Judge rejects 'absurd' claim by Nama

 

An appeal to the Supreme Court is expected arising from a judgment yesterday that the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) was a public body for the purposes of a European regulation that provides for public access to environmental information.

The ruling by Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh is viewed as having implications for a range of public bodies.

It has no implications for the Irish freedom of information law, which is due to be changed as part of a process that will include Nama coming under its umbrella for the first time.

The basis for Nama’s claim that it was not a public authority within the meaning of the European regulation was “absurd”, Mr Justice Mac Eochaidh said in his judgment.

Appeal dismissed

He dismissed Nama’s appeal against a ruling by the Commissioner for Environmental Information, Emily O’Reilly, that the agency is a public authority and therefore subject to freedom of environmental information requests.

Ms O’Reilly ruled in September 2011 that Nama was a public authority within the meaning of the 2007 European (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations.

Nama appealed her decision to the High Court, contending it is not a public authority.

Yesterday Mr Justice Mac Eochaidh dismissed the appeal and refused Nama’s application to remit the matter to the commissioner.

At Nama’s request, he placed a stay on his ruling until March 13th, when all outstanding issues, including costs, will be addressed.

The commissioner issued her ruling after a journalist, Gavin Sheridan, sought information from Nama under a freedom to environmental information statutory instrument, the Environmental Information Regulations.

Nama refused to supply the information on grounds including that it is not a public authority within the meaning of the 2007 regulations.

Breakdown of assets

Mr Sheridan’s request, made in February 2010, included a request for a breakdown of all assets, loans and properties being transferred to Nama, and minutes of its board meetings.

Because the agency ruled it was not a public body as defined in the regulations, it did not rule on the issue as to whether the information sought was environmental information as defined.

If the ruling by Mr Justice Mac Eochaidh is appealed, then the issue may be delayed for a number of years. If it is not appealed, then the agency will have to consider whether the information sought by Mr Sheridan is environmental information as defined in the regulation.

Review

A spokesman for Nama said it would consider the judgment and review its position.

Mr Justice Mac Eochaidh, in his judgment, rejected the contention that the words “and includes” in the European regulations were to be understood as “may include”, “for this ultimately is the true import of what the appellant [Nama] has sought to argue in this case”.