See you outside parliament on November 5…?

THE NUJ has blasted Ian Paisley’s criticism of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act being used by “lazy journalists who will not do any work” (what has got to hide?) The Tele is challenging Assembly politicians to spell out their position on freedom of information, while journalists will be taking part in an event on November 5 (remember, remember…) at Stormont to ‘stand up for journalism’ in the face of a government that would prefer it if awkward questions just weren’t asked.

  • Northsider

    Is that like Parliamentary Privilege being used by lazy politicians?

  • RG Cuan

    Ba cheart go mbeidh mé ann…
    Should be there…

  • Nevin

    Perhaps they could ask Martin about that, er, meeting in or around Derry he and Mitchell had with the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, on November 5, 1993. This was apparently at a time when Government ‘officials’ weren’t in communication with Sinn Fein. I don’t suppose the encounter made it into Hurd’s memoirs. An FoI request ….

  • Justin

    Big Ian, making friends everywhere he goes! Keep up the good work.

  • The Raven

    Perhaps someone should ask what the £-value is of all the FOI requests made to date?

    Then someone should perhaps work out what that cost is in terms of:

    – nurses’ wages?
    – school repairs?
    – the implementation of an Irish Language Act?

    (I put that last because obviously, when we save public money we want to ensure that it goes towards something useful first.)

    It may be better than someone digging around to find out the cost of flowers at the NIO…?

    Here’s one I did some time ago, that puts the flowers thing into context. How much does the Spanish Inquisition-esque Northern Ireland Audit Office cost over a three year period.

    The answer is £22million, with a year on year increase of around £3m per annum.

    How much fraud have they uncovered in the same period?

    “We do not measure such things.”

    “So you belittle city of culture bids, hang the head curator of the Museum in Belfast, put every civil servant and local government officer into paroxysms of fear, criticise unmet targets, and so on, but you don’t keep a tally of – what I certainly thought – might be your own supposed target?”

    “Ummmm. Yes.”

    “Well, with a best guesstimate, do you think you uncovered a lot?”

    “No. Not really.”

    You’re all digging in the wrong places.

  • Does anyone really believe that there would be a net saving of public money, if politicians and civil servants were able to make decisions in secret knowing that they were no longer subject to this form of scrutiny?

    Some people may be digging in the wrong places, but the significance of those can be dwarfed by one question in the right place:

  • The Raven

    Tom Griffin wrote: “Does anyone really believe that there would be a net saving of public money, if politicians and civil servants were able to make decisions in secret knowing that they were no longer subject to this form of scrutiny?”

    I know where you are going with this. And I agree with you. Yes, there should be proper scrutiny. But is this the right way? Any idea of the number of what are termed “vexatious” requests received every year? Every department, Council statutory agency built whole teams of people specifically there to deal with FOI before it kicked off.

    Might those resources not have been used better elsewhere?

    There’s one doing the rounds at the moment about Councillors and their “junkets” and expenses. The headline will be “The (publication) can exclusively reveal following an FOI request…” etc etc etc. This is pure tittiliation.

    I just think these are the wrong questions to be asking. These expenses are minute – compared to the other issues that could be queried. All I am saying is, dig a little deeper and ask the RIGHT questions, MORE often.

  • Aquifer

    FOI is hated by incompetents and bullies, accustomed to doing what they fancy and relying on applying a thick coat of white-wash or a dose of staff intimidation for all the stuff that goes pear-shaped. Trouble is, the civil service system, of grades as a proxy for class, rewards glib bullies. Frequent reorganisations and moving jobs become ways of avoiding responsibility for managing or developing the capabilities of staff. Policy based ‘evidence’ drives out evidence based policy, with a selection of favourable results published in full colour. The plain black-and-white of real world facts are suppressed or ignored to retain budgets and avoid risky choices that might endanger a senior executive’s reward package.

    In this world corruption and discrimination have new forms that defy accountability. Which PFI contractor? which options has he ignored? which risks remain with government? what was being achieved by public employees that was deleted from the targets for private? Did the all-in cost include pay-offs to paramilitaries?

    There is an underlying crisis here. Civil servants recruited as risk averse, at junior grades, often lack the skills to manage both well and accountably. So they bully and hide stuff.

    The benign dictatorship of direct rule also produced a certain style of management, of big spending and no bad news, which left managers plenty of slack.

    FOI is going to be cheap at any cost, but it does not have to cost much. Start putting ALL the papers on the internet and let the journalists do their work.

    We’ll have better public service at the end of it.