Office of the Information Commissioner and Commissioner for Environmental Information 2013 Annual Report

New Information Commissioner forecasts increase in FOI appeals when An Garda Síochána, NAMA and others come under FOI Act

The Information Commissioner and Commissioner for Environmental Information, Peter Tyndall, today Wednesday 7 May 2014, launched his Annual Report for 2013, the sixteenth since the founding of the Office in 1998.

This is the first Annual Report of the Information Commissioner following his appointment by President Michael D. Higgins in December 2013.

The Commissioner:

  • Notes a 29% increase in the number of reviews completed in 2013, compared to 2012.
  • Anticipates a significant increase in demand for his Office's services due to the FOI Amendment Bill and the extension of the Act to all public bodies, including bodies such as the Central Bank of Ireland, NAMA, the NTMA and An Garda Síochána.
  • Reports on actions taken by his Office to improve performance.
  • Comments on the issue of compliance by public bodies and their obligations under the FOI Act.

Key decisions made in 2013 include:

  • Records relating to the inquiry known as the Drogheda Review were found to be 'held' by the Department of Health for FOI purposes. The Commissioner's decision was appealed to the High Court by the Department.
  • Garda records are not exempt from release as a class on the ground of confidentiality regardless of content; in this case, a record held by the Department of Justice and Equality on an applicant's immigration file.
  • The release of certain records relating to Cabinet meetings that took place more than 10 years before the receipt of the request (the so-called 10 year rule).
  • The Commissioner found that the Department of Finance was justified in refusing access to letters sent by the President of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, to the then Minister for Finance in 2010.
  • A decision by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to refuse access to certain records relating to the export of aviation parts was upheld.

Commissioner for Environmental Information

Part II of the Annual Report for 2013 relates to the Commissioner's separate role as Commissioner for Environmental Information. It focuses on decisions made by his Office on appeals under the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) Regulations 2007 to 2011.
The Commissioner:

  • Similar to the 2012 Annual Report, comments on the lack of adequate resources which is impacting on the ability of the Office to conclude appeals in a timely fashion.
  • Reports on limits of his remit. The Commissioner has no enforcement powers in relation to Article 5 of the Regulations which imposes significant obligations on public authorities relating to the availability of environmental information.
  • Comments upon an area of confusion relating to the scope of the jurisdiction of the entire AIE regime. He notes that a request made under the AIE Regulations may be rejected on the basis that it is not for "environmental information" and that despite the obligation to offer assistance, there is no automatic default mechanism for the request to be dealt with under the FOI Act.
  • Comments upon the need for better administrative practices by public authorities with respect to the processing of AIE requests.

Key decisions made in 2013 include:

  • The Commissioner found that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government was not justified in charging a fee for the costs involved in searching for and retrieving certain environmental information.
  • A decision by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to refuse the appellant's request for a list of AIE requests on the ground that the information concerned is not environmental information within the meaning of the Regulations, was upheld.
  • The Commissioner found that Bord na Móna is a public authority within the meaning of the Regulations and that it must deal with requests for environmental information in accordance with the Regulations.

Further Information contact:
Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator - 01 639 5680 / 087 4110557

Media enquiries contact:
David Nutley, Communications Unit - 01 639 5610 / 086 0231420