Journalist Ken Foxe, former Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and PR advisor Terry Prone, of the Communications Clinic
Journalist, lecturer, founder of investigative news site Noteworthy and Right To Know Ken Foxe has given his latest update on his attempts to obtain correspondence between the former Minister for Justice and current MEP candidate Frances Fitzgerald and PR advisor with the Communications Clinic Terry Prone between May 8, 2014 and March 11, 2017.
Mr Foxe was originally told by the Department of Justice that no such records existed – even though it was already on public record that Ms Fitzgerald paid the Communications Clinic, via a special secretarial allowance, more than €11,000 between the date she became minister [May 8, 2014] and the end of 2016.
The claim also contradicted evidence put before the Disclosures Tribunal last year of written/email communications between Ms Prone and Ms Fitzgerald during the relevant time of Mr Foxe’s request.
Mr Foxe appealed the decision of the Department of Justice and the Office of the Information Commissioner went on to discover 68 such records of correspondence between May 8, 2014 and March 11, 2017.
Separately, Mr Foxe has also had a frustrating time securing correspondence between Ms Prone and the former Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan – whom Ms Prone was also advising between 2014 and 2017.
The Disclosures Tribunal saw how statements or draft speeches were written with the help of Ms Prone by Ms O’Sullivan for Ms Fitzgerald concerning issues about Ms O’Sullivan.
Mr Justice Peter Charleton described this sequence of events worthy of Myles na Gopaleen’s satire.
In his latest update, Mr Foxe explains that the Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall has since told him that the department has told him it has checked mobile devices for phone messages or emails which may have fallen within his FOI request and that the only individuals who may have had such contact with Ms Prone or the Communications Clinic via said phones was Ms Fitzgerald and a “named special adviser”.
Mr Tyndall told Mr Foxe:
“The department stated that its ICT division confirmed that the special adviser’s phone was reset, wiped of data and recirculated to another person in 2017.”
Mr Foxe was also told this is “standard practice when a staff member who has use of an ‘official’ phone leaves the department”.
And he was further informed:
“The department said that a phone that had been used at that time by the former minister was returned to her for checking and that she subsequently advised that no additional records covered by the request were identified on that device.”
Finally, Mr Tyndall told Mr Foxe that he has accepted the department’s account of how it went about securing any records and “its position that no further records were found”.
“I have no reason to dispute the assurances of those involved that they do not hold further records. I accept that the original searches in response to the applicant’s [Mr Foxe] request of 11 March 2017 did not, for reasons explained by the Department, find records that subsequently came to light in its further searches. However, this, of itself, does not entitle me to find that all reasonable steps have not been taken to ascertain the whereabouts of records falling within the scope of the request.”
Mr Foxe writes about his latest update in more detail below…
As reported in last weekend’s Sunday Times...
A job advertisement for the role of “Head of Transparency” at the Department of Justice on publicjobs.ie.