Department refusals for 2008 era records

We were interested to see the story in the Sunday Independent today by Danny McConnell that utilised the newly available 5 year rule under the new FOI Act. We have also been attempting to use the new Act to obtain 2008/2009 documents. Below is an outright refusal, which we will be appealing (the decision maker fails to understand the difference between Cabinet statements and Cabinet discussions).

Posted in Cabinet records, FOIs | Leave a comment

Irish Water board meeting minutes

These are the board minutes of Irish Water for July through to mid October 2014. Apologies for the poor quality of the documents, but this is how I received them. Redactions were applied (whited out) to entire swathes of the minutes, using commercial sensitivity as the main exemption.

Posted in FOIs | 1 Comment

On Howlin, FOI reform and facts

We were very interested to read a blog post/speech by Public Expenditure & Reform Minister Brendan Howlin yesterday. It contains some very curious statements, and we assume the blog post was not actually written by Howlin (we’d be happy to find out), but rather by recently appointed press officer(s).

The post refers indirectly to this blog and to me, somewhat unflatteringly.

Indeed, on This Week on RTE Radio at the end of last year, two prominent FOI experts essentially found nothing positive to say about the new Freedom of Information Act in the course of an extended discussion on the Act.

Of course, a propensity to criticise often seems inherent in such opinion formers – given the perfectly understandable need to continue to sustain and promote their causes.

I don’t think anyone in political life – certainly no-one in political life for the length of time I have – would expect plaudits to replace the usual brickbats on such a contentious issue as FOI.

Anyways I’ll keep this brief. But before you start, keep this in mind: In 2011 after coming to power, the Government promised to restore the FOI Act – this would mean abolishing FOI fees altogether. This promise was and is broken. Appeal fees remain.

Anyways: the claim in the speech is centred on this statement:

“…what is disappointing is the degree to which the real story at the heart of the FOI reforms is at risk of being lost… This is a story which even in broad brush strokes exemplifies real democratic reform in action:-“

To which we say: rubbish. Let’s take each point in turn:

Claim 1.The publication of the Government’s policy proposals for consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny which allowed a broad range of stakeholders feed in their views on how the legislation could be strengthened which were an important influence on the subsequent drafting of the Bill.

1. We were one of the stakeholders. We made submissions to the Oireachtas committee, in writing and in person. We also attended some of the hearings, or livetweeted the proceedings. In general the process was pointless. Civil society people came in, submissions were made, the committee wrote a report. I can’t see much of what the committee recommended (and in some places it contradicted itself) actually made it into the Bill. Of course I’d be happy if someone could point this out to me.

Claim 2: The very positive and constructive debate in the Oireachtas largely on a non-partisan and cross-party basis on the detailed provisions of the legislation and the important amendments that flowed from this examination of the Bill.

2. Again. I can’t see much that happened here either. Can you point us to some good examples? The most controversial elements of the Bill – the definition of data, the retention of fees, the definition of public authority, were kept the same throughout.

Claim 3: The establishment of an expert external group involving FOI advocates and FOI experts to advise on the practical measures to improve the operation of our FOI regime. The subsequent Code of Practice for FOI for public bodies drew heavily on this group’s recommendations.

Yea, we were on that external group too. We chatted several times and wrote a report (we didn’t ask for, get or want any money for this work). Whether the actual Code of Practice will be implemented remains to be seen.

Claim 4: The engagement with civil society representatives through the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process on the case for change in relation to fees and the concrete result which followed.

This is an interesting claim and one that requires more explanation.

It glosses over how the fee issue became an issue at all. That an amendment to increase fees was inserted in November 2013 at committee stage, that it was never mentioned for the previous 18 months despite the Department carrying out a survey on the issue in 2012, that it did not appear in the draft heads of bill or in the Bill itself (making a complete mockery of all the vaunted pre-legislative scrutiny processes mentioned earlier). Or that over 3 days that Department and the Minister were ridiculed by civil society (including us) for relying on a) faulty research to justify fees b) subjected to criticism by several international NGOs c) that the premise for fees being retained was false and d) that the fees were probably illegal. And that the Minister was then forced through sheer embarrassment to withdraw the amendment.

No doubt the Department felt that this amendment could be simply added, and it wouldn’t be noticed. The insertion of that amendment paints a truer picture of the real intentions of mandarins than any press statement or speech by Howlin ever could.

That the Government spent 3 days putting out erroneous (if not outright bogus) press statements, and where Ministers, including the Taoiseach, ridiculed us as essentially “crazies” for attacking the increase in fees also represents a more accurate picture of how this really happened.

Is this an example of “real democratic reform in action”, as Howlin claims?

If you count broken promises and underhanded tactics to undermine the Bill entirely by increasing fees, and then u-turning on that issue when it becomes politically difficult, then yes, it is a perfect example of democratic reform in action.

Posted in Comment | 3 Comments

US State Department Eksund / Libya Cables

These US State Department cables detail US perspectives of Libya as related to Ireland in the mid to late 1980s. They also detail the events around the capture of the Eksund, a ship bound for Ireland carrying arms from Libya, intercepted by the French in 1987.

