Legislation for Non-Profit Organizations

Case Notes: Western Europe

The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 2, Issue 2, December 1999


Case 98042 – Mr. John Burns of The Sunday Times Newspaper and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners

A recent case on the freedom of information concerned the right to obtain the names of organizations in Ireland that had been granted tax exemption on the basis of their charitable status. The tax authority initially refused the request by a journalist on the grounds that the information had been supplied to it in confidence. Subsequently, following negotiations with the Office of the Information Commissioner, the tax authority agreed to release the names of all those charities that did not object. The Commissioner then reviewed the cases of the 127 charities that had refused to consent unconditionally to the release of the information. On 8 July 1999 the Commissioner annulled the decision of the tax authority and directed that the names of all but one of the charities that had refused consent should be disclosed.

In the case of the single charity whose name was ordered to be withheld from disclosure, the Commissioner found that the public interest in the disclosure of the name of the charity did not outweigh the public interest in ensuring that the charity can meet its objectives. Therefore the Commissioner accepted that the one of the statutory grounds (section 27 (1) (c) of the Freedom of Information Act 1997) for refusing to disclose information was satisfied, namely that disclosure could prejudice the conduct or outcome of contractual or other negotiations of the charity concerned.

In the other cases the Commissioner found that the disclosure of the names of the charities did not involve the disclosure of any other information that was not publicly available, and that such disclosure would not prejudice the enforcement or administration of the tax law.