In a statement issued yesterday she said she remained “unconvinced” by its explanation for “continuing to keep it secret” and said the time had come to put it out in the open.
The November 2010 letter from Jean Claude Trichet to the then finance minister, Mr Lenihan, was “sent at the height of the financial crisis and called on the Irish Government to take swift action to protect the stability of the Irish financial system”, a statement from the European Ombudsman’s office said yesterday.
Journalist Gavin Sheridan first requested the release of it in December 2011 and did so because “he suspected that it included pressure on the Irish Government to enter the EU’s bailout programme” according to the Ombudsman.
Ms O’Reilly said the ECB had justified its refusal to disclose the letter in 2011 by the need to protect Ireland’s financial stability.
“According to the ECB, the letter was sent in the context of significant market pressure and extreme uncertainty as to the prospects for the Irish economy,” the statement said.
While the ECB was right to refuse access to the document at the time, she said more than three years has passed since the letter was sent and should now be disclosed in order to underline its commitment to transparency.
“I regret that the Governing Council of the ECB has wasted an opportunity to apply the principle that, in a democracy, transparency should be the rule and secrecy the exception,” she said.
The ECB blocked disclosure of the letter on the grounds that the protection of the public interest as regards monetary policy in the European Union and financial stability in Ireland continues to justify confidentiality.
The decision was made by the Governing Council which is the main decision-making body of the ECB and consists of the six members of its executive board and the governors of the national central banks of the 18 euro area countries.
The Department of Finance yesterday defended its decision not to release the letter under the Freedom of Information Act — which it said has been upheld by the Information Commissioner.
It said three factors — including confidence, commercial sensitivity and the financial and economic interests — “counterbalance the public interest” and protect the ability of the Government “when negotiating or deliberating on matters of national importance”.
A spokesman said: “It is normal practice for states to protect the confidentiality of these discussions, and in fact is usually enshrined in the rules of association of institutions.”