Case number: 99602
Request for records relating to whether or not named individuals applied for Irish citizenship - whether the names of individuals who applied for Irish citizenship are personal information - sections 2 and 28 - public interest
Mr X applied to the Department for records relating to whether or not named individuals applied for Irish citizenship and the outcome of their applications. The Department refused access under section 28(1).
The Commissioner found that information as to whether particular individuals made an application for citizenship was personal information, as it was information which "in the ordinary course of events" would only be known to the friends or family of the individual and that it was information treated as confidential by the Department.
In addressing the public interest arguments in favour of release the Commissioner noted that the names and addresses of persons who acquire Irish citizenship are published in Iris Oifigiuil.
Our Reference: 99602
Dear Mr X
I refer to your application for a review of the decision of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to refuse you access to records under the Freedom of Information Act relating to whether Mr A or Mr B applied for Irish Citizenship, whether their applications were successful or the current status of their applications. I apologise for the delay in dealing with your application.
I have now completed my review of the Department's decision. In carrying out that review I have had regard to the Department's view on the matter and your correspondence with my Office.
I note that on the 13 September 2000 Mr Dave Nutley, Investigator, wrote to you outlining his preliminary view on the Department's decision and requesting any further views you may have. Having considered your comments I have decided to conclude my review by issuing a formal decision.
My review is concerned solely with the question of whether you are entitled to be told whether the particular individuals named by you have made applications for citizenship and, if so, the status of their applications. Findings
The Department has refused you access on the basis of section 28(1)(a) of the FOI Act, i.e., release would disclose personal information about an identifiable individual. Section 2 of the Act contains the following definition of personal information:
'' personal information " means information about an identifiable individual that (a) would, in the ordinary course of events, be known only to the individual or members of the family, or friends, of the individual, or (b) is held by a public body on the understanding that it would be treated by it as confidential..."
The information in this case is whether particular individuals made an application for Irish citizenship. The question therefore is whether such information falls into either (a) or (b) above. It is my view that information about whether someone has applied for Irish citizenship would be information which "in the ordinary course of events" would only be known by the friends or family of the individual concerned.
I note that the Department has stated that it treats applications for naturalisation and related information in confidence and I accept its evidence on this point. Therefore I believe that the information concerned also meets the requirements of (b) in relation to the definition of personal information.
I find that the information which you seek is personal information as defined in section 2 of the FOI Act.
Section 28(5)(a) of the FOI Act states that personal information can be released if the public interest in granting the request outweighs the public interest in the right to privacy of the individual.
Essentially, your letter of 18 September suggested that there is a public interest in releasing this information because the individuals concerned are public figures, they or parties associated with them are alleged to have been involved in criminal activity and one of them has expressed controversial political views. In other words, the information should be released because of who the individuals are, because allegations have been made against them and because of the views of one of them. You have not argued how the public interest would be served by release of the information. In my view none of the factors put forward by you is sufficient to enable it to be said that it is in the public interest that information about whether the individuals concerned have applied for Irish citizenship should be disclosed.
I accept that such information may be of interest to the public in the sense that it may satisfy public curiosity on the point. I do not accept that this means that there is a public interest in disclosing the information.
The FOI Act recognises that there is a public interest in protecting the right to privacy and it seems to me that the matters which you mention do not destroy that right - at least in relation to the question of whether or not the parties concerned have applied for citizenship.
I do accept that there can be a public interest in knowing the outcome of applications for Irish citizenship. I note that under section 18 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956 the names and addresses of any persons who acquire Irish citizenship through naturalisation are published in Iris Oifigiuil. In my view such publication sufficiently meets any public interest in knowing the outcome of applications for naturalisation.
Consequently I find that the information you are seeking is personal information and that the public interest in granting the request does not outweigh the public interest in the right to privacy of the individuals concerned.
I should note that normally I would contact an individual before releasing personal information about him/her in accordance with section 28(5). However, as I have found that the information need not be released I did not consider it necessary to do so in this case.
Having carried out a review under section 34(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997 I hereby affirm the decision of the Department.
A party to a review, or any other person affected by a decision of the Information Commissioner following a review, may appeal to the High Court on a point of law arising from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than four weeks from the date of this letter.