US State Department Eksund / Libya Cables

These US State Department cables detail US perspectives of Libya as related to Ireland in the mid to late 1980s. They also detail the events around the capture of the Eksund, a ship bound for Ireland carrying arms from Libya, intercepted by the French in 1987.

The document contains cables from US Embassy Dublin, Embassy London, Embassy Paris, Embassy Rome and others. It includes an inventory of the arms found aboard the Eksund.

Trichet letter leaked

Good morning. The letter this blog has been pursuing access to since 2011 has finally been published.

We pursued the letter because we believe the Irish public, and indeed the European public, have a fundamental right to access information, and be informed about decisions being made on their behalf. We believe access to information to be a fundamental right guaranteed by the European treaties, the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10) and by UN treaties.

We sought to vindicate those rights by seeking a letter we believed to be of enormous public interest. The public’s right to know is fundamental to functioning democracies. Without access to information, the public lives in darkness. Information is the oxygen of healthy democracies. Governments and public bodies hold a monopoly on information, and this monopoly needs to be challenged – always, tirelessly, and forever.

Gavin Sheridan & Fred Logue.

The original request thread.
Our submission to the EU Ombudsman
The result of our appeal to the Irish Information Commissioner.

ECB agrees to review Trichet letter release

In light of comments made by ECB Governing Council member Patrick Honohan in the book on Brian Lenihan I recently resubmitted my request for access to the letter that had previously been refused to this blog by ECB President Mario Draghi.

I see today RTE is reporting that MEP Sean Kelly has also been seeking access to the letter.

On October 7, I sent a new access to information request to the ECB, again seeking the letter. We said:

…In a previous appeal to the EU Ombudsman and to Mr Draghi, access
to this document was refused. However new information has now come
to light.

It was reported this week that ECB Governing Council Member Patrick
Honohan has contributed to a book in which he outlines information
related to the contents of the November 19 letter. In the book he

“The Troika staff told Brian in categorical terms that burning the
bondholders would mean no programme and, accordingly, could not be
countenanced,” Dr Honohan writes. “For whatever reason, they waited
until after this showdown to inform me of this decision, which had
apparently been taken at a very high-level teleconference to which
no Irish representative was invited.” –

In light of the fact that an ECB council member has chosen to
publicly express the views being argued by the Troika at that time,
it now appears – given that the eurozone has not collapsed – that
release of the letter is not in fact a threat to the stability of
the eurozone. I can no longer see any reason why it should not be
released immediately in the public interest.

Yours faithfully,

On October 15, the ECB responded. They said:

Dear Mr Sheridan,

As you will be aware, the ECB President mentioned in his communication to
the European Ombudsman in March this year that the Governing Council
made a commitment to re-evaluate the disclosure of the letter dated 19
November 2010 from Mr Trichet to Mr Lenihan at a “more advanced stage of
the post-programme surveillance”. The completion of the so-called
Comprehensive Assessment (CA) exercise by end-October would provide such
an opportunity to review the stance taken to date on the disclosure of
this letter in light of the outcome of the thorough review of the largest
banks’ balance sheets.

Against this backdrop and in view of the fact that the Governing Council
in all likelihood will re-evaluate the disclosure of the above-mentioned
letter in the course of November, I wanted to check with you whether it
would be acceptable for you that we keep your request on hold until
this reassessment has been concluded. Should it turn out, for whatever
reason, that such a re-evaluation could not be feasibly undertaken during
next month, I would, of course, inform you accordingly and we would
proceed with the formal assessment of your request in line with the ECB’s
Decision on public access to ECB documents.

Please let us know if the above is agreeable to you.

Many thanks & best regards,
Roman Schremser
Senior Adviser
DG Secretariat

I responded that I am happy to wait until November 30, 2014. We will see what happens.

ECB again refuses release of Trichet/Lenihan bailout letter

This morning the EU Ombudsman notified me that the European Central Bank governing council had refused her office’s request to release the November 2010 communication between then ECB President Jean Claude Trichet and then Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, which I sought from the ECB two years ago.

The refusal yet again emphasises the culture of secrecy in which many European institutions operate. Despite the clear public interest in releasing the letter which the Ombudsman acknowledges, the ECB clearly believes it can operate with impunity. The decisions of the ECB, and its communications with the elected governments of Member States, are ones that European citizens should have access to, particularly in this context where Ireland has exited from the bailout and communications are a matter of record. European citizens seem to be powerless in the face of European bureaucracy and an endemic culture of secrecy within it.

Similar communications to Member States have variously come into the public domain, in Italy via a leak to the media and in Spain via a book written by the country’s former premier.

Unfortunately the EU Ombudsman has no power to compel the ECB to release the letter – her office should be empowered in this regard.

