completed before an appeal can be made to the Information Commissioner. Requests for internal review should be marked internal review and should be submitted in writing to:
|Mr. John O’Neill,|
|Freedom of Information Officer,|
|Civil Defence Board,|
|Roscrea, Co. Tipperary.|
|Phone: (0505) 25337|
|Fax: (0505) 25344 |
Review by the Information Commissioner
Following completion of an internal review the applicant may seek independent review of the decision from the Information Commissioner.
If, in the case of an internal review, the applicant has not received a reply to the application within 3 weeks, this is deemed to be a refusal and an appeal may be made to the Information Commissioner. Appeals in writing may be made directly to the Information Commissioner at the following address:
|Office of the Information Commissioner,|
|18 Lower Leeson Street,|
|Phone: (01) 6395689 |
|Lo Call: 1890 223070|
|Fax: (01) 6610570 |
The following charges apply in relation to requests for records made under the FOI Act:
There is no application fee if your request is for personal information only. If your request is for a record containing non-personal information, an application fee of €15 (€10 if you are a medical card holder) must accompany your request. A FOI request for non-personal information will not be processed until an application fee is received.
Search and Retrieval and Copying Fees:
ˇ Fees also apply in respect of the time spent searching and retrieving records that are released to you on foot of your request and in respect of the copying of any records released. Such fees are unlikely to arise if your request is for personal information. The rates of these fees are as follows:
ˇ €20.95 per hour of search and retrieval
ˇ €0.04 per sheet for a photocopy
ˇ €0.51 for a three and a half inch computer diskette containing copy documents
ˇ €10.16 for a CD-ROM containing copy documents
ˇ €6.35 for a radiograph (X-ray) containing copy documents
ˇ A deposit is payable where the estimated cost of search and retrieval of records sought is estimated to exceed €50.79. In such a case, every effort must be made to assist the requester to amend the request so as to reduce or eliminate the amount of the deposit. The request will not be processed any further in the event of the agreed deposit not being received.
Reductions and Waivers:
ˇ A fee in respect of search and retrieval and copying of records will be waived where the cost of collecting and accounting for the fee would exceed the amount of the fee itself;
ˇ A fee in respect of search and retrieval and copying of records or a deposit may be reduced or waived where the information in the record would be of particular assistance to the understanding of an issue of national importance.
A charge applies to most reviews concerning access to non-personal records. There is a reduction for medical card holders. These will be notified to you at the appropriate time.
5. FUNCTIONS OF THE CIVIL DEFENCE BOARD
The functions of the Civil Defence Board are set out in Section 8(1) of the Civil Defence Act 2002
Functions of the Board are:
a) to promote and support the development at national level of civil defence planning and management and, in co-operation with local authorities, to facilitate the implementation of civil defence measures for the purposes of emergency relief and support;
b) to promote, develop and maintain civil defence as an effective voluntary service in support of the emergency services;
c) to promote the role of civil defence in providing services, in support of the emergency services, to the local community and, for that purpose, to develop programmes designed to enhance those services;
d) with regard to local authorities, to promote co-operation and the co-ordination of their activities with other local authorities, so as to ensure efficiency and economy in performing their functions relating to civil defence;
e) having regard to any plans, howsoever described, relating to the management of emergencies at national level that are prepared and adopted by any Minister of the Government, State agencies or other bodies whose activities relate to civil defence, to establish and promote the development, maintenance and improvement of standards of—
(i) programmes of civil defence education and training including programmes relating to health and safety,
(ii) knowledge, skill and competence of those participating in implementing civil defence measures, and
(iii) equipment used for civil defence;
f) to promote public awareness and the dissemination of coordinated information to the public in relation to civil defence and to conduct public information programmes relating to preventive measures aimed at alleviating the effects of emergencies on persons or property;
g) to prepare and adopt, in accordance with section 30, a strategic plan relating to the future development of civil defence and to monitor the implementation of the plan;
h) to advise the Minister in relation to all or any of the following:
(i) such policy matters relating to the operation and future development of civil defence as the Minister may request or as the Board considers appropriate;
(ii) the implementation of measures considered necessary for the effective operation of civil defence;
(iii) any other matter relating to the Board's functions as the Board considers appropriate or as requested by the Minister;
i) to conduct and commission research on matters relating to the functions of the Board and for this purpose—
(i) to foster and promote contacts and the exchange of information with educational and research establishments and other bodies involved in civil defence in and outside the State, and
(ii) as it considers appropriate, to publish, in the form and manner that the Board thinks fit, results arising out of that research;
j) in conjunction with Ministers of the Government, State agencies or other bodies whose activities relate to civil defence, having regard to any plans referred to in paragraph (e), to contribute to the development, in co-operation with other states, of civil defence measures;
k) in co-operation with local authorities, to promote the recruitment of persons to perform civil defence tasks and to establish procedures for the registration of those persons;
l) to establish, review and maintain codes of professional conduct for civil defence members;
m) to advise such persons as the Minister may from time to time specify on any matter relating to the Board's functions;
n) to advise and assist the Director General in performing his or her functions;
o) to comply with any general policy directives that the Minister may, from time to time, give to the Board;
p) to perform any additional functions conferred on the Board by order under subsection (4).
