Central Bank secrecy law will limit public disclosure of key documents

Banking inquiry Bill will allow only very limited scope in using information

The Central Bank Act 1942 have statutorily prohibited the bank from disclosing a huge array of confidential documents

The Central Bank Act 1942 have statutorily prohibited the bank from disclosing a huge array of confidential documents

 

A new law to allow the Oireachtas banking inquiry overcome the Central Bank’s strict secrecy laws will allow the committee only very limited scope in using any information it obtains.

Specific reports that may or may not have been commissioned by the bank into Anglo Irish Bank, or into risk compliance by other banks, cannot be made public, even under the provisions of the new legislation, according to TDs and Senators who have been briefed on the Bill.

The Banking Inquiry Bill 2014, which will be debated in the Dáil this week, has been designed to address a major legal obstacle to the inquiry, which has started public hearings into the collapse of the Irish banking system.

The Central Bank Act 1942, and subsequent EU directives, have statutorily prohibited the bank from disclosing a huge array of confidential documents. That strict confidentiality rule extends to employees or former employees of the Central Bank (including the Financial Regulator’s office) who are bound by a professional secrecy obligation from disclosing any confidential information they obtain in the course of their duties.

The Bill proposes a “gateway” whereby members of the committee can access these documents and view them.

However, while they will be allowed to view the documents under this legal exception, there are very strict rules on how they will use them.

Dáil Deputies and Senators on the committee will not be able to quote from documents or identify individual documents, or identify any individual or corporate body, including financial institutions. The scope of their powers under the legislation will allow them only to deal with the information in a general or thematic way, without any specific reference.

The compromise will mean, for example, that any reference to the actions or comments of a bank executive, or a report commissioned by the Central Bank into compliance by a particular bank, cannot be disclosed publicly at a committee hearing or at report stage. The prohibition would seem, also, to limit in a very severe way what former employees and former employees of the bank can tell the inquiry, even with the benefit of the new legislation.

In order to uphold those professional secrecy rules, the Standing Orders of the Oireachtas will be amended to allow sanctions to be applied to any TD or Senator who fails to comply with the provisions of professional secrecy.

A confidential briefing for committee members has said this will limit the extent of parliamentary privilege TDs and Senators have as far as it related to their work on the committee.

The legislation has been discussed by party whips and also by the Committee on Procedures and Privileges which has agreed to apply sanctions to any member of the Oireachtas who breaches that confidentiality clause.