Irish Court Says NAMA Covered by Disclosure Rule

27 February 2013

The Irish Court Feb. 27 held that the National Assets Management Agency is a public authority subject to freedom of information requests.

Environmental Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly has issued such ruling in September 2011, but NAMA appealed, argued that it is not a “public authority.” NAMA is a government-backed financial body established to help bail out the Irish economy.

Journalist Gavin Sheridan in 2010 sought environmental-related information from NAMA and the agency denied the request.

O’Reilly, who also is the Information Commissioner, annulled the agency’ refusal to produce documents under the 2007 Access to Information on the Environment Regulations, the Irish law conforming to a European Union directive from 2003.

See reports on the decision in The Independent, Journal and Sheridan’s blog, where the decision is posted.

The Journal reported:

The dispute centred on the meaning of the words “and includes”, which NAMA said could be interpreted as ‘may include’ – meaning it could be excluded from the scope of the regulations.

This morning Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh said the court’s job was to determine the intent of the European directive and of the Irish legislation implementing it, and found that the words ‘and includes’ had a “plain and ordinary meaning” once the intent of the legislation was clear.

He said the prelude to the EU directive made it clear that the legislation was intended to ensure that information about the environment was “progressively disseminated” – finding that it would be “difficult to imagine a broader definition” of a public body than the one outlined in the European directive.

While the judge said he had not been assured that the meaning of the words ‘and includes’ was as expansive as the Commissioner had argued, he said the Commissioner was correct in her interpretation of the 2007 regulations.

A hearing on costs was fixed for March 30. NAMA may appeal the finding to the Supreme Court, but did not indicate today whether it intended to do so.

Discussions are under way in Ireland about amending the FOI law and whether NAMA should be covered by it, with ministers recently testifying in support of  NAMA’s inclusion, with some conditions. (See previous report.)

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