Friday, 16 November 2012

Dublin Confidential

Here's an interesting sequel to the last item, about FOI disclosures from the Republic's Department of Finance. There are two points of interest: the confidentiality exemption, and the Information Commissioner's website.

The case is about the banking crisis of 2009. A panel of experts led by Rob Wright, a former Canadian deputy finance minister, were asked to look at how the Department handled the crisis: were ministers warned about the dangers of of overheating in the construction industry? The politicians had claimed they were not; the report, released after polling in the subsequent election, showed that they were.

Tom Lyons, business editor of the Sunday Independent, asked for access to records of interviews the panel carried out. Some were disclosed, but some were withheld. An appeal was made to the Irish Information Commissioner.

The issue was one of confidentiality. The Freedom of Information Act has an exemption - Section 26(1)(a) - for information provided in confidence, or where the person providing it has a reasonable expectation of confidence. In this case, the Department argued that former civil servants would not give information if they thought this would be disclosed. However, as the Commissioner's investigator pointed out, no evidence was provided that this would happen, no guarantee of confidentiality was given, and this claim was only being made about former civil servants: interviews with current staff were disclosed.

There was also an argument about prejudicing public affairs - Section 21(1)(a). The Department argued interviewees would refuse to participate if they thought there evidence would be published. Again, the Commissioner's office was not convinced.

The investigation also looked at the question of what records were held. It reveals that several interviews were carried out without Department staff present, and without records being kept. Nothing was held.

Strangely, there is no sign of this important decision on the Information Commissioner's website. To see the decision, and the records eventually disclosed to Tom Lyons, you have to go to Gavin Sheridan's blog at The Story, which has an excellent collection of FOI disclosed records:

Department of Finance releases Wright review panel documents


  1. All the decisions are not published. In order for them to be published, each one has to also be translated into Irish. So we don't get all decisions.

    And it's :)

    1. I've written to the Information Commissioner's office and they have stated that they don't publish all the decisions - that seems odd to me (maybe someone could FOI them?). I've asked for more information and will post about it here.

      Thanks for the correction - I've updated the post!