The Meeting Took Place But Never Happened

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From top: Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe; Ken Foxe

 

Ken Foxe writes:

Some time ago, a group of eight junior ministers went complaining to Minister Paschal Donohoe that the expenses they are paid are not enough and asked him to do something about it.

Naturally, I submitted an FOI request for records related to this meeting and its outcome:

At first, the Dept of Public Expenditure (the department responsible for FOI in Ireland!) did not even answer the request.

I sought an internal review on the basis this was a “deemed refusal”. The Department eventually responded to say they held no records relating to the meeting.

I appealed the decision to the Information Commissioner. It was hard to believe that a meeting could take place between a Minister & eight Ministers of State & not a scrap of paper exist relating to it.

In particular, I asked if records might be held on phones or in private emails

The Department said they had searched all their internal emails. They’d asked officials if they held records.

They claimed it was an “informal meeting” that happened “on the margins of another meeting”. Therefore, there wasn’t a single record about it

They said it was on the record that Minister Donohoe does not use “private email accounts”. And the department said searches of such accounts could not be required under the FOI Act….

And more bizarre again, the Information Commissioner agreed that there was no reason to ask the minister if he had held any records

They said that in a previous similar case (Terry Prone/Frances Fitzgerald) I had been able to provide documentary evidence that such records existed on phones & in private email accounts. I didn’t have evidence this time. How on earth would I?

The Information Commissioner agreed with the department decision to refuse the request on the basis that no records existed….

…And there you have it, Minister Donohoe can be lobbied by eight of his colleagues to increase their expense payments and not a single record of this meeting exist.

The meeting is a shadow. Worse, this involves the department who are responsible for oversight of our FOI laws …

… worse again, the Information Commissioner believes it is up to the requester to provide evidence that such records exist. This is clearly impossible given requesters have no access to the relevant records and that is why they are making an FOI request in the first place …

… and worse again, the Information Commissioner believes it would be unreasonable to even ask the minister the question of whether he held/holds records relating to this meeting on his mobile phone or in his private email address.

And presumably we are expected to believethat this lobbying happened as if by magic. Nine government ministers sitting down having a discussion about their expenses on the “margins” of another meeting.

And the minister responsible did not take even a single note of it.

Right To Know

Ken Foxe

6 thoughts on “The Meeting Took Place But Never Happened

  1. Joe Small

    Ken Foxe has done some quality digging on FOI over the years but I don’t buy his phony shock over the lack of written records of a meeting of a bunch of senior politicians from the same political party. I don’t believe he’s that naïve. minister’s tend not to take minutes anyway – civil servants do and it seems none were present. A PQ to the relevant minister might be a better route.

  2. V

    Take yere pick lads;

    Seán Kyne TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands, and Government Chief Whip
    Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Higher Education
    Paul Kehoe TD Minister with Responsibility for Defence
    Finian McGrath Minister of State with special responsibility for Disability Issues
    Ciarán Cannon TD Minister of State with special responsibility for the Diaspora and International Development
    Damien English Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Urban Development
    David Stanton TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration
    Pat Breen Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection
    Catherine Byrne TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy
    Andrew Doyle TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Food, Forestry and Horticulture
    John Halligan TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development
    Patrick O’Donovan TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Procurement, Open Government and eGovernment
    Helen McEntee TD Minister of State for European Affairs
    Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran TD Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief
    John Paul Phelan Minister of State with special responsibility for Local Government and Electoral Reform
    Jim Daly TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Mental Health and Older People
    Brendan Griffin TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Tourism and Sport
    Michael D’Arcy TD Minister of State with special responsibility for Financial Services and Insurance
    Seán Canney TD Minister of State for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development

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