IDA tried to argue publishing number of jobs actually created by much-touted scheme would harm the state

The IDA attempted to block the release of the number of jobs created by a much-touted government scheme and tried to argue that publishing the figures would hurt the state.  

The organisation twice refused to release the details but the Information Commissioner ruled against the IDA and has released the figures to The Ditch – which will report on just how successful the scheme was in the coming weeks.

During the appeals process the IDA tried to introduce new grounds for blocking access to the records, saying that releasing the number of jobs would harm the state’s interests.  

The IDA has spent €165,000 on legal fees for just 13 freedom of information requests since 2019, as reported this week by the Irish Examiner. The scheme at the centre of this request, named Succeed in Ireland, was discontinued after its five-year run and has been the subject of recriminations from both the IDA and the company it contracted to run the programme.

'It didn’t actually explain how this harm would occur'

Then taoiseach Enda Kenny in March 2012 launched Succeed in Ireland, saying at the time, “I look forward to seeing the aims of the Succeed in Ireland initiative realised and an increase in the number of foreign SMEs investing in Ireland to create sustainable jobs.”

The scheme aimed to create 5,000 jobs in five years “by targeting”, according to a government press release, “international companies and business people, who would otherwise not be reached by the state enterprise agencies”.

To deliver Succeed in Ireland the IDA contracted the Terry Clune-founded ConnectIreland, which would be paid €2,500 per job created.

When the contract between the IDA and ConnectIreland ended in 2017 it wasn’t renewed and there have since been accusations from both sides about why Succeed in Ireland wasn’t a success. As late as December 2022 the IDA claimed in a statement it was seeking more than €1.2 million from ConnectIreland relating to jobs that weren’t created or sustained. An independent arbitrator meanwhile has ruled that the IDA blocked hundreds of ConnectIreland’s job leads.

In April this year The Ditch sought a list of all payments from the IDA to ConnectIreland from the scheme’s inception to the present day. The Ditch also requested records of all companies associated with these payments – as well as the number of all new jobs created – and a copy of any contracts between Connect Ireland and the IDA.  

The IDA refused to release the number of jobs created and the companies responsible for them, both during the initial request under freedom of information and after an internal review.

The Information Commissioner however ruled against the IDA. During the appeal the IDA tried to argue that releasing the figures would harm the interests of the companies involved in the scheme.

In making this argument the IDA was on its own.

“ConnectIreland didn’t object to the release of the record, according to the Information Commissioner, while one named company objected “on the basis that it didn’t want its company name included in a negative press article that could potentially damage its company image or brand.”

“Some of the companies,” wrote the Information Commissioner in its decision, “appeared to be no longer operational in Ireland, or at all.”

The IDA also tried to argue that releasing the number of jobs created by Succeed in Ireland would damage the state. This was a new tactic, which the IDA didn’t try during the initial request or internal review.

“It said that making this information publicly available would give competitors in other countries an insight into the state’s position and strategy in this area, potentially reducing the state’s competitiveness for new business and expansions. It said that this would threaten the state’s competitive position vis-à-vis other countries who are seeking inward investment and could result in a material financial loss to the economy of the state,” wrote the information commissioner.

It didn’t actually explain how this harm would occur.

“Where a body seeks to” do this, wrote the Information Commissioner, “it should identify the potential harm… that might arise from disclosure and, having identified that harm, consider the reasonableness of any expectation that the harm will occur.

In the absence of any explanation the Information Commissioner disagreed with the IDA.

“In my view, the release of the record would not give competitors any additional insight into the state’s position or strategy in attracting inward investment in circumstances where the initiative to which it relates was launched publicly by the government,” reads the ruling.

The Ditch will next week begin reporting on the actual number of jobs that Succeed in Ireland delivered.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors