Prior to release by Galway City Council of the withheld information, whether the Council was entitled to rely on article 9 (2)(a) of the AIE Regulations
31 October 2023
PDF of the issued decision can be found at the following link:
1. On 20 July 2022, the appellant submitted simultaneous requests to 31 local authorities, for the following environmental information: .
- A list of all the currently approved local authority own developments in your functional area that have yet to be commenced and in each case the date of approval; and .
- A list of all the currently approved local authority own developments in your functional area that have commenced and yet to be completed and in each case the date of approval and the date of commencement.
2. On 10 August 2022 Galway City Council wrote to the appellant seeking clarification regarding the date range of the request. The appellant responded stating all approvals which are still in force but yet to be completed.
3. On 12 August 2022, the Council notified the appellant of its requirement for a four-week extension in order to comply with the request.
4. On 26 August 2022, Galway City Council advised the appellant that it would issue the information requested which was readily available. The Council confirmed that the remainder of the information requested could not be issued as it was deemed to be manifestly unreasonable. The Council invited the appellant to engage with the AIE officer to make a more specific request.
5. On 26 August 2022, the appellant advised the Council that he did not wish to refine the request. The appellant asked the Council for an internal review.
6. On 30 August 2022, the Council advised the appellant that a formal decision had not yet issued.
7. On 1 September 2022, Galway City Council issued correspondence (which it refers to as its decision), in line with its email of 26 August advising the appellant that it would part-grant the request, by releasing some of the information requested by the appellant. The remainder of the information was refused in accordance with Article 9(2) (a) of the AIE Regulations, citing that the request was manifestly unreasonable.
8. On 2 September 2022, the appellant confirmed that he wished the internal review requested on 26 August 2022 to continue.
9. On 21 September 2022, Galway City Council responded to the appellant’s request for an internal review. The Council affirmed the original decision, stating that it would be manifestly unreasonable to issue records beyond those already released.
10. The appellant appealed to this Office on 26 September 2022.
11. I am directed by the Commissioner for Environmental Information to carry out a review of this matter under article 12(5) of the Regulations. In so doing, I have had regard to the correspondence between the appellant and the Council as set out above and to the communications between this Office and both Galway City Council and the appellant on the matter.
Analysis and Findings
12. During the course of the investigation and following engagement with this Office, the information that had been withheld by the Council was released to the appellant. The Investigator in this case attempted to find an informal resolution to preclude the issuing of a formal binding decision. However, this was not possible.
13. A review by this office is de novo in nature, which means that it is based on the circumstances prevailing at the time of the review, and not at the time of the public authority’s decision. As such, I do not believe that there is a need for this Office to review the substantive matter of whether the Council was entitled to refuse the information at issue, as the Council has reversed its own original and internal review decisions and is no longer relying on its original grounds for refusal.
14. However, it is also the case that the decisions of the Council did not weigh up the public interest served in releasing the information and the interests served in refusing the information, in this case by not fully processing the request. This balancing exercise should have been conducted pursuant to article 10 of the AIE Regulations.
15. Ordinarily, this could be grounds for remittal of the Council’s decision. In this case, remittal would serve no useful purpose. I would encourage Galway City Council to be mindful of its obligations, to either provide the requester with the environmental information requested or a reasoned decision as to why refusal is appropriate, having regard to all of the requirements of the AIE Regulations to avoid similar situations arising in the future. Decision.
16. Having carried out a review under article 12(5) of the AIE Regulations, on behalf of the Commissioner for Environmental information, I hereby annul Galway City Council’s decision to refuse the release of the records requested. As the Council has released the requested information to the appellant, I make no further direction.
Appeal to the High Court
17. A party to the appeal or any other person affected by this decision may appeal to the High Court on a point of law from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than two months after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.
On behalf of the Commissioner for Environmental Information