A LISBURN Lawyer based in Dublin, has won what is being hailed as a major victory for transparency in a case involving the European Parliament at the General Court of the EU.
The Court ruled last week that the European Parliament acted unlawfully in the grounds it used to deny the lawyer, Ciarán Toland, access to a report drawn up by the Parliament into the operation of the Parliamentary Assistance Allowance.
The report in question, (known as the 'Galvin Report'), is an annual audit into the Parliamentary Assistance Allowance in the European Parliament. It examines the operation of the Allowance, and contains proposals for its reform. The report is based on an audit of the parliamentary assistance allowances of a sample of MEPs in October 2004-June 2005. The report contains details of abuses in allowances paid to certain MEPs, in order to identify flaws in the allowance system, although these MEPs are not identified in the report sought by Mr. Toland.
Despite the fact that it was leaked on the internet in 2009, the
Parliament continues to withhold it.
When Mr. Toland sought access to the report, the Parliament refused him access.
Mr Toland said: "I am delighted with the result. When they refused me access to the report, the European Parliament effectively said that the taxpayers of Europe, who fund the parliament, cannot be trusted to know how their money is being spent by that parliament, nor are they entitled to know what recommendations exist for how the system should be reformed."
He continued: "I took this case to challenge the Parliament's grounds for withholding information. What is at the heart of the case are central issues of European transparency law. This case has now established new rights of access to a wide range of documents by both citizens and the media.
"In particular, an institution will not be able to claim that political controversy is a ground to refuse access.
"Moreover, this case has established that the public has a right of access to Internal Audit Reports — to 'which both the Commission and Parliament have up to now refused access.
"On a wider point, involving the public in any debate on legislative reform, or in respect of public funds, is an essential prerequisite of a democratic system. No self-respecting parliament should ever be afraid to discuss its finances in front of the citizens who elect it, and who pay for those very funds. That is why I took the case and why I am so pleased with (the)result."