- 12 Jan 2018
FOI reference: FOI/17/00035
Date received: 15 December 2017
Date responded: 30 December 2017
All correspondence between the Scottish Government and the Irish Government since June 2016 regarding the European Union.
All minutes of meetings between the Scottish Government and the Irish Government since June 2016 regarding the European Union.
You indicated you were content to limit the search within the Directorate for External Affairs and the First Minister's Office.
I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because an exemptions under sections 32(1)(a)(i) (international relations); 30(b)(i) (free and frank advice); and 38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.
Reasons for not providing information
An exemption applies.
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) (personal data) of FOISA applies to a small part of the information you have requested which has been redacted. This relates to individuals' names. It is exempt from release because it is personal data and its release would contravene the data protection principles in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998.
This exemption is not subject to the 'public interest test', so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.
An exemption applies, subject to the public interest test.
Exemptions under sections 30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice), 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) and 32 (1)(a)(i) (substantial prejudice to international relations) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested.
An exemption under section 30(b)(i) and section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to provide free and frank advice to Ministers and other officials before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank advice on the Scottish Government's relationship with Ireland will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions relate to a sensitive issue around the conduct of bilateral engagement on EU issues.
An exemption under section 32(1)(a)(i) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the UK and Ireland. The effective conduct of international relations depends on maintaining trust and confidence between the UK Government and other States. In this case, the information was exchanged on the understanding that it would be treated in confidence. If the Scottish Government does not respect this confidence, the UK Government's relations with other States and its ability to protect and promote UK interests will be substantially prejudiced. States, such as Ireland, are likely to be more reluctant to share sensitive information with Scotland or other parts of the UK in the future, which would reduce both the frequency and openness of communications with the UK.
Both exemptions are subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in maintaining positive international relations and allowing a private space within which officials can provide full and frank advice to Ministers and other officials, as part of the process of exploring and developing the Government's relationship with Ireland. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House