Documents which were denied under FOI by the Department of Justice on the basis they ‘did not exist’ have been unearthed upon review by the Information Commissioner nearly 18 months after the initial request.
The documents relating to former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald correspondence with the Communications Clinic were first requested in March 2017 by RTK Director Ken Foxe.
Foxe had requested the documents as he was aware that in the period between her appointment as Minister for Justice and the end of 2016, Fitzgerald paid the Communications Clinic over €11,000 for public relations advice.
After the Department of Justice failed to respond, RTK requested an internal review in which case the Department claimed no such records existed.
Following a further appeal to the Information Commissioner in June of 2017, 18 months later the IC returned to say such documents do in fact exist.
“In the course of our search queries to the Department, it emerged that certain records were identified by the Department which fell within the scope of your request,” a representative of the Information Commissioner stated.
“Having examined these (most of which relate to speeches prepared for the Minister), it seems to me that the Department should be required to make and notify you of a fresh decision on whether they are exempt or can be released.”
The decision now returns to the department who will decide whether or not the existing documents are exempt under FOI law in which case RTK may again seek a return to the appeals process.
“As I’ve said many times before, poor practice by public bodies in dealing with FOI requests is effectively being rewarded by this unacceptably slow process,” commented Foxe.