Irish Minister Foresees Partial Application of FOI to NAMA

14 January 2013

A key Irish minister Jan. 10 said a revised freedom of information law should be applied to the government-backed financial body established to help bail out the Irish economy, but that certain “safeguards” to protect the commercial interests of the federal government will be required, according to media reports.

Application of the FOI law to the National Asset Management Agency was called for at a parliamentary committee hearing. The NAMA acquires nonperforming loans from Irish banks in return for government bonds as a way to bolster the availability of credit.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin was also pressed during a parliamentary hearing to allow access to the records of bailed-out banks and various state-funded bodies, such as Irish Rail and Irish Water, wrote Juno McEnroe in the Irish Examiner.

Howlin said there are situations where the public interest was “best protected” if information was not disclosed, the Irish Examiner reported. “He said this applied to commercially sensitive matters where state companies competed with private firms.”

He said non-statutory bodies receiving significant public funding from the government should be subject to FOI, asking whether the proper level should be 50080 percent, according to reporting by Joe Humphreys in the Irish Times.

Howlin supported plans to lower fees charged for appeals, but said “there are people who stay awake at night” putting in requests and some “brake” on that was reasonable, according to the media reports.

The average fee in 2011 was €23, just 4 per cent of the average cost of dealing with requests (€640). The average search and retrieval fee in 2011 was €7.42.

A FOI reform proposal had been promised by the end of the year, but is now expected in the next few months.

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