College information compliance found to be “wholly unsatisfactory” and “disingenuous”

An independent review considered that College “failed to engage in a manner appropriate for a body which has been subject to FOI for many years”

An independent review last month found College’s information compliance to be “wholly unsatisfactory” and “disingenuous”.

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) determined that College failed to engage appropriately with a request made under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2014 as well as a subsequent review of its decision to deny the request.

The review noted that “the manner in which TCD dealt with the applicant’s request and, indeed, the manner in which it engaged with this Office during the review, was wholly unsatisfactory”.

FOI bodies, or bodies obliged to provide information requested under the FOI Act, are required to present a list of records which may be relevant to an applicant’s request and to provide this list to the applicant prior to a decision about whether access may be granted.

According to the review report, “neither the original decision nor the internal review decision complied with best practice” as College failed to provide this list of relevant records.

Senior investigator Stephen Rafferty noted in the report: “I would remind TCD of its obligations on this point.”

The report continues: “In addition, I consider that in its interactions with this Office, TCD failed to engage in a manner which I consider appropriate for a body which has been subject to FOI for many years. Despite repeated queries by the Investigator in this case, TCD consistently sought to avoid providing answers to direct queries and, when it finally did so, provided somewhat disingenuous responses.”

“TCD is well aware of the obligations imposed by the FOI Act and the particular functions of this Office and I expect it to revisit its procedures for engagement with this Office.”

The original request made under the FOI Act sought access to documents of a meeting of College’s Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees in 2019 in which “a named individual” was nominated.

It has since been revealed that the committee rejected the nomination of the Dalai Lama for an honorary degree after Chancellor Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, raised concerns about backlash from the Chinese government.

According to the Sunday Independent, this occurred at a meeting of the advisory committee held on 16 December 2019.

Other recent FOI requests made to College have revealed over €2.5m in investments in the armaments industry, and ties to Israeli organisations boycotted by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

In June, a separate review by the OIC determined that College was not justified in refusing access to records relating to the closure of the Science Gallery, and ordered for these to be released to the applicant, a reporter from the Sunday Independent.

David Wolfe

David Wolfe is a Junior Sophister student of History and Political Science. He is the current Social Media and Managing Editor of Trinity News, having previously served as News Editor, Assistant News Editor and copyeditor.