Tuesday 16 July 2019

Nama spent €132,000 fighting to stay secret

Michael Noonan
Michael Noonan

Gordon Deegan

The National Asset Management Agency's (Nama's) legal bill from its ill-fated legal battle over freedom on environmental information requests totals €132,000.

That's according to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan,  in a written Dail reply to Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty.

The agency fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court arising from a five-year-old request by journalist Gavin Sheridan to seek information from Nama under a freedom to environmental information statutory instrument known as an EIR (Environmental Information Regulations).

Nama's opponent in the case was another public body, the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information.

That agency's own legal bill from the battle is unknown as Mr Noonan said he wasn't in a position to disclose that Commissioner's legal costs as it does not operate under his Department's aegis.

It is likely that the Commissioner's legal costs will double the overall legal costs.

Journalist and transparency campaigner Gavin Sheridan said yesterday: "We are disappointed at the scale of costs involved in the case between Nama and the Commissioner for Environmental Information - in the end, the public pays for the costs of both parties."

He added: "We believe that the issues at hand could have been resolved at a much earlier juncture. However, the case is of significant public interest and we are pleased that we now have legal clarity."

On June 22, the five-judge Supreme Court rejected Nama's argument that it is not a public authority subject to freedom of environmental requests.

Mr Sheridan's referral of the case to then Information Commissioner, Ms Emily O'Reilly's office, after Nama refused an information request by claiming it was not a 'public authority' under the the definition in the regulations, led to her finding it did come under their scope.

In his 31-page judgment, Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell said: "This is a long drawn out and contentious dispute conducted between two public bodies at public expense, which is one further illustration of the truth that some disputes are so bitter because the stakes are so low."

Mr Justice O'Donnell said that although Nama is obliged to act commercially, is it undoubtedly vested with special powers well beyond those which result from the normal rules applicable in relations between persons governed by private law.

He stated that Nama was established under statute which confers upon it substantial powers of compulsory acquisition, of enforcement, to apply to the High Court to appoint receivers and to set aside dispositions.

He added that Nama's establishment and operations were "a significant part" of the executive and legislative response to an unprecedented financial crisis. Nama's scope and scale was 'exceptional' and, if it were not, it would be unable to carry out the important public functions assigned to it.

Nama's hefty legal bill in relation to the 'information' case comes against the background of its legal bill rising from €2.975m in 2013 to €8.57m in 2014.

The sharp increase in legal costs has been a boon for Irish legal firms with McCann Fitzgerald receiving €582,000 and Ronan Daly Jermyn solicitors receiving €410,000.

Other firms to receive six-figure sums for legal work include €283,000 to Arthur Cox; €245,000 to Eugene F Collins; €240,000 to Beauchamps Solicitors; €208,000 to Mason Hayes + Curran; €177,000 to Hayes Solicitors; €157,000 to LK Shields Solicitors; €151,000 to Lavelle Coleman Solicitors; €130,000 to Byrne Wallace; €129,000 to Matheson; €116,000 to A&L Goodbody Solicitors; €112,000 to Eversheds O'Donnell Sweeney; and €101,000 to Maples & Calder.

Irish Independent

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