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Journalist to open up bank with environmental law

Where the bucket stopped after the financial meltdown

A ”bad bank” is legally an authority, the Irish High Court has ruled. The bad bank NAMA might now have to open up for the public thanks to an environmental information regulation.

The ruling by the court is a victory for Commissioner for Environmental Information Emily O'Reilly who is also Information Commissioner and Ombudsman in Ireland.
It is as much a victory for journalist and blogger Gavin Sheridan who has conveyed a battle on the use of a UN-convention turned into a EU-directive as a tool to open up Ireland's authorities for the public.
The convention, and later the EU-directive implemented as an Irish law. It grants the public access to environmental information in a wide sense.
Here a crucial question emerges: What constitutes an authority?

After the meltdown
Gavin Sheridan claimed that NAMA (the National Asset Management Agency), which took over the debts from commercial banks in 2009, is an authority.
Commissioner O'Reilly supported this view. It is a previous decision of hers the High Court now has given the green light.
This ruling can still be appealed to the Supreme Court, Gavin Sheridan notes. He is thus cautious yet to talk about a final victory.
But should the €74bn ”bad bank” NAMA in the end fall under the scope of the law of Access to Environmental Information the agency might have to reveal documents and information on its business activities.
This is a highly sensitive matter in Ireland as NAMA – read the Irish taxpayer – was left to pick up the bill after the burst of the real estate bubble followed by a financial meltdown.

Police cars are polluters
It can be argued that banks, be they good or bad, seldom are polluting the environment directly themselves – besides perhaps from their own heating systems.
But in its function as an authority affecting large parts of the Irish society NAMA most likely has taken decisions with environmental impacts.
Journalist Gavin Sheridan has previously used the Access to Information on the Environment regulation to obtain budget information from the police force by requesting data on the fleet of vehicles used by the police – the use of cars definitely affects the environment, he successfully argued.


Staffan Dahllöf


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