Monday 26 September 2016

EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly in 'transparency summit' with Central Bank

Dame Street also came under under fire for not complying with Freedom of Information Act, writes Simon Rowe

Simon Rowe

Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30

EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly
EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly

European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly was in Dublin to advise Central Bank chiefs on the need for greater transparency and improved communication - only two days after the banking regulator was publicly rapped by Ireland's Information Commissioner.

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Emily O'Reilly - who heads the EU's powerful public interest watchdog - held a 45-minute meeting with Central Bank deputy governor Sharon Donnery before addressing a meeting of 50 high-level bank officials, including directors, board members and senior communications executives.

The meeting, on May 20, took place only 48 hours after Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall had criticised the banking authority's failure to comply with Freedom of Information legislation.

Speaking at the launch of the Office of the Information Commissioner's annual report on May 18, Peter Tyndall said: "We've had great difficulty in dealing with the Central Bank over the extent of our jurisdiction." His office disagreed with the bank's interpretation of the act.

"I'm sorry we've reached this point," he said. "We know what the legislation is and we will have to make a determination on that point."

O'Reilly's meeting with Donnery was followed by an hour-long Q&A session attended by bank chiefs, then there was a working lunch attended by Governor Philip Lane and his deputies Donnery and Cyril Roux.

The visit by the European Ombudsman was at the invitation of the Central Bank. It was billed by Central Bank executives as an opportunity for O'Reilly to "talk to our communication team about the importance of transparency and communication as we expand our transparency measures and to meet our senior officials who are also members of the Governing Council and Supervisory Board of the ECB", according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

At the May meeting, O'Reilly reiterated her complaints over the ECB's refusal to release the famous Trichet Letter, which threatened to cut off emergency funding to the Irish banking system at the height of Ireland's bank crash.

The ECB delayed making a 2010 letter public for four years. The letter was sent to former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan by then ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet.

At the time, an Irish journalist's public access request was refused by the ECB to "protect Ireland's financial stability".

However, O'Reilly became involved in a very public spat with the ECB by ruling that its reasons for refusing access were no longer valid, three years after the initial request. The ECB was forced to publish the letter at the end of 2014.

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