Nama appeals ruling on freedom of information

 

THE NATIONAL Asset Management Agency has appealed to the High Court against a ruling by the Commissioner for Environmental Information that it is a public authority and therefore subject to freedom of information requests.

In a ruling last September, Emily O’Reilly, ruled that the agency should be subject to information requests under environmental freedom of information. On the basis of her finding, it is a public authority within the meaning of provisions of the 2007 European (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations.

Ms O’Reilly has acted as Commissioner for Environmental Information, in addition to her roles as Information Commissioner (under the Freedom of Information Acts) and as Ombudsman, since 2007.

She made her ruling after Gavin Sheridan, an online journalist, had in February 2010 sought information on Nama under a freedom to environmental information statutory instrument known as an EIR (environmental information regulation). Nama refused to supply the information and argued its refusal was justified on grounds including that it is not a public authority within the meaning of the 2007 regulations.

The matter was referred to the commissioner, who found the agency was not justified in its refusal and annulled it.

Ms O’Reilly said Nama was a public authority on grounds it was a board or other body established by or under statute.

Public authorities had been defined under the 2007 regulations as entities – including government or bodies involved in public administration – and individuals or their agents performing public administrative and/or legal functions or services in relation to the environment. Nama claims the commissioner’s decision is incorrect and argues its establishment under statute does not mean it is a public authority.

Opening the case yesterday, Brian Murray SC, for Nama, argued that the commissioner erred in her conclusion on grounds including that she failed to apply proper principles of statutory interpretation when considering what is a public authority under the 2007 regulations.

Opposing the appeal, Niamh Hyland argued the commissioner’s decision was “absolutely correct” and should not be disturbed.

The case is being heard by Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh and is expected to conclude today.