Freedom of Irritation

Jim Allister is getting quite a lot of flak from the DUP of late. The latest problem seems to be Mr. Allister’s irritating tendency to use Freedom of Information legislation to uncover irritating facts that the DUP would rather not release. Simon Hamilton has a press release attacking him on the DUP web site.Of course Mr Hamilton’s irritation could well be explained by the success of some of these FoI requests but as Mark Devenport’s BBC blog points out it may also be related to Dromore.

Clearly as a public representative Mr. Allister is fully entitled to make FoI requests and indeed as political opponents the DUP are fully entitled to be annoyed when he scores something of a direct hit as with Paisley junior and St. Andrew’s lobbying; such is the nature of the cut and thrust of politics. Questions to ministers are one of the major mechanisms by which they are held to account and they are important both as FoI typed requests and on the floor of the assembly; a strategy not currently open to Mr. Allister.

One issue which this does again raise is the lack of a proper opposition within the assembly. The UUP and SDLP seem to have gone quiet on the prospect of forming an opposition whilst the “United Community” are not especially vocal in opposition. Clearly there are frequently issues on which the various parties’ disagree but we still seem to lack an effective overarching critical voice within the assembly, let alone an alternative programme for government. This is of course one of the major weaknesses with the current system and one which although Mervyn Storey has suggested the DUP might like to change; it is probably beyond their power so to do. If, however, by some chance there was an end to mandatory coalition and a proper opposition in the assembly that would have some disadvantages for the DUP as they might then have to contend with a more active assembly based critique of their policies.

On a partially unrelated aside it seems that although one can irritate our local politicians by using FoI requests one cannot as successfully do the same to the BBC as they do not have to reveal how much they pay for the services of some of their leading presenters.

  • Allister hit a jackpot when he brought Junior’s dealings into the open, via a FoI request. No wonder the DUP’s thumb-sucking children are chucking toys from their prams. For those who missed it, here is Mr Hamilton’s precious bleating:

    “In recent times, Jim Allister has made himself into “Mr Freedom of Information” by making umpteen FOI requests on anything and everything. Whenever you scratch the surface however, you see that instead of using the Freedom of Information in the way it was intended, he is instead abusing it for his own partisan, political purposes.”

    Oooh, bad Mr Allister! Someone give Mr Hamilton back his teddy bear.

    Oh, if Mr Allister was really wanting to abuse questions, he would be like the former NIO who was so slighted by a famous New Labour grandee that, when s/he returned to the backbenches, s/he tabled umpteen Parliamentary questions about civil service parking spaces in the said grandee’s department.

  • jim

    Think there is an issue here. These requests do not come cheap. There are legitimate questions which can be asked and there is tearing the backside out of it as Allister clearly does. Interesting how few meetings he has had with Ministers. On the wind down? Still think it unlikely he’ll go through with seeking re-election. The DUP would just have too much fun seeing him humiliated.

  • pith

    You can’t fault Allister for using a mechanism that is there to be used and one which has helped expose chicanery at high level. Do the DUP have to dig down so deeply into the ranks that they get to Simon Hamilton before they have someone who can make the “this is expensive for the taxpayer” argument without being accused of hypocrisy?

    Allister has clearly succeeded in rattling the DUP. They even seem to have a spokesman on him now.

  • We’ve had a double whammy from the DUP on this apparently sensitive topic – or maybe that should be a troubled Sammy (#3)!!

  • fair_deal

    I can’t understand why the DUP is obsessing so much over Jim Allister even the Dromore by-election doesn’t explain it as they were in over drive even before it.

  • pith

    The main plotline of Allister’s second period with the DUP seems to be the gradual debunking of the myth of Robinson the strategic genuis. Robinson brought him in didn’t he to stop McCrea or whoever it was succeeding Paisley in Europe? No doubt it was on Robinson’s orders that the DUP naively hoped that when Allister left the second time, if they didn’t bother him, he would not make bother them; wait for 2009 to come round and he would be gone anyway. If Allister has achieved anything in his latest foray into politics it is to show that the great strategist nothing more than a fumbling second rate operator.

