For those of you who turned up at the High Court last year to witness the art installation of two state bodies – NAMA and the Office of Commissioner of Environmental Information – both spending vast sums on legal expenses in a battle to access, and prevent access to, environmental information from NAMA, you will be interested in the judgment this morning, which is a victory for the Information Commissioner and a sorry defeat for NAMA.
Gavin Sheridan, who operates thestory.ie transparency website – and who was described in the Dail this morning as a “leading light for transparency in this State” – always corrects you when you refer to the case as involving the Information Commissioner, because although Emily O’Reilly – pictured below – wears a number of hats, and she actually holds both posts, the posts are slightly different because they provide for information under different legislation, but you can be forgiven for confusing them. The victory this morning is for Emily, the Commissioner of Environmental Information, mkay? However it was Gavin’s original request three years ago to NAMA which gave rise to the involvement of the Information Commissioner and to the subsequent High Court case, and this morning’s judgment. So a great day for Gavin, well done to him – you can follow him on Twitter here, and he is himself at the High Court today.
In the Dail this morning, the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty asked An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to order the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to issue a Direction to NAMA pursuant to the NAMA Act, to stop NAMA appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. An Taoiseach said he had not read the High Court judgment and accordingly declined to provide a response.
So what does the judgment mean? Unfortunately not very much, and I don’t think there is very much information that can be accessed from NAMA under the environment information legislation that will be helpful. We might find out some more about ghost estates and NAMA’s deliberations on them, but I do not think the environmental information framework will allow us access to any great degree, the detail of what NAMA is doing. But you never know, these things sometimes have unintended consequences.
In a political sense, the judgment is a disaster for NAMA. Here is one State agency that funded legal action over three years to stop itself being classified as a public body. The costs will be steep and you and I are footing them. It looks dreadful for NAMA because the perception is the Agency has tried to protect its secretive operations from prying eyes, and it lost.
NAMA was asked for a comment on this morning’s judgment, how much it had spent on the case and whether it would now appeal the judgment to the Supreme Court. There has not been a response at time of writing.