If there’s multiple Departments or Agencies involved send the request to both, otherwise one will wait four weeks, and tell you it was the wrong authority, and to submit to the other one, and so on…
Who to submit to. Often it is unclear, eg for LAWPRO FOI/AIE requests, you submit to Tipperary CoCo, as the admin of the programme is outsourced to them and Kilkenny CoCo
Check the relevant FOI Disclosure Logs before making an FOI submission – someone may have already requested the same, or similar data via FOI. Note that some agencies do not publish FOI Disclosure Logs. If they do not publish the Logs, then you can ask them to, and cc the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) at [ firstname.lastname@example.org ] OIC have no enforcement powers to compel publication of FOI Disclosure Logs, but they are helpful and often will ask the relevant body to publish.
Just Ask. Sometimes just picking up the phone works. There might be a workaround that you are unaware of. For example, EPA data is often merged in their public facing licensing database, but if you find a friendly member of staff, they might just run off the data to Excel for you, and save you a week of wading through pdfs.
Always follow the process. If they say, fill out a paperbased form and wait 4 weeks (e.g. forestry / woodland mapping data), do that… but also submit an AIE. It just means you are not waiting a month, and then have to start the FOI/AIE process, if they refuse or ghost your ‘official’ request process
Always phone. Sometimes it negates need for FOI/AIE, for example, the data is in public domain, but not somewhere you would expect (eg the EPA 2018 report, as it’s an issue that is reported annually in arrears)
Always FOI/AIE. If the Dept/Agency tell you that you don’t need to use the process, they will just give you the data… be wary. They may not deliver. You can always withdraw the formal application later
Good admin. One FOI/AIE request often leads to another, as you only get exactly what you ask for. So if you get meeting agendas/minutes that mention a report presented, the FOI/AIE will not include the report (unless you asked for it). Administering multiple FOI/AIE deadline dates for initial application and/or internal review means lots of dates to track – add them all to calendar. This can also save you fees, as there’s no Euro50 OIC fee is the FOI was ghosted by the internal review
Try the EU. Some data has to be submitted by national authorities to the EU, eg nitrates data. Ask the EU simultaneously at https://www.asktheeu.org/ (note, you need to include postal address on EU FOIs)
Not Subject to FOI. Some authorities are not subject to the FOI Act. eg Bord na Mona rejected my FOI on current peatland drainage operations as they are not subject to FOI. Resubmitted as AIE, which they are subject to
Hardcopy vs Electronic. If an authority offers you hardcopy documents, you can refuse. eg Sligo Co Co wanted to provide all Section 4 Trade Effluent Licenses in hardcopy. I get why that could be a strategy to reduce online republication, but they must provide an electronic version.
No data. Sometimes you just cannot get data as it does not exist. eg boundary maps for Irish National Parks. NPWS can delay producing the maps indefinitely, as they are contested, so there are simply no maps to FOI/AIE
Open Data Directive. The Open Data Directive aims to make Public Sector data available and easily accessible online for reuse and redistribution.The process for making applications under the Directive is unclear, and thus far the Open Data Unit have refused to meet. You can submit datasets here https://data.gov.ie/dataset/suggest but there is no apparent process for applications, internal review or appeals to OIC
Regulatory Barriers. Sometimes there’s a complete bar to a data request. eg EPA Drinking Water Abstraction Register is not available to the public, for ‘security’ reasons, under an exemption in the relevant Directive. This means it is impossible or difficult to independently map pollution pressures against drinking water sources. But the same data is available from alternative sources, so often a workaround may be possible
eTenders. Public tenders are at https://www.etenders.gov.ie/ you need to register and include a VAT number. Just make something up, it does not check. Once you register, you can track relevant environmental tenders. It’s not great, and will alert you to Floodlight tenders, when you only want Flood Relief Schemes, but it’s a good way to track the bigger projects, and see if there are AIE reports posted in the Docs Section of the tenders
Politics. Set up an alert at https://www.kildarestreet.com/ and you will get notified of PQs, relevant mentions in Oireachtas Committee etc
Also see Niall and Ken’s guides here: