Court documents in MCENR vs Information Commissioner & (eNet / Gavin Sheridan)

Given the publicity surrounding the National Broadband Plan in recent days it’s worth returning to the original National Broadband Plan from the early 00s – the Metropolitan Area Networks. These were fibre rings built at significant cost to the EU and the State around dozens of rural towns in Ireland. When it came to awarding a contract to operate and market these fibre rings, eNet in Limerick secured the first contract in a competitive tender process, which was also renewed in the next tender (one tenderer applied) . It was then renewed again to 2030 in 2017, by the Minister, without a tendering process at all.

I asked for the contract/concession agreement between eNet and the Department, and they refused to release it, going against a long held position of the Information Commissioner that once a contract is awarded and public money is involved, the public has a right to know about the contract/agreement itself.

We publish below the public court documents in relation to the High Court appeal that the Department ultimately lost and has now appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Information Commissioner opposed the Department in the High Court. I also opposed the Department as Notice Party, represented by FP Logue Solicitors and John Kenny BL.

Before starting, read the Information Commissioner decision that started the whole thing. It gives the background on what I asked for. This was the decision that was appealed to the High Court by the Department/Minister for Communications.

Now the court documents:

First is the outline legal submission of the Department: filed in February 2017. It contains 90 paragraphs of argument that the Information Commissioner had erred in law by deciding that the concession agreement for the most part should be released (despite the contract being commercially sensitive – the public interest is in it being released, argued the Commissioner).

Second is the Information Commissioner’s position, opposing the views of the Department.

Third is the Affidavit of eNet, by Finance Director Braonan Gardiner, generally supporting the position of the Department. eNet, unlike us, did not participate in the proceedings (so didn’t hire a solicitor or barrister). And as the judge noted “enet did not participate in this appeal other than by way of submitting an affidavit which was filed by the Minister on his own behalf.”

Fourth is our legal submission, opposing the views of the Department.

Taking into account these documents, and arguments before the court, Judge Noonan ruled against the Department.

The Department has appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeal, which is due for hearing in February 2019.