Readers will recall that back in January, when snow ground the country to a halt, our Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey was on holidays in Malta. Speaking later into the week of his holiday, Mr Dempsey claimed he was in constant communication with the Department. I submitted an FOI request for the following, on January 11, 2010.
1) Any and all communications between the Department and the Minister (and vice versa) from January 4, 2010 to January 10, 2010, inclusive. This may take the form of emails or notes of phone calls, or any other form of communication.
2) A log of all non-personal phonecalls made from the mobile phone of the Minister between January 4, 2010 and January 10, 2010, inclusive.
3) A log of all calls made to the mobile phone of the Minister from the Department between January 4, 2010 and January 10, 2010, inclusive.
4) The Minister’s diary between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009, inclusive.
5) The FOI requests log for the Department from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2009, inclusive.
6) The ministerial portfolio given to the Minister upon his becoming Minister for Transport in June 2007.
Let me make one thing clear from here, before I outline the saga of getting this information. If I were a cynic I would speculate that there was political interference with this request. It is not unknown for this to happen with FOI requests.
I submitted the request on January 11. The Department, upon receipt, has 20 working days in which to make a decision and issue the records. This meant I could expect to receive a reply by late February, at the very latest.
On March 4, 2010, I emailed the FOI officer, asking as to the status of the request. I pointed out that the 20 day limit had passed, and that technically the request was now a deemed refusal, and I was now entitled to an internal review, though I did not invoke Section 42 (internal reviews can take 3 weeks). I received an out of office reply, and that the FOI officer would return on March 5. I waited.
On March 8, 2010, I again emailed the FOI officer, CCing another person in the Department. I again sought information on the status of the request. I received a reply that it was being checked. I received no further reply.
On March 16, 2010, I again emailed the FOI officer, seeking the status of my request. I received a reply that the Deciding Officer who was supposed to handle my request, was on leave. It was stated that the Department regretted the inconvenience. I received no further communication.
On March 24, 2010, I again emailed the FOI officer and the Deciding Officer, seeking the status of my request. I received no reply. Later that week I called the FOI officer, and sought again to have my request actioned. I was again promised that it would be issued. I waited.
On April 19, 2010, I emailed the FOI officer. 14 weeks had passed since my request was submitted. I informed the Department that if I did not receive a reply by the end of the week, I would be seeking an internal review under Section 42, due to deemed refusal. I received a reply, committing the Department to release by the end of the week, along with an apology for the delay.
I waited until the following Monday April 26, and had still not received a reply or the records in question. I therefore sought an internal review due to deemed refusal. I then received an email saying the documents had been posted.
By Wednesday April 28, I had not received documents by post, and therefore sought them electronically. I received them late in the day on April 28. However there are a number of issues with the issued documents, and the time elapsed, and I have now sought an internal review under Section 42.
15 weeks and 4 days from submission to release. That’s almost a full quarter of a year. The Department offered no explanation as to why it took so long to release. I will publish the documents I received shortly.