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Thread: As promised earlier, this will be the very long (frustrating and often tedious) story of @RightToKnowIE efforts to get access to correspondence between former Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan & PR guru Terry Prone:
Take One: In March 2017, I sought details of the contract with the Communications Clinic and also copies of all correspondence between Noirín O'Sullivan and Terry Prone (or her firm) during the period in which the contract was in place:
Not long after, the gardaí refused Part 1 of the request on the basis records were in public domain. They also refused Part 2 - the email correspondence - on the basis that the records did not exist and could not be found after all reasonable steps had been taken:
In June 2017, I submitted a revised request, this time specifying that I would like private email accounts, messaging services to be considered when making this request:
There followed a long back and forth between myself and An Garda Síochána where they looked for clarification on what I was seeking considering my previous request for the same records had already been refused:
In the meantime, I had submitted yet another request still looking for the same records. I told them that it was now my belief that records almost certainly existed given what had emerged at the Charleton Tribunal:
Further clarification was sought and I told them I wanted records for the entire time the FOI Act applied to the gardaí. I was told this would likely be refused as it would be voluminious:
OK, I said. What about if we confine the request to 25 Nov 2014 to 10 September 2017. Remember I'd already been told no records existed:
They came back & said this revised date range would involve search and retrieval time of 56 hours (this was likely to rise). Search and retrieval is calculated on the basis of €20 per hour so €1,120 and above the threshold at which an FOI can be refused on volume grounds:
My frustration is not well hidden in this one as I ponder how searching a small number of email addresses could really take that long. And again, bearing in mind, I've been told that no records exist in a previous request:
This to and fro continued through another round of emails until eventually I ran out of patience, and agreed to the following:
So request finally agreed upon, we get a decision. It is unsurprisingly a refusal but this time you will notice there are "a number of emails ... identified for consideration". How many I still don't know. It's important to know something about FOI and the gardai (next tweet)
For reasons related to crime & security, when gardaí were brought under the umbrella of the FOI Act, an incredibly restrictive regime was introduced. This means only administrative records relating to human resources, finance, or procurement are 'FOIable':…
But what this has actually meant is that all sorts of records that have absolutely nothing to do with crime & security end up getting siphoned off because of the special status of gardaí under FOI. Will return to this point in a little bit.
So the refusal led to an inevitable internal review where I argued that without a schedule of records (considered best practice in dealing with requests) there was no way for us to know whether these records did fall under FOI. We were basically flying blind:
There then followed a frankly ridiculous dispute over this internal review where the gardaí did not provide a response and said this was because I hadn't paid a fee. As a result, I bypassed internal review and went straight to the Information Commissioner:
It got bounced back to An Garda Síochána, who said they would use their "discretion" in accepting my application for internal review even though the time limit had technically expired:
Needless to say, the internal review got refused. They didn't address the issue of the schedule of records so we still don't know how many records are involved. It could be two, it could be 200:
Off we go to the Information Commissioner with our appeal, making the same point about the fact that we still have no idea what records are even at issue here, or how many:
And so to bring this very long thread to a conclusion. Last Friday, we were contacted by the Information Commissioner indicating that "having reviewed the withheld records" they were likely to recommend they would be agreeing with the garda decision.
The decision is not final as yet. We have asked again to be provided with a schedule of records, which would at least give us some sense of how many they are and what sort of topics they relate to. We have been invited to make a submission to their office.
So we are being asked to make a submission about why these records might fall under the FOI act as it applies to gardaí. We aren't allowed to know how many there are though, nor even get a sense of their contents. It's very difficult to argue a case from a position of blindness:
Here's one record we know about from the Charleton Tribunal. I think there's a strong argument this is an administrative record relating to human resources. It certainly has no crime or security aspect that would require it to be kept secret:
And I would also make the point that if you found this thread tedious, imagine how tedious it was to have to send and read all of those emails. This is not the way Freedom of Information should be operating. We can do much much better than this.
There's a serious public interest issue at play here. The same PR person was advising the Garda Commissioner and the Minister of Justice through a very black period in the history of Irish policing. The appropriateness of that has never been addressed.
If you're new to all this, this is a good background on the difficulties @RightToKnowIE faced when getting similar correspondence from the Dept of Justice. They also originally claimed the records did not exist:…
Anyway, that's it for tonight. We will keep you updated on the case and will be making a submission by the end of the week to the Information Commissioner. To find out more about our work, visit
And apologies if any part of this is out of chronological order or does not make sense. At this stage, I find it very difficult to keep track of myself because it's been going on so long.
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