The document contains cables from US Embassy Dublin, Embassy London, Embassy Paris, Embassy Rome and others. It includes an inventory of the arms found aboard the Eksund.

Posted in FOIs, International | Leave a comment

The damning Drumm opinion

A US judge has found former Anglo Irish Bank CEO “not remotely credible” and denied his bankruptcy application. It is contained in a 122 page opinion, available here:

Posted in Documents | 1 Comment

Jane Doe 1/2/3 and Prince Andrew / Jeffrey Epstein court document

This is the court document causing so much news in the past week. Context here and here.

Buckingham Palace officials have scrambled to quell the growing crisis engulfing Prince Andrew after claims in an American court case that he had “sexual relations” with an underage girl who had been forced into sexual slavery by the multi-millionaire investor Jeffrey Epstein.

The Duke of York returned to Windsor from a new year holiday in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier to face what courtiers described as “lurid and deeply personal” claims detailing his alleged relations over a decade ago with Virginia Roberts.

US court papers filed last week alleged that Roberts, described using the alias Jane Doe #3, was forced to have “sexual relations” with Prince Andrew in London, New York and on Epstein’s private island in the US Virgin Islands during an alleged orgy with other underage girls.

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The Ansbacher Report (Full)

Previously I have published the Ansbacher Report spread over a dozen documents. With the day that’s in it here is the full near 10,000 page report as one downloadable document, which has also been OCRd.

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Department of Finance FOI requests log 2014

Obtained under the new FOI Act: the Department of Finance FOI request log for 2014 (to October).

Posted in FOIs, Logs | Leave a comment

Trichet letter leaked

Good morning. The letter this blog has been pursuing access to since 2011 has finally been published.

We pursued the letter because we believe the Irish public, and indeed the European public, have a fundamental right to access information, and be informed about decisions being made on their behalf. We believe access to information to be a fundamental right guaranteed by the European treaties, the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10) and by UN treaties.

We sought to vindicate those rights by seeking a letter we believed to be of enormous public interest. The public’s right to know is fundamental to functioning democracies. Without access to information, the public lives in darkness. Information is the oxygen of healthy democracies. Governments and public bodies hold a monopoly on information, and this monopoly needs to be challenged – always, tirelessly, and forever.

Gavin Sheridan & Fred Logue.

The original request thread.
Our submission to the EU Ombudsman
The result of our appeal to the Irish Information Commissioner.

Posted in International | 2 Comments

ECB agrees to review Trichet letter release

In light of comments made by ECB Governing Council member Patrick Honohan in the book on Brian Lenihan I recently resubmitted my request for access to the letter that had previously been refused to this blog by ECB President Mario Draghi.

I see today RTE is reporting that MEP Sean Kelly has also been seeking access to the letter.

On October 7, I sent a new access to information request to the ECB, again seeking the letter. We said:

…In a previous appeal to the EU Ombudsman and to Mr Draghi, access
to this document was refused. However new information has now come
to light.

It was reported this week that ECB Governing Council Member Patrick
Honohan has contributed to a book in which he outlines information
related to the contents of the November 19 letter. In the book he

“The Troika staff told Brian in categorical terms that burning the
bondholders would mean no programme and, accordingly, could not be
countenanced,” Dr Honohan writes. “For whatever reason, they waited
until after this showdown to inform me of this decision, which had
apparently been taken at a very high-level teleconference to which
no Irish representative was invited.” –

In light of the fact that an ECB council member has chosen to
publicly express the views being argued by the Troika at that time,
it now appears – given that the eurozone has not collapsed – that
release of the letter is not in fact a threat to the stability of
the eurozone. I can no longer see any reason why it should not be
released immediately in the public interest.

Yours faithfully,

On October 15, the ECB responded. They said:

Dear Mr Sheridan,

As you will be aware, the ECB President mentioned in his communication to
the European Ombudsman in March this year that the Governing Council
made a commitment to re-evaluate the disclosure of the letter dated 19
November 2010 from Mr Trichet to Mr Lenihan at a “more advanced stage of
the post-programme surveillance”. The completion of the so-called
Comprehensive Assessment (CA) exercise by end-October would provide such
an opportunity to review the stance taken to date on the disclosure of
this letter in light of the outcome of the thorough review of the largest
banks’ balance sheets.

Against this backdrop and in view of the fact that the Governing Council
in all likelihood will re-evaluate the disclosure of the above-mentioned
letter in the course of November, I wanted to check with you whether it
would be acceptable for you that we keep your request on hold until
this reassessment has been concluded. Should it turn out, for whatever
reason, that such a re-evaluation could not be feasibly undertaken during
next month, I would, of course, inform you accordingly and we would
proceed with the formal assessment of your request in line with the ECB’s
Decision on public access to ECB documents.

Please let us know if the above is agreeable to you.

Many thanks & best regards,
Roman Schremser
Senior Adviser
DG Secretariat

I responded that I am happy to wait until November 30, 2014. We will see what happens.

Posted in Finance, FOIs, International | 1 Comment