Department told to release details of jet use by Higgins, McAleese

Right to Know group sought material under Access to Information on the Environment regulations

The Information Commissioner has ruled that details on the  use of the government jet by President Michael D. Higgins (centre) and his predecessor Mary McAleese (left) should be released.  File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

The Information Commissioner has ruled that details on the use of the government jet by President Michael D. Higgins (centre) and his predecessor Mary McAleese (left) should be released. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

 

Information about the use of the government jet by President Michael D. Higgins and his predecessor Mary McAleese should be released, the Information Commissioner has ruled.

The Department of Defence, which had opposed the release of the information to the campaign group Right to Know, has two months to decide whether or not to challenge the decision, or to make the records public.

A number of records were sought by Right to Know including the use of the jet over nearly two decades from 1997.

The original request was made in 2016 under the Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) regulations. AIE is similar in operation to the Freedom of Information (FoI) Acts and Peter Tyndall is the Commissioner for Environmental Information as well as Ombudsman and Information Commissioner.

Among the reasons cited by the department in opposing the release of the records was that they were the personal records of Ms McAleese and Mr Higgins, and that disclosing them could present a threat to national security.

Right to Know claimed the department regularly published similar information about ministerial flights and did not consider these as raising security issues. The group said some of the information was almost 20-years-old and related to a president who was no longer in office.

The commissioner noted that while the office of president has immunity to FoI requests, AIE regulations do not provide for such an exclusion.

Any person affected by the decision in the case may appeal to the High Court on a point of law. Such an appeal must be initiated within two months.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Defence said “the decision in this recent case is under consideration by the department”.