FOI 4-24: Community background of the Assembly Secretariat

Information Standards Freedom of Information Response

Our Ref: FoI 4-24

19 February 2024

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”)

I am writing to confirm that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission (Assembly Commission) has processed your request dated 24 January 2024 in line with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). In this request, which I have numbered for ease of reference, you asked for the following information:

(i) The date on which Richard Stewart left the Assembly Secretariat

(ii) Of the current Clerk and Directors, how many were Catholic

(iii) How many previous Clerks (excluding the current Clerk) were Catholic

Our response

The Assembly Commission considers this information to be exempt from disclosure under the FOIA for the following reasons:

Request (i)

This information is exempt information under section 21 of the FOIA since it is reasonably accessible to you otherwise than under section 1 of the FOIA. The public may access this information by consulting the Remuneration and Staff Report on p50-69  of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission Annual Report and Accounts 2022-23, published on 20 July 2023.

Requests (ii) and (iii) 

Under section 40(2) of the FOIA, information is exempt information if constitutes personal data, the person requesting the information is not the data subject, and one or more of the conditions set out at sub-sections 40(3A) - (4A) is satisfied.

The Assembly Commission considers that the section 40(3A) (a) condition is met in this case.  This condition requires that disclosure of the information to you (and through you to the public at large) would contravene one or more of the data protection principles.  The data protection principles are set out at Article 5 of the United Kingdom Data Protection Regulation (UKGDPR).[1]

The first data protection principle is that personal data must be processed lawfully, fairly, and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject. Article 6 UKGDPR sets out the conditions under which processing of personal data is generally lawful for the purposes of the first principle.

Article 9 UKGDPR sets out additional conditions which must be satisfied to make lawful the processing of ‘special category personal data’.  Special category personal data includes personal data revealing religious or philosophical beliefs. Requests (ii) and (iii) are thus requests for special category personal data.

The lawful processing of special category personal data under Article 5 UKGDPR requires the data controller (i.e. the Assembly Commission) to be satisfied that a condition under Article 6 UKGDPR is met and that a condition under Article 9 UKGDPR is met.

The Assembly Commission currently employs one Clerk/Chief Executive and three Directors. Since 1998, there have been three Clerks of the Assembly.  The disclosure of the information in requests (ii) and (iii) would, with other information publicly available, enable the religious beliefs of these individuals to be determined.  The Assembly Commission notes that very cogent reasons would be required to render the processing of such special category personal data lawful for the purposes of Article 5(1)(a) UKGDPR.

The Assembly Commission has considered whether the processing of the personal data necessary to provide the information sought in requests (ii) and (iii) would meet a condition set out in Article 6 UKGDPR.  It has concluded that it would not meet such a condition. The processing would thus be unlawful, and the information is accordingly exempt information under section 40(3A) (a) of the FOIA.

The Assembly Commission would also note that, even had it considered one or more conditions set out at Article 6 UKGDPR to be met, it does not consider that any condition under Article 9 UKGDPR for the processing of special category personal data would be met.

Your rights

You have the right to request an internal review of this decision by the Assembly Commission and if you wish to do so, please write to me at the above address. If after such an internal review you are still unhappy with the response, you may appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF which will undertake an independent review. 

The Assembly Commission may publish details of your FOI request and its official response within the organisational disclosure log. The request will be completely anonymised and you will not be identified in any way. This is to meet the requirements as laid out by in the agreed publication scheme with the Information Commissioners’ Office. 

Yours sincerely

Data Protection and Governance Officer

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