Ensuring Access to Environmental Information
The role of the Commissioner for Environmental Information is to decide on appeals by members of the public who are not satisfied with the outcome of their requests to public authorities for environmental information.
Everyone has the right to request certain environmental information from public authorities under the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2014 (the AIE Regulations). These Regulations give effect in Ireland to Directive 2003/4/EC, which was adopted to give effect to the Access to Information pillar of the Aarhus Convention.
The Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information (OCEI) was established by the Access to Information on the Environment Regulations 2007. The role of the Commissioner is to decide on appeals by members of the public who are not satisfied with the outcome of their requests to public authorities for environmental information.
Specifically, the Regulations provide that the Commissioner can review decisions of public authorities, and in accordance with law, the Commissioner can make binding decisions on access to environmental information.
The Regulations provide for a fee of €50 (reduced to €15 for medical card holders) to be paid by those wishing to appeal. Before the OCEI can accept an appeal, the appellant must show that he or she has availed of the right to internal review of the public authority's decision.
A consolidated version of the AIE Regulations and Directive 2003/4/EC, along with a guidance note on the Access to Information on the Environment system, are available on the website of the Department of the Environment, Community & Local Government.
In accordance with article 12(5) of the Regulations, the Commissioner reviewed RTÉ's decision on the appellant's request. He found that RTÉ's letter of 20 January 2016 constituted a refusal of the appellant's request, and that the appellant's subsequent internal review request was in accordance with article 11 and was not premature. Notwithstanding this, the Commissioner found that refusal of the appellant's request was justified under article 9(2)(a), as the request was manifestly unreasonable having regard to the volume and range of information sought. He considered the public interest test under article 10(3) and found that the public interest in disclosure of information did not outweigh the interests served by refusal in this case.24 Apr 2017
The Commissioner found that the Council was not justified in refusing the request for the reason given. However, he accepted that the Council later established that it does not hold any environmental information of interest to the appellant. Accordingly, he affirmed the refusal decision, while varying the ground of justification to “information not held”. 13 Apr 2017
In accordance with article 12(5) of the Regulations, the Commissioner reviewed the Council's internal review decision on the appellant's request. The Commissioner found that the Council was not justified in applying the ground for refusal under article 9(2)(d). He found that article 10(1) applied to information held by the Council concerning the time and location of the incident, and the composition of chemicals emitted from the Smithstown facility. He found that the grounds for refusal concerning personal information and the interests of third parties under articles 8(a)(i) and (ii) do not apply in this case, since the appellant consented to the redaction of information identifying fire brigade staff and persons who contacted the emergency services.
Under article 12(5)(c) of the AIE Regulations, the Commissioner required the Council to make three incident reports available to the appellant, subject to the removal from the reports of names of individual fire brigade staff, and subject to the removal of names and contact details of persons who contacted the emergency services in connection with the Smithstown incident.12 Apr 2017
In accordance with article 12(5) of the Regulations, the Commissioner reviewed the Council's decision on the appellant's request. The Commissioner was satisfied that the Council disclosed all relevant information to the appellant at internal review stage. He therefore affirmed the decision of the Council12 Apr 2017