The Sunday Times reports that the Information Commissioner, Emily O’Reilly, has denied their Freedom of Information request to release documents related to two meetings on the night of September 29/30, 2008, one involving senior ministers and officials and another also involving senior banking executives. The paper reports:
In making the decision, she rejected advice from Sean Garvey, a senior investigator in the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC), who recommended that the documents be released to The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation because of strong “public interest”.
O’Reilly’s decision is a victory for the Department of Finance, which fought a 14-month battle against the release of any documents related to the bank guarantee. It relented and released uncontentious material two weeks ago, but remains opposed to the release of records relating to the guarantee meetings of September 29/30.
The department had warned that it would take High Court action to prevent the release of these records after Garvey recommended their release, with some redactions. Both AIB and Bank of Ireland also opposed their release.
It appears now that we may have to wait until 2038 to see these documents.
Anyone hoping that the banking inquiry will shed light on these meetings is likely to be disappointed. My reading of comments from various government ministers (including the Taoiseach’s interview on RTE’s This Week) is that despite having a terms of reference that includes September 2008, the banking inquiry will not cover the issues related to how the government took the decision to give an almost blanket liability guarantee to the Irish banks.
I was already disappointed that the terms of reference excluded the months after September 2008, when the government consistently put forward a wildly incorrect diagnosis of the scale of the problems in the banking sector (a diagnosis that was shared by its advisers at PWC.) It is even more disappointing to think that perhaps the key policy decision in responding to the crisis will not be open for discussion.
If a major purpose of the banking inquiry is to see that banking crises don’t cost the state a huge amount of money in the future, then to my mind, it needs to come to conclusions not only about how the crisis came about but also about whether the government’s response to it was based on the best information and whether a more informed approach would have saved the taxpayer money.