Howlin says Nama would need FoI 'safeguards'


An Oireachtas committee has been told that a plan to extend Freedom of Information legislation to the National Asset Management Agency will need to contain "safeguards" to protect the commercial interests of the State.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin was giving details yesterday of plans for extending the FoI Act to a range of public bodies. He said a "balance" would have to be struck in the case of Nama and related agencies such as the NTMA, as they were operating in a "hugely challenging economic and commercial environment".

He said the public had a right to information from the agency but "targeted change" was required, and safeguards had to be put in place "for the well being of the State".

Mr Howlin was yesterday addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, whose members have criticised the level of fees charged for FoI requests.


Mr Howlin said he proposed to "significantly modify" the fees charged for appeals as the current rates of €75-€150 were a "definite disincentive". A cap was something he was "not averse to supporting", he added, but "there are people who stay awake at night" putting in requests and some "brake" on that was reasonable.

He pointed out the average fee in 2011 was €23, just 4 per cent of the average cost of dealing with requests (€640). The average search and retrieval fee in 2011 was €7.42.

As part of a new Bill, the Garda Síochána will also be included under the scope of FoI "insofar as administrative functions operate" and not in relation to operational matters.

It will be extended also to non-statutory bodies in receipt of significant public funding.

Mr Howlin said a list of such bodies would be drawn up and he was open to suggestions as to whether it should apply, for example, to charities that were funded 50-80 per cent by the exchequer.

If a "significant portion" of a taxpayer's income came from the public purse it should be subject to FoI requests; he was open to suggestions as to whether that funding might be 50 per cent, 80 per cent or another figure.