The Transparency Manifesto: Right to Know publishes discussion document ahead of government review of the Freedom of Information Act

Back in June, Minister Michael McGrath promised that a review of the Freedom of Information Act was to take place.

Given added impetus by the fallout from the controversy over deletion of records during ‘Zapponegate’, this review has now been brought before Cabinet.

Right to Know is publishing this discussion document on some of the areas we believe are most in need of reform.

We do this because of our concerns about any review of information access that would be driven primarily by public bodies themselves and poorly informed ‘cost of FOI’ concerns.

This happened in 2003 and resulted in the gutting of the FOI Act and the introduction of €15 ‘up-front’ fees for requests.

The number of requests being made each year was effectively halved as a result; other restrictions were also introduced.

The abolition of the up-front fee in 2014 by then Minister Brendan Howlin helped restore the act closer to its original form.

Yet problems persist in how FOI operates in Ireland, with widespread non-declaration of records and some public bodies repeatedly failing to meet their obligations.

This is a working document. It is based on our experience as users of the act, and the many emails and messages we receive from the public and the media about their own experiences.

Not everything in it will be possible; there are other problems that we may not have identified here.

It is published to help inform the debate on what kind of Freedom of Information Act Ireland should have … from the perspective of those who make requests.

Right to Know launches new Patreon account as our latest information access case is heard in the High Court

Throughout this week, Right to Know will be in the High Court for an historic case seeking access to records from the Council of State.

It’s just our latest case as we seek to enhance the right of citizens to access information about how Ireland works.

We are also launching our new Patreon account to give our supporters a new way of contributing to our work.

With many Patreon accounts, different levels of support mean different levels of access.

With Right to Know, access will remain equal whether you support us or not as we pursue our goals of transparency through requesting information, publishing documents, and making appeals.

Since our small not-for-profit was launched five years ago, we have made thousands of requests for information and made dozens and dozens of appeals.

In the past year alone, these have been some of our achievements:

  • We won a case to make a wind farm operator subject to Access to Information on the Environment requests.
  • We published inspection reports from meat processing plants during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are also fighting to have their names disclosed.
  • Our complaint to the UN’s Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee on systematic delays in dealing with AIE requests was upheld. The government has now begun a public consultation process on how to improve the operation of those regulations.
  • We were the first to make available postal code-level data on Covid-19 infections and deaths as part of our efforts to secure greater transparency around coronavirus; not long after, the HSE began publishing more granular detail.
  • Our director Gavin Sheridan won a key case forcing public bodies to give detailed reasons for why information should not be disclosed in the eNet case.
  • We won a case on publication of a report by the Data Protection Commissioner on the use of CCTV by a local authority.
  • We have made available tens of thousands of pages of records on every issue imaginable, all of which you can read on our publishing website 

We can only do this work with your help. Even if you’re not in position to sign up for our Patreon subscription, you can still help by spreading the word about Right to Know to your family and friends.

Thanks for your continuing support!

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.


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.