The court found that former commissioner for environmental information Emily O’Reilly made a flawed decision against Nama in 2011, and a High Court judgment in 2013 that dismissed Nama’s appeal was unsatisfactory. But the Supreme Court nevertheless found that the agency set up to take over and manage billions of euro in loans on behalf of taxpayers was covered by the regulations.
The case centred on journalist and transparency campaigner Gavin Sheridan’s 2010 request for information on Nama’s loans and assets. His referral of the case to Ms O’Reilly’s office, after Nama refused by claiming it was not a ‘public authority’ under the the definition in the regulations, led to her finding that it did come under their scope.
Nama’s appeal was rejected by the High Court in 2013, but it was a European Court of Justice decision in the interim, clarifying what was intended in the EU directive governing the regulations, that led to the dismissal of the agency’s appeal yesterday. The five-judge court was unanimous in its decision against Nama, but Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell said the question might have had to be referred to Europe but for the case involving UK water companies.
The massive legal costs associated with the dispute, and which of the publicly funded bodies must pay, have yet to be decided.
O'Donnell refers to Fish Legal (relying on Directive not Regulations). NAMA is a public authority. Appeal dismissed. #namavocei— Gavin Sheridan (@gavinsblog) June 23, 2015
“This is a long drawn out and contentious dispute conducted between two public bodies at public expense, which is one further illustration of the truth that some disputes are so bitter because the stakes are so low,” Mr Justice O’Donnell wrote in the 31-page ruling.
Nama came under revised Freedom of Information law earlier this year, and the question of whether the information requested by Mr Sheridan will be provided, or if commercial sensitivities will be cited, remains unclear. A spokesman said it is studying the judgment, but he declined to comment on its costs to date.
Mr Sheridan welcomed the outcome and thanked the commissioner’s office for defending its 2011 decision through the courts.
“We regret that Nama did not handle the issue better at the outset — as the ruling itself noted — and that it has taken nearly 2,000 days for what was a preliminary matter to be decided, involving significant expenditure of public money,” he said.
“However the public now has greater clarity on the applicability of the regulations, and the public’s right to know has been broadly vindicated by the Supreme Court,” he said.