Here are the documents in relation to the release of the letter. Mario Draghi’s refusal:

The Ombudsman’s request to release:

1989 US Dublin Embassy cables

On Saturday and today the Irish Times published a series of stories, by me, Stephen Collins, Miriam Lord, Dan Keenan and Steven Carroll based on cables this blog obtained under US FOIA legislation. Below are the documents on which the story was based – 1989 State Department documents related to Charles Haughey most of which come from US Embassy Dublin, but some of which come from other embassies.

US dismissive about summit between Haughey and Gorbachev
Cables express surprise at excitement over first Irish-Soviet summit
“Gorbomania” has swept the country
US urged Haughey to take tough line with Nicaraguan president Ortega
Key Irish-American congressman got red-carpet welcome for work on extra visas
Donnelly warned of possible erosion of support for the International Fund for Ireland
‘I hope when you see Gorbachev at Shannon you will urge him to support efforts to bring peace to the region’
‘I very much appreciated our exchange of views’
Serious illness made Haughey look for place in ‘history’
Haughey seen by US as deftly negotiating PD coalition in 1989
Haughey sought ‘preferential treatment’ for Ireland from US on tax
Ambassador’s view of leading Irish figures
Cables provide a remarkable insight into a dramatic year in Irish politics
Access to foreign state papers only real way to look at Ireland’s sealed years of 1984-1998

Ombudsman commences review of ECB refusal to release bailout letter

The EU Ombudsman has commenced its review of a decision by the ECB to refuse the release of a controversial letter sent to then Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in November 2010. has been pushing for the release of the letter both from the ECB and the Irish Department of Finance for over a year. Both organisations have refused to release the letter, and we have appealed the matter both to the EU Ombudsman and the Irish Office of the Information Commissioner.

Officials from the EU Ombudsman’s office visited the ECB’s headquarters in Frankfurt on December 12, 2012 and had sight of the document in question. They have now given us about six weeks to make our submissions as to why the document should be released.

These are the communications from the Ombudsman in relation to the review:

ECB releases November 2 letter

The ECB has emailed to say that they are releasing a November 2 2010 letter sent to Irish finance minister Brian Lenihan by then ECB president Jean Claude Trichet:

It has come to our attention that an additional letter was sent to the Irish Finance Minister at the time, which conveyed the ECB’s opinion on a piece of draft Irish legislation. For the sake of completeness, we attach said letter, dated 2 November 2010.

Of course this still leaves me wondering about the reported letters of November 4 and November 12, that the ECB have never referred to – particularly the November 12 one. I will be asking them.

Here is the November 2 communication:

ECB refuses access to Trichet/Lenihan bailout letter

The European Central Bank has refused to release a letter sent to former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in November 2010, stating that the release of the letter’s contents would “undermine the protection of the public interest as regards the monetary policy of the Union and as regards the stability of the financial system in a Member State”. I submitted a request to the ECB for all letters sent to Brian Lenihan or his office in November 2010.

In April last year the contents of an interview between Dan O’Brien of the Irish Times and the late Brian Lenihan were published, in which Lenihan said Ireland had been “bounced” into the EU/IMF bailout and that the first hard indication he had of the ECB wanting Ireland to accept a bailout came in a letter he received from the head of the bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, on November 12. In the letter, according to Mr Lenihan, Mr Trichet “raised the question about whether Ireland would be participating in a programme at that stage”.

In its decision not to release the letter, the ECB said:

The letter, dated 19 November 2010, is a strictly confidential communication between the ECB President and the Irish Minister of Finance and concerns measures addressing the extraordinarily severe and difficult situation of the Irish financial sector and their repercussions on the integrity of the euro area monetary policy and the stability of the Irish financial sector.

Furthermore the letter states:

The ECB must be in a position to convey pertinent and candid messages to European and national authorities in the manner judged to be the most effective to serve the public interest as regards the fulfilment of its mandate. If required and in the best interest of the public also effective informal and confidential communication must be possible and should not be undermined by the prospect of publicity.

In this case, the confidential communication was aimed at discussing measures conducive to protecting the effectiveness and integrity of the ECB’s monetary policy and fostering an environment that ultimately contribute to restoring confidence among investors in the overall solvency and sustainability of the Irish financial sector and markets, which, in turn, is of overriding importance for the smooth conduct of monetary policy.

We should like to draw your attention to the fact that in line with Article 10 of the ECB Decision on public access to ECB documents “documents released shall not be reproduced or exploited for commercial purposes without the ECB’s prior specific authorisation. The ECB may withhold such authorisation without stating reasons.”

I intend appealing this decision.

Here is the letter, along with the only other letter received by Brian Lenihan in November 2010:

Bailout FOIs – HM Treasury

Last month I sent an FOI request to Her Majesty’s Treasury seeking details of communications between them and the Irish Department of Finance during a precise date range surrounding the financial crisis. As I expected, the request has been refused on several grounds. I plan on appealing, mainly because I believe some of the communications would not be subject to the exemptions applied.

Here is the reply from HM Treasury: