Despite all the clamouring to bring NAMA within the scope of our Freedom of Information legislation, I am really at a loss to understand what benefits will be conferred by such a move. After all, NAMA will still be able to suppress the revelation of details relating to individual developers or properties or sales in the same way existing public bodies can claim commercial confidentiality when responding to FoI requests. Furthermore NAMA has enshrined in its governing legislation – mainly the NAMA Act – the duty to maintain the confidentiality of its dealings with developers.
On the other hand, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised to bring NAMA under the umbrella of FoI legislation by the end of 2012 and that is further to a Fine Gael election manifesto commitment in 2011; he said on 8th February, 2012 “the Bill relating to freedom of information will be introduced later this year. A number of areas require discussion and analysis before the Minister can move on it” and against that background in the Dail yesterday the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty introduced his “Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2012” – it’s probably not even worth clicking on the link because the only clause of any consequence in the 3-page document is “the First Schedule to the Principal Act is hereby amended by 15 inserting the following subparagraph after subparagraph (4): “(4A) The National Asset Management Agency as established by the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009” No bells or whistles – the Bill simply proposes that NAMA be a named organization under the Freedom of Information Act 1997.
The introduction of the Bill has a political aspect because it is an Opposition party which is seemingly moving on the issue a year after the Government gave a commitment. And given An Taoiseach’s commitment to widening the FoI legislation to NAMA by the end of the year, it is difficult to see how it can be justifiably opposed by Fine Gael or indeed Labour.
NAMA appears to regard the FoI legislation with mild hostility, and possibly sees any invasive interference in the operation of NAMA as unhelpful and possibly compromising the Agency in terms of its workload in dealing with requests or undermining negotiations or providing competitors with an advantage. That said, NAMA doesn’t take a political stance, so will presumably accept whatever is enacted without lobbying politicians beforehand.
It should be said that there is another freedom of information-type matter before the courts at present in respect of NAMA. The Agency is disputing in Dublin’s High Court, a decision by the Information Commissioner last year which declared NAMA to be a public authority for the purposes of being subject to environmental information requests. “Internet blogger” – according to the Oireachtas committee hearing with NAMA yesterday – but also journalist, founder of thestory.ie and Innovation Director at storyful.com, Gavin Sheridan is responsible for getting NAMA declared a public authority but it is not clear what useful information might be extracted from NAMA under the environmental information heading. You can read more about the court case here which is scheduled to be heard on 17th May 2012 (case ref: 2011 357 MCA)
The Sinn Fein announcement of the Bill is here together with that party’s 12-point justification for the need for this Bill. A more useful Bill, though legislatively more problematic is Senator Mark Daly’s Bill introduced in December 2011 which would require NAMA to list details of all properties and sales within the purlieu of the Agency, that Bill however has not progressed so far.