Government jet records of Irish President could be released for the first time following landmark decision

RECORDS of travel aboard the government jet and other state aircraft by the Irish President should be released publicly, according to the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information.

It would be the first time official records relating to Áras an Uachtaráin have been made public under access to information laws.

The Office of the President is (for both questionable and rarely questioned reasons) entirely exempt from Irish Freedom of Information law.

However, that exemption does not apply under different information laws designed for putting information relating to the environment in the public domain.

The Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall decided that the use of VIP air travel arrangements was environmentally significant because of the level of emissions involved in choosing private jets instead of scheduled airlines.

In what could be a landmark decision, Mr Tyndall said for instance that a government jet flight to Brussels from Dublin would generate 2.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide for a journey of just 428 nautical miles.

Mr Tyndall — acting under one of his other hats as Commissioner for Environmental Information — said the Department of Defence was “not justified” in refusing access to information for the Ministerial Air Transport Service.

He said the information relating to officeholders, including the President, was environmental information and that dates and destinations of travel should also be released.

In his decision, which you can read in full below, he said that unless it was appealed to the High Court, the Department should make a new decision.

This request under the AIE laws was originally made in February of 2015 and refused on the basis that the information did not fall under the environmental regulations.

It was also refused on internal review for similar, but slightly more subtle, reasons.

In March 2015, I looked for a review from the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information and his decision issued earlier this week.

In my appeal, I successfully argued that every time a private jet, or a state aircraft is used, instead of a regular flight or indeed a car (for travel within Ireland) – there is a significant cost to the environment.

Use of AIE in Ireland is best known from the successful case that Gavin Sheridan took seeking for Nama to be considered a public body, prior to its inclusion under FOI.

The AIE laws have a number of specific uses and are under-used by journalists:

  • The definition of environmental information should by rights be interpreted very broadly.
  • These requests can sometimes be used to avoid the countless and incredibly broad exemptions that exist within Irish FOI law.
  • They can be used to get access to information relating to public bodies that do not fall under FOI (or only partly under FOI).
  • They also used to be free, when FOI requests cost €15, but that is thankfully no longer an issue.

This decision could for the first time bring the President’s Office under at least some access to information law, so long as it relates to the environment.

This is the type of work we hope to be doing a lot more of at Right To Know in the coming months and years.

The only previous time a record was ever released relating to the Áras was when a bill containing details of a hotel room costing €3,198 for a single night for Mary McAleese was released by accident.

You can read more about that here but the invoice has disappeared from that link so I will endeavour to re-upload it.

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