6. MISSION STATEMENT
The Mission Statement for the Civil Defence Board, as outlined in the Board’s Strategic Plan up to 2010 is:
“to promote, develop and maintain Civil Defence as an effective volunteer based professional organisation providing emergency response and community support services ”.
The Strategic Objectives of the Board are as follows:
ˇ To promote and support the development at national level of civil defence planning and management and, in co-operation with local authorities, to facilitate the implementation of civil defence measures for the purposes of emergency relief and support.
ˇ To promote the role and profile of Civil Defence as an effective voluntary service in providing services, in support of the emergency services, to the local community and to develop programmes designed to enhance those services.
ˇ To use all of the resources available to us as a Board to promote the recruitment and retention of Civil Defence members and to maximise their potential for development within the organisation.
ˇ To advise the Minister for Defence on policy issues relating to civil defence matters and to propose initiatives in that regard.
ˇ To optimise Civil Defence inputs into the new Major Emergency Management Framework at National, Regional and Local Authority level and to maximise Civil Defence involvement in national emergency planning and delivery in co-operation with all of the relevant Departments, bodies and agencies.
ˇ To ensure best practice in the development and implementation of Civil Defence training programmes and to provide the necessary infrastructure for that purpose.
ˇ To analyse the service requirements of the organisation and its capability to deliver them over the lifetime of the Strategic Plan, drawing from the Local Authority Civil Defence Plans as required from each Local Authority in conjunction with Section 31 of the Act.
SECTION 16 - REFERENCE BOOK
The Government, in the White Paper on Defence dated 29th February 2000, addressed the Civil Defence area in the context of current roles and activities.
The White Paper committed the Government to providing the necessary infrastructure and training to enable Civil Defence to continue to develop its capacity to respond to emergencies as a high quality second line emergency service and facilitate community support activities while preserving the voluntary nature and ethos of the organisation. The Government also committed itself to providing the necessary framework for the future development of Civil Defence by modernising the legislation governing Civil Defence by means of a new Bill with additional measures to assist with the recruitment of new members to the organisation. The legislation was subsequently enacted in the form of the Civil Defence Act 2002.
The Civil Defence Board operates under legislation that includes the Air-Raid Precautions Acts of 1939 and 1946, the Civil Defence Act 2002 (known collectively as the Civil Defence Acts 1939 to 2002); the Local Government Acts 1941 to 2001 and various Statutory Instruments.
The Civil Defence Bill was passed by the Dáil on 26th March 2002. The Bill was signed into Law by the President on Friday, 12th April 2002 and subsequently became known as the Civil Defence Act 2002.
The new State Authority known as the Civil Defence Board was established by Order of the Minister for Defence in 2003 arising from the enactment of the Civil Defence Act 2002. Prior to that the Civil Defence function at national level was the responsibility of the Minister for Defence and was normally delegated as a specific function to the Minister of State and administered by the Department of Defence.
Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies
In conducting its business, the Civil Defence Board is committed to observing and implementing, where applicable, the ‘Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies’ issued by the Minister for Finance in October 2001.
The Code sets out the principles of corporate governance in the interests of transparency and accountability. It acknowledges the importance of Corporate Planning and lays a foundation to ensure that the necessary structures and procedures are in place for State Bodies to operate at the highest standards. It also advises that appropriate financial and internal controls be put in place.
The Board is aware of its responsibility to ensure that all its activities are governed by the Code and will strive to employ best practice in corporate governance.