  • As I yesterday suggested elsewhere, the big surprise is how little the FoI route has been used in NI Assembly matters.

    Allister is accused of launching 55 requests, out of a grand total of just 121. Now, let us assume that someone, somewhere is tasked with receiving and processing these applications. That means said bod has had the regular peace-and-tranquillity of bureaucratic existence disturbed, on average, once every second working day. It also means that, leaving aside Allister, a notional one elector in every 17,000 or so has felt the need to seek illumination from the Executive. It strikes me that is a peculiarly low hit-rate for those nebby folk I know and love.

    Nor am I convinced by the defence that such applications are ruinously expensive. No-one has ever explained how such calculations are arrived at (grounds for a FoI application, anyone?)

    On this one, more power to the Allister arm, surely.

  • Turgon

    fair_deal,
    I agree entirely apart from my suggestion about it being because Robinson has created his nemesis and that could damage him in terms of the sucession. Any thoughts yourself?

  • methinks

    I suspect the DUP’s hysterical assault on Allister is because they know his outstanding FOIs will reveal more embarrassment. Remember he followed up his NIO jackpot on Junior with fresh applications to each Department to which Junior might have written follow-up correspondence. That still has to come out.

  • Turgon

    pith,
    I obviously agree with your thesis entirely.

  • Mark McGregor

    The party with a reputation of using spurious threats of legal action at the drop of a hat complaining about others using the law to their advantage is a tad rich for my blood.

    You taught Jim too well, lap it up.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The party with a reputation of using spurious threats of legal action at the drop of a hat complaining about others using the law to their advantage is a tad rich for my blood.

    Is that why you’re not a Sinn Fein supporter these days ? I’ve lost count of the number of times senior SF politicians have threatened to sue over accusations about their links to the IRA.

  • fair_deal

    Turgon (and pith)

    Sorry but the whole Robinson stuff is based more on quasi-psychoanalysis and preconceptions on Robinson than any real understanding of the DUP. Also it’s too premature for claims of nemesis in advance of the by-election.

    The DUP needed a candidate. Allister saw a guaranteed way back into front-line politics. JA was not the reluctant bride.

    Before the deal it was clear that his absence from politics showed. His politics bore more relationship to the late 80’s than the early 00’s nor a party that had sought and got a mandate to negotiate (including his own election). As there was going to be a deal, it was clear Allister was going to have a hard-time with that.

    He had a choice of leaving or staying in with a ‘conscience of the party’ role. When he talked about accepting the decision of the party if there was a free and fair debate he seemed to be looking at the conscience role.

    In this role that would have him seen exacting a greater influence on events than he has managed so far. His FoI request and embarassing of Paisley Jnr won’t effect the big politics it is simply hastening Paisley Snr’s departure.

    However, he chose to repeat the tactic of walkout (although this time the charge of personal ambition could not be thrown at him). AFAIK When he first left he gave strong private indications that he intended to return to the bar in 2009(no pith not robbo’s orders by that stage the robbo/allister relationship had broken down and the role of intermediary fell to others).

    As my earlier comment indicated I’m not entirely sure, my thoughts would be:
    1) It is almost in the DUP genes to go for all-out assault. So many years in opposition/smaller party is hard to shake. (IMO one of the things the party should look at now it is in the leadership role).
    2) A bunch of young guns in the press office who gladly adopt that approach – In my experience younger politicos usually rejoice more in how much invective they can use rather than the deconstruction of an argument or promotion of an alternative.
    3) Plus the belief TUV needs to be smothered at birth (although there is more than one way to achieve that outcome.)

    In all this there is not a fundamental difference between UUP, DUP and TUV. It is about what is the priority to get and the timing. The UUP wanted to settle for less and quicker. The DUP wanted more and slower. When he left the DUP JA’s beef was with the Army Council and a longer time of verification of SF bona fides. There has been some gilding of the lily since then especially around D’hondt. Ultimately all positions involve a deal and some form of powersharing.

  • Mark McGregor

    CS,

    You clearly out a journalist then or friendly with any. They don’t tend to have a SF politician litigation/solicitor letter problem but they do get them often from the DUP.

