Draft conclusions from Right To Know complaint over systematic delays in access to information on the environment requests are published

Two years ago, Right to Know travelled to Geneva for a hearing with the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee on foot of a complaint we made in August 2016.

This related to long systematic delays in dealing with requests made by us – and others – under the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) regulations.

One such case was Right to Know director Gavin Sheridan’s long-standing efforts to have the National Asset Management Agency made subject to AIE requests.

The delays persisted and in many of our cases – including ones relating to Coillte, the Office of the President, the Council of State, the Celtic Roads Group, and a number of government departments – decisions were taking at least a year to be made.

In their draft conclusions, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has found the following.

Image

It is important to say these are only draft conclusions, and it is open to both Right to Know and the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information to make further observations.

You can read the report in full below:

Right to Know takes case over access to lobbying record from business group Ibec

A case taken by Right to Know opened in the High Court earlier this week.

The case concerns access to a submission made to the Department of Transport by the business group Ibec.

Our application had been refused by the Commissioner for Environmental Information on the basis that the record was not environmental information.

Right to Know believes it is. You can read more about it in this article from the Irish Examiner.

Right to Know wins case over access to fees paid as part of the Apple tax case

The Department of Finance has released full details of €8.4 million in payments to lawyers and consultancy firms involved in the Apple tax case.

The release came on foot of advice from the Attorney General and following an FOI request by Right to Know.

The Department ceased publishing details of these payments in April 2019 because of concerns they had that it was in breach of GDPR.

Following our request, the Department sought further legal advice with the Attorney General confirming the information could be published in the interests of transparency and accountability.

You can see the record on DocumentCloud.

Information Commissioner rules that release of pensions paid to former Ministers, Taoisigh, and Presidents would be “significant breach” of privacy

The Information Commissioner has decided that release of the individual details of pensions paid to former Ministers, Taoisigh, and Presidents would involve a “significant breach” of their privacy.

The details had been published as a matter of routine by the Department of Finance for many years.

However, they ceased this practice in 2016 believing it was no longer possible following the introduction of GDPR.

Right to Know sought the information under FOI, and appealed the case to the Information Commissioner.

The Office of the Information Commissioner upheld the decision however, resulting in a reversal of more than a decade of transparency surrounding these pension payments.

You can read the decision in full at the following link.

Right To Know and Public.Resource.Org initiate legal action against the European Commission

Today, Right To Know – in collaboration with US access to information NGO Public.Resource.Org (“Public Resource”) – announced they have initiated legal action against the European Commission at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

Right To Know and Public Resource are seeking from the European Commission access to descriptions of certain technical standards agreed by the European Committee for Standardisation (Comité Européen de Normalisation) or “CEN“.

We sought technical public safety standards with the force of law that include the safety of toys, including children’s chemical sets and and those relating to the chemicals present in products such as finger paint.

Late last year, we sought access to these standards via a request under Regulation 1049/2001 (containing Aarhus Convention related amendments). The European Commission refused access to these standards at both the first juncture and after a confirmatory appeal.

Our legal action at the General Court seeks to annul this decision of the Commission to refuse access to these standards.

It is the view of both Right To Know and Public Resource that harmonised technical standards form part of EU law and should therefore be available to any EU citizen – without restriction.

We rely in particular on the decision of the Court of Justice in James Elliott Construction (C-613/14) that “a harmonised standard … and the references to which have been published in the Official Journal of the European Union, forms part of EU law”.

Right To Know Director Gavin Sheridan said: “We believe all EU citizens have a right to access and read all EU law. EU law includes harmonised technical standards – and those technical standards include the safety of toys.”

“We are pleased to be working with Public Resource and its founder Carl Malamud who has a very long and admirable record in working on access to information rights globally.”

“We are both perplexed as to why EU citizens – including parents – are unable to read the standards imposed on toy manufacturers concerning the levels of chemicals to which their children might be exposed. It seems odd to us that EU citizens must currently pay for access to this information – it should be available for free and without restriction on re-use, or dissemination.”

Public Resource and Right To Know are represented by Morrison Foerster in Berlin, Germany and by FP Logue solicitors in Dublin, Ireland.  

Public Resource is a not-for-profit public charity established in the United States to make government information more broadly available to citizens and to help make governments use the Internet more effectively.

Right To Know is a not-for-profit company established in Ireland that seeks to vindicate the rights of citizens to access information, as part of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression.