Court permits Ditch publisher to challenge local councils’ maintenance of staff ethics registers

Proceedings brought against Wicklow and Donegal County Councils alleging they erred in constructions of 2001 Local Government Act

The High Court has granted the publishers of the Ditch permission to bring proceedings against two local authorities it claims have failed to maintain their staff ethics registers.

Ditch Media Limited has brought judicial review proceedings against Wicklow and Donegal County Councils alleging they erred in their constructions of the 2001 Local Government Act regarding their public register of interests of the councils’ employees.

The two actions are also against both local authorities’ ethics registrars.

Seeking the order, the media company claims that last November it sought electronic copies of the councils’ public register of interests of their employees.


It claims that in reply Wicklow County Council said that the register, which consisted of two Lever arch files, was available for public inspection at its offices.

It is claimed that Wicklow Council offered to provide the Ditch with a hard copy of the register for €152.94, excluding postage.

The applicant company claims that in its reply to the media company, Donegal County Council said its register was available to view at its offices, by appointment, as it was not computerised.

Donegal Co Council said that the register consisted of hundreds of records contained in 5 lever arch files.

It offered to furnish and post copies of the records to the Ditch for €375.

Ditch Media Limited director Roman Shortall said in affidavits to the court that the councils are not maintaining proper ethics registers, as they are mandated to do under the 2001 Act.

He said that the registers should be made available to the public.

In comparison, he said, other councils, including Mayo and Clare county councils provided the Ditch with copies of their ethics registers by electronic means and free of charge.

Mr Shortall who contests the costs cited by the councils for the provision of copies of the registers and are unreasonable.

He also said that the registers, which contain information of public interest, have been unlawfully withheld by the councils.

The councils, Mr Shortall also argues have relied on reasons for their positions regarding the resisters that are unsatisfactory and beyond their public remit.

Represented in both actions by Michael Conlon SC and Stephanie Lawless BL, instructed by Abbey Law Solicitors, the applicant seeks various declarations from the courts including that the local authorities have erred in their interpretation of what a register is.

The also seeks declarations that the councils have erred in their construction of the 2001 Act, and that monetary charges cited by the councils are unlawful and disproportionate.

The two actions came before Ms Justice Niamh Hyland on Monday.

The judge on an ex parte basis (only one side represented) granted the applicant permission to bring their proceedings.

Both cases will return before the courts next month.