The Information Commissioner has denied an application to release information on the identities of former members of the Oireachtas who had Dáil bar/restaurant bills written off.
The original request was made under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 by Right to Know director Ken Foxe. It asked for a breakdown of bar/restaurant debt that was written off earlier in 2017, including the name of the person/organisation who owed the money along with the amount.
The FOI was initially part-granted listing a breakdown of the amounts owed, however the identities of individual former members who owed debts to the Dail bar were withheld.
Public Interest vs Privacy Rights
After an initial internal review was upheld, Foxe sought a review with the Information Commissioner as to whether the Service was justified in refusing access to the identities of those former members under ‘section 37’.
Section 37(1) provides for the mandatory refusal of a request where the public body considers that access to the record sought would involve the disclosure of personal information relating to an individual other than the requester.
Foxe argued that the “public interest in ensuring accountability for the use of public funds would be best served by releasing the names of the members as it would make it more likely that attempts would be made to pay the money back and make it less likely that such debts would be run up in the future”.
The Oireachtas, in its submission, stated that “the debts were incurred by the members concerned in a private capacity and were deemed payable by them in a private capacity” and that “release of the identities of the former members could unfairly and perhaps irreversibly affect the good name of innocent individuals”.
They added that there was evidence that the records of debt were unreliable as the “service itself had failed to properly record” whether those debts had been paid off.
The Information Commissioner ruled in favour of the refusal, judging that the public interest had been served to a sufficient degree by the previous release of information and that the public interest in revealing the identities of former members was not “sufficiently strong, on balance, to outweigh the privacy rights of the members concerned, given their debts were incurred in a private capacity”.
Read the decision, in full, below.