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'It's like the Third Secret of Fatima' - Noonan says ECB letter could be released for inquiry

But he stressed that the ECB would have to be consulted.

Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

MICHAEL NOONAN HAS said that a letter written by the former president of the ECB to then Finance Minister Brian Lenihan could be released for the banking inquiry, but stressed it was a legal decision.

He added that the release of the letter has been the subject of numerous freedom of information requests which have been denied.

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said in March she was unhappy that the ECB had blocked the release of Jean-Calude Trichet’s letter, but Noonan outlined today that subsequent investigations by the office found that the ECB were within their rights not to make it public.

It’s been speculated that the November 2010 letter suggested that Ireland’s emergency funding could be cut off if the country did not enter a bailout programme.

“Requests to release the letter have been made under our own freedom of information provisions on a number of occasions. The refusal to adhere to the requests has been upheld on one occasion by the office of the information commissioner,” Noonan told the Dáil today

“I understand that the ombudsman’s office found that the ECB was entitled not to disclose the letter,” he added.

The Governing Council of the ECB came to the view that it would not be appropriate at this point in time but indicated it would reevaluate the disclosure of the letter at a more advanced stage of post-programme surveillance.

Noonan was responding to a question from Sinn Féin’s Peader Toibín who wanted the minister to confirm that the letter would be made available for the inquiry.

Sinn Féin’s MEP Martina Anderson also submitted a formal question to the ECB in March asking under what conditions they will release the letter and what action they may take if Minister Noonan released it unilaterally.

PastedImage-24301 Michael Noonan compared the letter to the Third Secret of Fatima. Source: Oireachtas.ie

But the minister said that the release of the letter for the banking inquiry was not his decision alone, instead the ECB has to be consulted:

As regards release of the letter for the banking inquiry, any request which may be received from the banking inquiry will of course be considered, taking into account the terms of reference of the inquiry. I should also point out that it would be standard practice and in line with the principle of cooperation among public institutions for the ECB to be consulted ahead of its release.

Toibín replied that he felt the the minister’s position remained unclear. He said that the ECB is “holding a veto” over the release of the letter and told Noonan that “your responsibility is in standing up for Ireland’s interests”.

The minister said that  international communications are exempt under freedom of information and that its contents mightn’t necessarily be important in any case :

Personally I have no particular problem whether it’s released or not. It’s like the Third Secret of Fatima, people will be disappointed when they see it.

Read: 2010 ECB letter to Lenihan could finally be made public >

Read: Will Noonan publish the ECB letter that forced Ireland into a bailout? >

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Rónán Duffy

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