UCC has been instructed by the Information Commissioner to provide details of support, financial or otherwise, it has received from Apple.
Apple is one of the largest employers in Ireland, and the largest employer of graduates from UCC. The American company was at the centre of one of the most significant European state aid cases of all time last year when the European Commission ruled that Ireland’s tax arrangements with Apple were illegal. The result is that Ireland must recover over €13 billion from the American electronics company in foregone taxes. While the case is now set to be appealed, the finding is considered by many to be an attack on Ireland’s tax system, which is designed to attract foreign direct investment.
Given the importance of the Apple state aid case, the transparency organisation Right To Know set out to discover what supports, either financial or otherwise Apple was providing to UCC. Such supports are commonplace and rarely controversial, with large companies often sponsoring research and cooperating with universities in order to potentially attract graduates in the future. Similarly, large corporations often want to give something back and will contribute philanthropic money to universities and colleges. Right to Know spokesman Gavin Sheridan said the views of universities and academics are often reported without question as independent and objective,“to maintain that reputation, transparency in respect of private funding is important so that the public can know what interests are at play.”
Right to Know said in a statement on their website that “While there is absolutely no indication whatsoever that Apple exerts influence on UCC, we felt that it was important that any financial or other support that Apple gives to UCC is known given the public controversy over its operations in Ireland.” In September Right to Know filed an FOI (Freedom of Information) request with UCC, looking for full details of any support it received from Apple since January 2011. The university failed to issue a decision within a four-week deadline stipulated under FOI legislation, and also did not respond within the same timeframe when Right To Know appealed the original refusal.
In its response to Right to Know, UCC only informed the group after it had sought a review by the OIC that it was refusing the request on the basis that its accounting system did not record the requested information on Apple. It also claimed that it was refusing the request on the basis that conducting other searches would cause a substantial and unreasonable disruption to its work.
The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) has ruled that the response of the university was inadequate to a request made under freedom of information legislation, and ordered it to reconsider the request for such information. The OIC said it was clear that UCC’s searches for the requested information had fallen well short of what was required under FOI legislation. They further stated that the fact the university had also relied on a section of legislation that related to time spent on searching for information indicated that UCC believed the relevant records might well exist. It ruled that UCC’s efforts at simply running a search on its accounting system was not enough to satisfy the requirements of the FOI Act. It ordered the university to annul its initial ruling and consider the request for information on Apple afresh.
UCC can lodge an appeal against the OIC decision on a point of law to the High Court within four weeks.