A&B c/o XYZ Solicitors and Department of Education

CourtInformation Commission
JudgeSenior Investigator
Judgment Date07 Apr 2021
Case OutcomeThe Senior Investigator found that the refusal of the request was not based on any appropriate provision of the FOI Act. He annulled the Department's decision and directed it to undertake a fresh decision-making process on the applicant's request.
Record NumberOIC-104666-K4P6H1
RespondentDepartment of Education
Whether the Department was justified in refusing the applicant’s request for records relating to primary and post primary education facilities in the Stillorgan Industrial Estate/Benildus Avenue area

7 April 2021

Background

In July 2017, this Office issued a decision in Case 170125 in which it affirmed the decision of the then Department of Education and Skills to refuse the applicant’s request for records relating to the designation by the Council of sites for primary and post-primary education facilities, as set out in the Sandyford Urban Framework Plan 2011-2016 and the Dún Laoghaire Development Plan 2016-2022 on the ground that they were exempt from release under section 30(1)(c) (negotiations of public bodies). The decision noted that the applicant owned land within the Council's functional area and that in 2011, some time after he purchased the land, it was designated for educational purposes by the Council.

On 27 November 2020 the same applicant, through its legal representatives, made a three-part FOI request to the Department for;

  1. The records identified by the Department in the request that was the subject of the review in Case 170125,
  2. all records created after 4 May 2016 that evidence the need to provide for primary and post-primary education facilities at Stillorgan Industrial Estate/Benildus Avenue and the Legionaries of Christ lands; and
  3. all records created after 4 May 2016 in connection with or which relate to the provision and/or acquisition of sites in the area of the Sandyford Urban Framework Plan for primary and post-primary education facilities.

With regard to parts (b) and (c) the applicant provided an eight-part list of examples of the categories of records sought.

In the course of correspondence with this Office, the Department indicated that its officials had met remotely with the applicant on 21 December 2020 to better understand the scope of the request and see if the applicant could narrow the scope of its request or deal with the matter outside of the FOI framework.

It appears that the following day, the Department wrote to the applicant seeking an extension of time under section 14(1) of the FOI Act to complete the review, the reason given being that “the majority of the information requested is located on hardcopy files in the office, and is therefore difficult to access due to COVID-19 restrictions which are forcing staff to work remotely”. It indicated that a decision would issue by 26 January 2021.

On 22 January 2021 the Department informed the applicant by email that due to the restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic...

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