A senior official in the Department of Finance told the Irish Examiner they were under strict instructions from the ECB not to release any details to the public.
“What they [ECB] have said from an early stage is that if there is any release, at all, then all negotiations are off. They do not want to discuss this in any forum, other than that of a member state and the ECB council,” he said.
The department has received about 16 freedom of information requests in relation to the IBRC liquidation and is now considering adopting a policy position that would allow it to refuse all applications for the release of information.
Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the decision to liquidate IBRC was one of the biggest ever made by the State and he was concerned certain firms may have used insider information to secure payments.
“The minister has refused several requests from me for information pertaining to the weeks and months before the event, specifically concerning whether certain sources in the know used confidential information to fast-track invoices in anticipation of liquidation.
“I have submitted freedom of information requests relating to IBRC being wound up, but nothing will be clear if the minister gets to veil this time-period in secrecy, as he has attempted to do in other matters.”
The department official said that as it stands, the department is not even sure if it is able to engage with requests it receives.
“We are dealing with sensitive information that if released would undermine what is in the best interest of the taxpayer. We are committed to the FoI process but I’m not even sure if we can engage with FoI requesters,” he said.
The issue has been passed up to senior officials within the department who are considering adopting a blanket policy position that would see all future freedom of information requests on the liquidation rejected.
“If we want to maintain a level of good faith with the ECB we have to abide by the type of agreements and arrangements with them. They are unfortunately a lot more secretive than we are,” the finance official said.
There have only been two previous occasions in the 10 years since the FoI legislation was introduced that a department has taken a decision to impose a blanket ban.
A spokesperson for the Information Commissioners said a clause in the FoI legislation, section 20, allows the secretary general of a department to stop the release of any matter relating to the deliberative processes of a public body by issuing a certificate in writing.
“A secretary general can issue a certificate to say any records can be refused. It is up to the particular secretary general to revoke [the certificate]. There have been two ever issued, [by] Justice [in] 2006 and Defence [in] 2009, both in relation to risk registers. Both remain in place.”
If a certificate is issued it cannot be challenged in the courts or by the Information Commissioners and remains in place until the secretary general cancels it.