What Tony told Ian and Gerry and what neither must know…

Worth a brief mention is the fact that an otherwise unsuccessful Freedom of Information request by Jim Allister has established the existence of letters which were withheld because they “would prejudice to the effective conduct of the NI Executive”. The MEP’s fuller statement is mostly speculative, yet raises a number of intriguing questions. Not least about unmatching expectations from both main parties in government about what can be settled and when…From Jim Allister

“In pursuit of my FOI requests with the NIO, arising from the St Andrews negotiations, I had asked for all documentation which issued to Sinn Fein and the DUP at or following the St Andrews Conference. Whereas some documents have been furnished to me I am concerned that an unspecified number of communications have been withheld on the politically significant grounds that their disclosure would cause “prejudice to the effective conduct of the Northern Ireland Executive”.

It has been specified to me by the NIO that the withheld information is contained in letters between Ministers and the leaders of Sinn Fein and the DUP, which were issued “at or following the St Andrews summit”.

So, there are secret letters which passed from Ministers to the Sinn Fein and DUP leaders which have not been made public and the reason is that their publication might cause “prejudice to the effective conduct of the NI Executive”. This causes me to believe that there may be letters unique and specific to the DUP and Sinn Fein, raising the public interest question of whether what has been said to each party by HMG is compatible or consistent. Might this be the “threat” to the effective conduct of the Executive, namely that if each knew what the other had been told or promised, it could undermine the working of the Executive? For example, if Sinn Fein had secret promises on an amnesty, or dismantling operations against criminality in South Armagh, or on the Irish Language, it could indeed destabilise the Executive.

It seems to me that the public interest of straightforward dealing and open government has been swamped by political considerations. Surely, the public are rightly entitled to know what HMG said or promised to each of the key parties in these secret letters which flowed at or from St Andrews.

I know, from what the NIO has written to me, that some of the documentation pertains to “issues that are still subject to discussion with the NI parties”. Thus I expect policing and justice is included, but has HMG told the two parties the same thing or are they telling each what they want to hear. If they are, then that certainly could destabilise Stormont.

Not being satisfied that the public interest is being served by the withholding of this documentation I have lodged a formal request for a review and, ultimately, I will take this matter to the Information Commissioner.”

  • Jo

    I find it very surprising that a former barrister would not be familiar with the exemption clauses in the FoI legislation.
    A Google search would turn them up in a few seconds.

    A pathetic little attempt at increasing his personal profile on which the clock ticks daily as we near the next EU elections.

    Enjoy your limited time in the limelight, little man.

  • joeCanuck

    There might be a ball there, Jo, but it’s hard to spot.

  • Jo, perhaps you can provide a link to the relevant exemption clause rather than going for a high tackle 😉

    [aside]Jim also has Ruane in his sights: Ruane Caught Out

    “The answer clearly states that policy pertaining to general school education is a member state competence and only in circumstances where a national of one country moves to another can they demand the same treatment as indigenous nationals. In “grannying” the parents and child remain living outside the jurisdiction, so none of the rights arising under Article 18 of the EC Treaty are relevant.”

  • Butterknife

    Are you a member of the DUP PR team by any chance Joe! lol

  • joeCanuck

    Hardly. hehehehe

  • Those of us familiar with Jo’s posting will be aware that she resorts to personal abuse when she doesn’t have anything relevant to say. As for Mr Allister, he is raising important points and seems to be doing a better job of holding the DUP to account than the entire UUP.

  • odd-that-isn’t-it

    It is strange that Jim Allister doesn’t know the excemption clauses given that he is safe in the knowledge that he isn’t covered by FoI himself.

    As an MEP none of us can probe for any of the details from him which he seeks to ask others about.

    I wonder would Chairman Jim be willing to volunteer this info?

  • Jo

    Mr Allister’s comment is supposed to inspire fear and trepidation in his vacuous reference to the “Information Commissioner” into whose overloaded intray Mr Allister’s complaint may well wend its way. I don’t think I’m hard of hearing if I don’t hear Shaun Woodnward’s knees trembling. I would have thought it rather obvious that any papers relating to any strategic political negotiations anywhere would not be subject to FoI enquiries, but then I’m neither a politician nor a barrister.

    As for the public interest test? Well, the fact that those engaged in these negotiating represented almost the entire electorate might just be relevant. Interesting, nonetheless, how responses to these comments end up in personal coments about me, rather than a reflection on the bleeding obvious facts about this non-story. As the introduction stated, its worth a brief mention. Nothing to see here..move on, now. 🙂

  • Bigger Picture

    Exemption clauses are worked into the FOIA and contain a number of areas, most of which are uninteresting. I don’t think it is right for Jim to play it up too much because if they are held as a result of priveleged communication, then they will never be released. An example of which is speeches in the HOC but privelege can also extend to communicated Govt papers. The fact is Jim knows this and if it is the case he also knows that they will never be released, to do so may lead to a collapse of Parliamentary govt.

    Jim has got the facts in front of him but it appears that he is spinning like mad to try and make a headline from it.

  • Jo you can hardly complain about personal comments after that first post.

    From my own limited experience with FoI the exemptions are used as excuses far to readily. I didn’t pursue the matter further than an internal review, but I know others who have had some degree of success on taking it further.

    I’m actually impressed by Allister. I don’t quite agree with him on politics but I’m glad somebody’s exposing even a little of the bullshit emanating from our overlords on the hill.

