Saturday 8 August 2009

Call for release of secret files on dumping

THE DEPARTMENT of the Environment has been criticised by the office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information, Emily O’Reilly, for refusing to disclose information on waste licensing, planning and illegal dumping in Wicklow.

Ms O’Reilly’s office also expressed concern that “a relevant file” was discovered to be missing only after her office sought a copy.

The role of the Commissioner for Environmental Information is similar to that of the Commissioner for Freedom of Information, and both commissionerships are occupied by Ms O’Reilly.

The criticisms were contained in a summary of “preliminary views” sent by Ms O’Reilly’s environmental information office to Wicklow county councillor Tommy Cullen in June.

Mr Cullen had sought access to documents from the Department of Environment relating to illegal dumping in Wicklow, the issuing of a waste licence for lands at Ballybeg, Rathnew, and the making of the Baltinglass town plan.

According to the “preliminary views” seen by The Irish Times, the commissioner’s office recommended that 45 of 50 records withheld by the Department should be released.

Ms O’Reilly’s office also said it was “disappointing” that while the initial request was made by Mr Cullen in July 2008, and the office had sought copies of records in November of that year, “further relevant records were being identified as late as April 2009”.

The commissioner’s office was also critical that one file, a local government audit service review of the circumstances surrounding the issue of a waste permit for lands at Ballybeg, “has been misplaced and has not been located after extensive searches”.

The office expressed concern that while the Department was aware of the file, it had only discovered it was missing when the commissioner requested a copy.

The audit service review related to complaints about Wicklow County Council’s handling of the Ballybeg waste licence application.

The commissioner’s office also expressed concern that the Department “at no point” appeared to have addressed “the public interest” in the records. It said it appeared “there is considerable public interest in information being released about illegal dumping and planning matters in Co Wicklow”.

The identification of additional files after the commissioner’s office became involved “calls into question efforts made by the department to fully identify all relevant information at the outset”.

The office also found that many of the records relating to the making of the Baltinglass town plan were factual in nature and should be released.

However, it said that while Mr Cullen “may be of the view that further records should exist, this does not necessarily mean that such records do exist”.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said considerable work had been done in identifying records. The missing file was itself an audit of other files that had been found.

Irish Times

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