    I thought everyone knew this?

  • Mark McGregor

    ‘out’ – aren’t

  • Truth Seeker

    Why does Arlene Foster not appear amongst the ‘great and good’ of the DUP’s photo shoot?
    One would have thought a DUP Minister would have merited inclusion.

  • pith

    fair_deal,

    None of that detracts from the evidence that Robinson has managed the Allister business badly from the start. Robinson was always going to struggle with someone whose intellect is way above his own and whose approach to politics is essentially legalistic.

  • Jim has put down a number of questions for me as have other politicians. However, this FoI request came from a different source. I was a bit surprised that personal details such as home addresses and phone numbers were not blanked out. Perhaps the Information Commissioner will remind public servants of the need for such action.

    It’s nice to see the Paisleys lobbying for folks other than developers though, in this case, the developer benefited indirectly.

  • A curious epistle from Alastair Ross:

    “While Mr Allister may try to excuse this on the grounds that he does not meet Sinn Fein, it would seem that he is now boycotting DUP Ministers as well.”

    I understood the reluctance to ‘encounter’ came from none other than Dr Paisley. Here’s a perfectly civil reply from Arlene Foster – even if there’s no sign of further action!!

  • BonarLaw

    Good for Jim.

    It’s just a pity that the cross border bodies are outside the remit of FoI. We know of their inability to employ a balanced workforce but what else is there that we can’t discover due to this immunity from scrutiny?

  • “I can’t understand why the DUP is obsessing so much over Jim Allister”

    Perhaps they fear further and more damaging revelations, fair_deal. It’s very brave of you to come to the aid of such a bunch of charlies!!

  • Danny O’Connor

    If government was truly open and accountable it would reduce the need for FOI requests.People HAVE a right to know how THEIR money is being spent.They pay the wages of every councillor , mla,mp,and mep,and the expenses of members of the house of lords.I include myself as an elected councillor.They also pay staff wages for mla’s,mp’s,special advisors to ministers etc…..

  • pith

    I see Allister has hit back at the MLA in whose name the DUP attacked him over his apparent failure to work with Executive ministers. He has invited the DUP to compare his record of work in Europe with that of Paisley snr when he was there.
    Surely with Junior as researcher over there, Senior’s work rate could not have been anything but prodigious.

  • The reason that Cllr Sammy Wilson MP MLA was selected to put his name on the latest ‘get Allister’ epistle from the Dundela Avenue children is obviously that he is the most high profile elected DUP who does not have any close family to employ. (being a confirmed batchelor with no sprogs. Pity that he and Rhonda never worked out)

    Mind you they slipped up with the ‘poster boy’ jibe given Sammy’s previous ‘poster boy’ status promoting care free country holidays in France.

    As for Alastair Ross, well as JA says… Alastair Who??????????

    Do you have any idea who he is Danny???

  • The Sweeney crew member list has a signature date of 31-8-2006 and is FCB stamped received 24 Nov 2006 (post #18)

    Another administrative hiccup or is FCB too busy processing FoI requests?

  • Pith, the political condition is called DUParanoia!!

    The Emperor aka Sammy had no clothes 🙂

  • pith

    You have got to feel sorry for the guy, sitting there doing no harm to anyone, enjoying a bit of decent weather maybe, digging around to see if he can put a statement out for the local press on a new minibus service from Larne to Glynn or whatever, when the lads from the press office phone to tell him he has been selected to go to war with Jim Allister.

  • I believe Sammy and Ian jnr are keen motorcyclists. This would be great weather for a ‘burn’ up the Antrim Coast Road.

    The ‘lazy’ journos are still digging though they haven’t as yet unravelled the mystery of the apparently rates exempt 142A Main Street, Bushmills (post #9).

  • pith

    Are you suggesting that the £1 million for the North West 200 on Junior’s famous Santa Andrews demand list might already have been earmarked for the “Novices 49cc politicians only do you know who I am scooter race” at the end of the main business?

  • Jim

    I understand that the 122 FOI figure refers to elected representatives not public or media applications (which presumably numbers in the thousands).

