Is NAMA a public authority?
That’s the question that will be answered today by the Supreme Court of Ireland – more than five years after the question was asked.
It’s hard to believe that NAMA which was created by the state to take over and manage the toxic property debts of the Irish banks is anything other than a public authority given the circumstances in which it was established and the degree of control exercised over it by the state. Both the Commissioner for Environmental Information and the High Court said it was a public authority but it now falls to the Supreme Court to have the final word on the issue.
Surprisingly the issue that has ended up before five judges of the highest court in the land boils down to the meaning of the words “and includes.”
So what’s at stake?
Well if NAMA is a public authority it must provide public access to information on the environment that it holds. Simple as that. At this stage with NAMA in wind down mode and with it now under the Freedom of Information regime there is probably less at stake for it and the public than was the case five years ago. Nevertheless it is an entity that is plagued with allegations of lack of transparency in how it manages its portfolio of assets.
In the wider context the Supreme Court may take the opportunity to clarify which bodies-as public authorities-come under the Access to Information on the Environment regime (called AIE by those in the know). This is an EU law flowing from the Aarhus Convention which obliges public bodies and other entities with environmental responsibilities which are controlled by public bodies or given special powers by them to provide public access to environmental information.
Additionally if NAMA is a public authority Anglo Irish Bank (now IBRC) will also be and therefore subject to AIE. Notably IBRC is not subject to FOI and its activities are themselves now the subject of a Commission of Enquiry arising out of access to information provided under FOI and parliamentary questions to Catherine Murphy TD.
Anyway all will be revealed shortly at which point we will update you.
FP Logue solicitors acts for the requester Mr Gavin Sheridan.