In 2017, the Department of the Environment issued a tender for a company to review the guidelines for implementation of the AIE [Access to Information on the Environment] Regulations.
The review took place, and the guidelines were at least substantially finished by the end of that year. They have never been published since.
Through Right to Know, we sought a copy of them under the afore-mentioned AIE Regulations last April.
The Department refused the request saying the material was in the course of completion, and that it constituted unfinished documents or data, which were therefore exempt.
We appealed that decision to the Commissioner for Environmental Information.
In submissions, the department made a number of arguments about the risk of releasing draft records, delays over ministerial sign-off of the guidelines, and that it would not be in the public interest.
It emerged at that stage that the department no longer even intended to publish the records, because a separate review of AIE was now underway which meant the guidelines themselves would need another review.
Ultimately, the Commissioner decided in our favour, in a decision that was particularly strong on the public interest.
In the decision, Peter Tyndall wrote: “I do consider that there is a public interest in disclosure of the draft Guidelines in circumstances where they have been in preparation since 2017 and where, according to DECC, a final version of the Guidelines will not be published until revised AIE Regulations are enacted.”
You can read that decision here.
You can see the guidelines for yourself below.