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:

9 thoughts on “ECB refuses access to Trichet/Lenihan bailout letter”

  1. Gavin, why don’t you make a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Finance, backed up if necessary by an appeal to the Information Commissioner?

    Should be easier than squeezing the letter out of the ECB that has no statutory obligation to divulge documents to some know-nothing Joe Soap European citizen like you – or me.

  2. Brian Lenihan was never Tánaiste. Really instills you with confidence in the ECB doesn’t it. Although maybe they just told the ECB he was Tánaiste so they wouldn’t try to meet the real one.

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