  • I should mention that my above comment was as much to do with Nevin’s link about Ruane’s own spinning as this conspiracy theory.

  • pith

    Odd-that-isn’t-it,

    Surely Allister is subjecet to the Act as much as the next politician. If he had turned up at St Andrews with a Junior-style shopping list, then the Government would be obliged to release correspondence relating thereto just as it did in Junior’s case. If you are going to through mud make sure it isn’t the type that runs through your fingers.

  • odd-that-isn’t-it

    Pith
    If the PM wrote a letter to Allister then it’s subject to FoI on the part of the Prime Minister.

    However, Chairman Jim is very keen on asking all and sundry about what they do however none of us have any chance to question Jim about anything because were we to write to him asking him about anything from his office costs or anything else he, quite happily for him, doesn’t have to oblige.

    He’s in the very privileged position of being able to dish it out but not having to take it.

  • pith

    Have you tried?

  • Bigger Picture

    Pith

    Despite your efforts what he is actually saying is totally correct. They are protected under Pivelege, it is the Government who must release figures etc.

  • pith

    Bigger Picture,

    Parliamentary privilege is an entirely different issue (referring here to your post at no. 9)

    In respect of the other point from one of the robbobots, I don’t see a genuine correlation between someone asking an MP or MEP about their allowances and a politician asking the Prime Minister for help over an application to build a spa resort while a constitutional settlement is being negotiated between two governments, Robinson and Adams. Not the same thing at all.

  • perci

    all that’s happening is Allister is feeling a wee tinge of conscience for fingering Ian Og; he’s awoken and said to himself:
    “What am I doing? I’m supposed to be a hardliner to the right of the DUP?”
    So this is an attempt to balance the attacks with one on SF.
    So we expect his assaults to continue on DUP and SF.
    Like many before him : McCarthy, Vance etc he wants to take on the whole Assembly.
    Trouble is people have voted for a new way.
    He’s a wee troublemaker with an axe to grind, and nowt to offer. Move on !

  • Bigger Picture

    Pith

    and as outlined in post 9 privelege also extends to government documents, which IS related very much to this issue. That is why sensitive documents are exempt and for example why we only found out this year that Lord Mountbatten was for Irish freedom.

  • pith

    What I find intriguing with regards to Allister is the extent to which the DUP seems to be terrified of his every move. This is apparent in everything from the considered responses from some of the big hitters to the peashooting responses from the lower ranks. I don’t think he is so much of a threat to the DUP.

  • I like the idea of the Chuckle Brothers being spun different even condradictory yarns – possibly on the assumption that they were unlikely to share them.

    As the NIO was willing to release the Hanson letter to IPjr it would need to explain why it can’t release the letter/letters to his colleagues, the Chuckle Brothers.

  • Jo

    The content of the Hanson letter is pertinent to its release: however inappropriate the circumstances which produced it, it concerned constituency matters, i.e., matters not relevant to the negotiations or elements of the eventual deal.

  • Pith, Jim Allister is privy to earlier internal DUP machinations so they may have cause to be nervous.

    Don’t forget that David McAllister is still a DUP councillor despite being successfully prosecuted for fraud whereas other DUP representatives were invited to fall on their swords when they caused difficulties for the party. David is the fourth member in the group photographed at the Diamond, Bushmills, and will have an in-depth knowledge of many of the Paisley/Sweeney exchanges.

  • Jo, they may be constituency type matters – the NW 200 isn’t in the IPjr’s constituency (and the A 26 doesn’t go to Ballycastle) – but whose word are we taking for it that they weren’t part of the deal?

  • pith

    Nevin,

    Indeed they may have cause to be nervous. At the minute though they seem to in a state more akin to terror than nervousness. If they are like that after one jab from Allister who knows what they will be like when he hits them again.

    Has McAllister’s name come up before in relation to the Paisley-Sweeney affair?

  • Pith, McAllister featured on the recent BBC NI Spotlight programme on the Paisleys-Sweeney relationships; he walked away from an interview with Kevin Magee when the questions became too difficult.

  • Jo

    “a state more akin to terror than nervousness”

    A case of wishful thinking?

    There has been a successful Budget (despite initial disagreement) a successful wooing of the SDLP away from any potential meeting of minds with the UUP and the govt. seems set for a fair wind.

    Punters are feeling the benefits in their pockets and Allister will be out of elected office on his arse within a relatively short space of time. One can never rule out the possibility of an O’Neill-era Silent Valley type incident, but then none of the old Ulster Resistance people are still around. Or are they?

  • “none of the old Ulster Resistance people are still around”

    I can think of two, Jo: Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson. Do they count? The first is certainly old enough …

  • pith

    Jo,

    Run a Google search on Ulster Resistance and you will get lots of names familiar to most of us including one who is largely responsible for the hatred and misery that prevailed in Northern Ireland over three decades.

    My state of terror remarked referred to the DUP’s reactions to Jim Allister, not to the local “budget”.

  • Jo

    Hmmm..I was thinking of other individuals who were directly involved in attempts to obtain arms and trading Shorts missile info to the (then) South African intelligence service. Thankfully most of the former UR has become somewhat distanced from armaments, though there is a lovely pic of Robbo posing with an assault rifle somewhere. Ah, all our yesterdays…

  • Jo, did Robbo (jpg image) ever see ‘military’ action during the Troubles or has someone been having fun with image editing?