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Mr X and Wicklow County Council (FOI 2014 Act)

Case Number: 160268

Whether the Council was justified in refusing the applicant's request for all records from 1 August 2004 to the date of his request relating to the facilities existing or to be provided for commercial fishermen at Greystones Harbour on the ground that the work involved in responding to the request would cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with its work

Conducted in accordance with section 22(2) of the FOI Act by Stephen Rafferty, Senior Investigator, who is authorised by the Information Commissioner to conduct this review

Background

On 18 March 2016 the applicant submitted a request to the Council for all records relating to the facilities existing or to be provided for commercial fishermen at Greystones Harbour from 1 August 2004 to date. On 8 April 2016 the Council refused the applicant's request under section 15(1)(d) of the FOI Act, on the basis that the information requested by the applicant is in the public domain as it is contained in an Environmental Impact Statement submitted to An Bord Pleanala in December 2005.

On 4 May 2016 the applicant sought an internal review of the Council's decision on the ground that the full information requested was not contained in the Environmental Impact Statement. In its internal review decision of 30 May 2016, the Council varied its original decision and refused access to the requested records under section 15(1)(c) of the FOI Act. The applicant applied to this Office for a review of the Council's decision on 20 June 2016.

In conducting this review I have had regard to the correspondence between the applicant and the Council as outlined above and to the correspondence between this Office and both the applicant and the Council.

Scope of the Review

This review is concerned with whether or not the Council was justified in its decision to refuse access to all records relating to the facilities existing or to be provided for commercial fishermen at Greystones Harbour from 1 August 2004 to the date of the applicant's request, under section 15(1)(c) of the FOI Act, on the ground that the work involved in responding to the request would cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with the work of the Council.

 

Analysis and Findings

Section 15(1)(c) of the FOI Act permits an FOI body to refuse a request for records where the body considers that granting the request would, by reason of the number or nature of the records concerned or the nature of the information concerned, require the retrieval and examination of such number of records or an examination of such kind of the records concerned as to cause a substantial and unreasonable interference with or disruption of work (including disruption of work in a particular functional area) of the body.

However, section 15(4) provides that a body is not entitled to refuse a request under section 15(1)(c) unless it has assisted or offered to assist the requester to amend the request so that it no longer falls within the parameters of section 15(1)(c). The Council has confirmed to this Office that it made no effort under section 15(4) to assist or offer assistance to the applicant to amend his request. It is therefore clear that the Council failed to comply with the provisions of section 15(4).

In the circumstances, as the Council did not provide assistance or offer assistance to the applicant in accordance with section 15(4), I find that it was not justified in its decision to refuse the request under section 15(1)(c).

Accordingly, I deem it appropriate to annul the decision of the Council and to direct it to make a fresh, first instance, decision in respect of the applicant's request, in accordance with the provisions of the FOI Act. In making that decision, if the Council wishes to rely on section 15(1)(c), it must have regard to its obligations under section 15(4).

Decision

Having carried out a review under section 22(2) of the FOI Act 2014, I hereby annul the decision of the Council in this case. I direct the Council to undertake a fresh decision-making process in respect of the request, as set out above, and to inform the applicant of the outcome of its decision, in accordance with section 13 of the FOI Act.

Right of Appeal

Section 24 of the FOI Act sets out detailed provisions for an appeal to the High Court by a party to a review, or any other person affected by the decision. In summary, such an appeal, normally on a point of law, must be initiated not later than four weeks after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.

 

Stephen Rafferty
Senior Investigator