Decision of the Commissioner for Environmental Information (AIE Regulations): Integrated Forestry Information System (iFORIS)

Case: OCE-108532-W5W7Z8

Date of decision: 3 October 2022
Appellant: Mr. A.


Public Authority: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine [the Department]

Issue: Whether Department were justified in refusing the request under articles 8(a)(i) or 8(a)(iii) of the AIE Regulations, whether the request was manifestly unreasonable within the meaning of article 9(2)(a) of the AIE Regulations.


Summary of the Commissioner’s Decision: The Commissioner annulled the decision of the Department and directed that a fresh decision-making process be carried out in respect of the appellant’s request.

This appeal concerns the Integrated Forestry Information System (iFORIS), which is a system maintained by the Department to support the processing of forestry license and scheme applications and payments.

On 1 April 2021, the appellant requested “a copy of, or access to, all spatial datasets available on iFORIS used by DAFM in connection with assessing Forestry Application and Licenses.” The appellant stated in his request that he was seeking access to spatial data only, and not to any personal data where consent for disclosure has not been given by the individuals concerned.

The Department issued a decision on 29 April 2021. It refused the appellant’s request under articles 8(a)(i), 8(a)(iii) and 9(2)(a) of the AIE Regulations. The Department stated that the data in question would amount to terabytes in size, and it was not feasible for the Department to supply this amount of data. The decision found that the datasets sought contained confidential personal information and information that would indicate the location of protected species. The decision also stated that many of the datasets sought are publicly available elsewhere and should be sought from the “authoritative sources”.

The decision considered the weighing of the public interest served by disclosure against the interest served by refusal and concluded that the public interest was best served by withholding the information sought.

The Department says that it holds over 100 layers of data relevant to the appellant’s request which amounts to terabytes in size and as a result, the request is manifestly unreasonable. This Office’s investigator wrote to the Department seeking further information on the steps that would be involved in processing the appellant’s request such as an estimate of time length of time it would take to fulfil the request and the impact this would have on the functioning of the Department. The Department responded stating that it would take “potentially weeks of work” to prepare the material for release, but did not provide any further information to support this statement. The Department stated that it is simply not feasible for it to supply this amount of data, but have not set out why that might be the case.

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Tender: Technical/scientific support to NPWS in the development of GIS based data collation, analysis & management tools for relevant peatland data (Bord na Mona, EDRRS Programme)

Bord na Móna Peatlands Enhanced Decommissioning, Rehabilitation and Restoration Scheme (EDRRS) and the role of NPWS as scheme regulator

The Peatlands EDRRS was approved in 2020.  The Scheme is administered by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), regulated by the NPWS of the DHLGH and operated by Bord na Móna.  It involves many other diverse stakeholders including the EPA, relevant NGOs, local authorities, representative organisations and importantly, the local communities.

The objectives of the scheme are as follows:

  1. To rehabilitate the Peatlands so that the improvements optimise climate, environmental, ecological and hydrological impacts; and 
  2. To rehabilitate the Peatlands in accordance with peatland rehabilitation best practice as agreed between the main stakeholders.

Bord na Móna is to implement an enhanced rehabilitation scheme on over 33,000 hectares of Bord na Móna lands previously harvested for peat that was used for fuel for the purposes of electricity generation.

The NPWS regulatory role consists of, inter alia, the following functions:

  1. Conducting an annual ex-ante assessment of proposed rehabilitation works from an ecological and financial perspective on the basis of an agreed methodology and of individual site rehabilitation plans submitted by Bord na Móna.
  • Monitoring progress being made during each year on the implementation of each site rehabilitation plan from an ecological and financial perspective to include site visits.
  • Conducting an annual ex-post review of rehabilitation works carried out by Bord na Móna on each site to ensure they have been carried out to the requisite, pre-approved ecological, eco-hydrological and environmental standards and in line with the pre-approved cost and financial standards.
  • Liaising with the DECC in relation to the implementation of the scheme.
  • Engaging any external contractors to assist with the implementation of the functions, as required, in accordance with public procurement legislation and guidelines.

This request for tender is for the provision of full-time scientific/technical support to NPWS. The scientific/technical support will be provided by one individual rather than a team. Scientific/technical support will be required in relation to the tasks described below.

The successful tenderer will primarily be responsible for assisting in setting up the data structures to collate and manage the ex-ante assessment, monitoring and ex-post assessment of the rehabilitation works spatial data produced by the EDRRS for NPWS and any other relevant peatland data.

In addition, the successful tenderer will be responsible for managing the data arising from all such work, as well as data analysis, and provide advice in relation to compliance with the following: NPWS Ecological Data Management Unit data standards and procedures, legislation and policies including the Data Sharing and Governance Act 2019, INSPIRE Directive, the Public Sector Data Strategy, the Open Data Initiative and Open Data Directive, Habitats and Birds Directives and related Irish regulations, the Water Framework Directive and other EU Environmental Directives and relevant Irish regulations, the Wildlife Acts, and the Ramsar Convention.

Under the overall direction of the Senior Inspector/Principal Officer of the NPWS of the DHLGH, the appointee will be assigned to the Ecological Data Management Section of the Science and Biodiversity Unit. The work programme will be overseen by a Grade II Ecologist in the Science and Biodiversity Unit with technical supervision from the Ecological Data Management Unit.

Tasks

  • Develop a GIS based data collation and management tool for the storing and management of all site specific rehabilitation plans spatial data including imagery and metadata compliant with international standards, suitable for integration with NPWS spatial data management systems.
  • Assist with the development of GIS web applications, and prepare and publish data layers, maps, as necessary.
  • Collate and maintain relevant raised bogs datasets including rehabilitation plans, ecological, hydrological, spatial data, imagery and related metadata.
  • In collaboration with the Ecological Data Management and GIS Units of NPWS, refine data structures for the capture of monitoring and assessment data.
  • In collaboration with the Ecological Data Management and GIS Units of NPWS, assist with the interpretation of remote imagery and the development of remote sensing methods to map changes in vegetation when required.
  • Derive statistics for relevant Biodiversity and Climate-related reporting obligations.
  • Develop and maintain effective linkages with organisations and individuals with relevant data holdings.
  • Maintain active engagement with the Ecological Data Management and GIS Units of NPWS to ensure compatibility with current and developing data standards and guidelines across all actions.
  • Attending weekly meetings with Bord na Mona as part of the EDRRS team.
  • Undertake other duties that may be assigned from time to time.