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Saturday 17 November 2018

Watchdog wants NAMA dealings made public

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

INFORMATION Commissioner Emily O'Reilly has called for the new state agency for €90bn of toxic property loans to be fully covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

It comes amid concerns that the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) would be exempt from the act, which would restrict taxpayers' knowledge of its dealings with banks and property developers.

Ms O'Reilly, who is also the State Ombudsman, said it was important to have NAMA and other public bodies included under the FOI Act.

"I do sense that people are concerned about what is happening in the economy and they want to know more," she said.

Other bodies which are not currently covered under FOI include the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator, whose chief executive Patrick Neary resigned last January in the wake of the directors' loans scandal at Anglo Irish Bank.

Ms O'Reilly also expressed disappointment that the gardai continue to be exempt from the FOI Act, despite police forces in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland operating successfully under the system.

"In my view, leaving such important bodies outside of FOI is unnecessary and undesirable," she said.

She was speaking at the launch of the Information Commissioner's annual report, which showed that the number of FOI requests rose by 18pc to more than 12,500 last year. This was a reversal of the decline in requests since the introduction of new restrictions and fees by former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy in 2003.


"The debate around the release of the records and the repercussions for some of the people involved proves yet again that FOI is indeed a necessary part of the democratic process," Ms O'Reilly said.

Last year, 55pc of all FOI requests to public bodies were granted in full and the percentage was as high as 70pc in bodies such as the HSE. But the civil service was described by the Ombudsman as having the "most restrictive approach" with just 35pc of requests granted in full.

Labour deputy leader Joan Burton supported the call for the FOI act to be extended.

"If transparency in the economic management of our country is to mean anything, state institutions such as the Central Bank, the National Treasury Management Agency and the National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission should be brought under the scope of FOI," she said.

Meanwhile, Ms O'Reilly confirmed that she was still taking a voluntary 10pc pay cut to her salary.

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