Right to Know wins case over access to Department of Health records on AstraZeneca vaccine supply issues

The Information Commissioner has directed release of records held by the Department of Health about the supply of AstraZeneca vaccines to Ireland.

The early months of the vaccination rollout in the EU were dogged by delays and supply issues, which culminated in high-profile legal action against the company.

The Department of Health mishandled the request for records at both initial request and internal review, and it was a “deemed refusal” at both these stages.

The department claimed the records were exempt under Section 30 and Section 36 of the FOI Act without ever providing any detailed reasons for why this was so.

During the review process, AstraZeneca also objected to release of certain information contained in the records.

However, the Information Commissioner found that the information had been the subject of considerable public controversy, and that some of it was already in the public domain.

The case highlights a significant failing in FOI in Ireland where reviews are not concluded until over twelve months have passed.

It means that even in cases where requesters are fully successful, the information can almost be historic by the time it is released.

These records were of significant public interest when they were first sought early last year.

However, with the passage of time, that has inevitably declined and what requesters are often left with are pyrrhic victories.

The failures identified in the original handling of the request, and the incorrect decision made by the department, are not the subject of any sanction, or instruction to do better.

And there is nothing that will stop the public body involved continuing these long-standing poor practices well into the future.