IRELAND’S BANKS may become subject to Freedom of Information requests, if government pledges to bring forward the ‘next phase’ of transparency legislation bear fruit.
Brendan Howlin today said he was taking action to advance Ireland’s existing Freedom of Information legislation so that “non-public bodies benefiting from significant Exchequer funding” could be subject to the requests.
Howlin said the range of non-public bodies brought under the remit of the laws would be decided under criteria “balancing the public interest with appropriate proportionality”.
Freedom of Information law precludes requests for commercially sensitive data, or information received in confidence, so bringing banks under the scope of FOI law would not pose a risk to clients’ personal data.
Details of the proposed expansions came as the government said bodies like the National Asset Management Agency and the Central Bank would also be made subject to FOI requests from early next year.
The government has agreed to draw up legislation which will bring the bodies – as well as the National Treasury Management Agency and the National Pension Reserve Fund – under the remit of FOI law.
Furthermore, other public bodies like the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, and the various Vocational Education Committies, will also be made subject to the laws – meaning members of the public will be able to request copies of any records they hold.
Reversing earlier changes
The proposals will also rescind some of the amendments made to the laws in 2003, while appeals fees are also to be lowered – though Howlin stopped short of committing to eliminating the €15 application fee for non-personal data, which was also introduced under the 2003 changes.
Howlin said a draft version of the new legislation would be composed immediately, and brought before the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform for feedback after the Oireachtas summer recess.
A formal version of the legislation would then be published later this year, with the legislation then likely to be pushed through the Oireachtas over the winter months.
Ironically, the announcement came hours after the High Court finished hearing an appeal taken by NAMA against the Commissioner for Environmental Information, Emily O’Reilly, over whether the agency is subject to requests for environmental information.
The appeal came after the Commissioner upheld an appeal from journalist Gavin Sheridan of TheStory.ie, and ruled that NAMA was a ‘public body’ – meaning it was obliged to respond to questions for environmental information from the general public.