Saturday, 13 April 2013

Wind farms, Airport VIPs, and gay blood donors - FOI Roundup

This month's crop of FOI requests from Irish newspapers so far

The Irish Times reports that An Taisce (southern equivalent of the UK's National Trust) has objected to 40% of all planning applications for wind farms received by the government's planning body, despite being 'enthusiastic supporters' of the government's plans to generate up to 40% of energy from renewable sources.

The newspaper also reports on various items of government expenditure - with good news for citizens trying to make ends meet: catering for Cabinet meetings, it turns out, averages just €20, with SPAR being one of the main suppliers. At the same time, the Department of the Taoiseach spend €1,700 on cufflinks. The article highlights the fact that €22,000 was spent in six months on VIP treatment for political visitors to Dublin Airport, with former President Mary Robinson a major user of the service.

(The current promotions page at SPAR Ireland reveals that €20 would buy just 20 packets of Hobnobs. That's easily a whole packet per minister. However, if they're willing to share, there should be enough for a cup of Barry's tea each as well.)

Meanwhile, north of the border, both the Belfast Telegraph and the News Letter covered the decision of the UK Information Commissioner to order disclosure of the legal advice received by Health Minister Edwin Poots on the subject of blood donations by gay men. Legal advice is usually prevented from disclosure by Section 42 of the FOI Act, so it's unusual for the Commissioner to decide that the public interest is in favour of disclosure: the key issue here seems to be that in the rest of the UK the policy is now to accept donations from men who have been celibate for a year, yet Northern Ireland retains a lifetime ban. The Minister is said to be considering an appeal. Interesting, if the appeal is successful, a decision on whether to veto disclosure would have to be made jointly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which has never happened before.

Other stories revealed recently under FOI (and published already via the FOIreland Twitter account, @FOIreland)

Irish Times - senior civil servant 'had an inappropriate level of contact' with Barclay tycoons; and the paper is told that releasing information on the horse meat scandal would not be in the public interest.

Irish Medical Times - representatives of the National Office of Clinical Audit are concerned that results of clinical audits will have to be disclosed under Freedom of Information legislation. (“We are advised by senior counsel that while Freedom of Information requests may well be denied, refusals may result in challenges in courts.") [NOTE: to read this article, you have to pretend to be a medical professional, because the people who run the Irish Medical Times website are idiots]

Irish Independent - retired civil servants have been paid more than €1.3 million for conducting job interviews; and Irish universities have spent €1.7 million on rats and mice for medical experiments.

The Detail: fire crews in Northern Ireland take as much as four times as long to respond to emergencies in rural areas than in urban ones.

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