    JA would be better value for money if he actually done some work in Europe instead of spending his time and wages trying to win political points over a party that he was content enought to be part of until very recently. I find his behaviour pathetic for a supposedly intelligent man. His actions are those of a disapointed and failed man who clearly had aspirations for DUP high office but knew it wasn’t going to happen.

    He should be ok though – after all, he still has his looks and charisma 😉

  • Jim, are you standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ross, Hamilton, Wilson and the Chuckle Brothers – not to mention Ian jnr? If so, perhaps youse should do a retread of Dad’s Army …

  • Danny O’Connor

    Craigy Hill
    I think he is from Lisburn or somewhere near it.He was co-opted after the sad death of George Dawson.It is strange that none of the DUP councillors in Larne,Carrick or N’abbey,didn’t get the nod,If it was me i’d be pi***d about it.I think he worked in Sammy’s office beforehand.

  • Moe

    So jim, you’d rather have the public not know about Ian Junior’s inappropriate shopping list at St Andrews – with further relevations possibly still to come – or the appointment of 18 Special Advisors which us taxpayers must fit the bill for? Is that not part of being an effective politician in opposition?

  • Alastair Ross MLA would appear to be a little bit out of his depth. He put up his butt – and got it kicked!!

  • Don’t mention the SpAds, Moe. You might upset the DUP and SF’s Knuckle Brothers!!

  • Blooper

    Jim Allister’s attack on Alistair Ross has to be one of the most distasteful I’ve read in a long time – Alistair Ross, I’m sure would have prefered not to become an MLA in the way he did, but for Jim Allister to attack him because of it is truly disgusting.

    Roll on the next European election – will no-one rid us of this unctious barrister?

  • I thought he ‘attacked’ Ross because of his, er, ‘bloopers’. You’d expect someone with a double Masters to be better researched.

  • pith

    Nevin,

    Indeed. One assumes that Alistair Ross has achieved the age of responsibility and is in a position to say No to the Duncedela boys if he does not wish to be made to look silly.

  • pith

    Blooper,

    If Allister’s attack on Alistair Ross is the most distasteful you have read in a long time then I can only envy your world of marshmallows and cotton wool. You won’t remember when Paisley called Molyneaux a Judas or when he called Faulkner worse after the man died. You won’t know of “No mass, No Lemass” or the snowball throwing, or the Pope is the Antichrist work for the NI Tourist Board in the European Parliament. Paisley spent 40 years perfecting distaste so don’t wonder too deeply at the apprentice trying to learn the master’s methods.

  • Bigger Picture

    pith

    Jim Allister’s attack becomes disgusting due to the fact that George Dawson worked for Jim and was a close friend for over 30 years and even wrote a tribute to him on his website. At least Paisley had always been a rival to Molyneaux and Faulkner. Very very bad taste

    Moe

    Whether Jim puts in FOI requests every day or not isn’t the point. Instead it’s how effective they have been. Is Jnr out?? Has there been a review of special advisers?? This in fact is the only way Jim can scrutinise the Executive and it is a paltry second best from being in the legislature itself. Do the tories/lib dems bombard the govt with foi’s?? no they ask the questions head on where it counts.

  • BP, Allister and the Telegraph’s Gordon have provided the ammunition but it’s the MLAs (and the BBC) who’ve failed to use it to telling effect.

    It seems that Disgusted of Dunclug’s nostrils are twitching even though the stench is elsewhere.

    Tribute to Dawson

  • pith

    This is obviously a sensitive area. However I think it is worth asking if the reason why of all their non-entities, the DUP hierarchy chose Alistair Ross to attack Allister was because they knew it would hurt at personal level. It might be a matter for regret that Allister made reference to the means by which Ross became an MLA but on the basis of the tribute he paid to George Dawson and given the indications on this thread that the two were close friends it becomes understandable. I can’t say I would ever want to see the world through Allister’s eyes but on this occasion it might be worth trying to think how the Ross statement affected him personally.

  • jonah

    I dont think that Jim Allister has any depths to which he will not stoop now – irrespective of who puts a statement out against him. In fairness to Alistair Ross he hasnt done a bad job in the Assembly since his appointment although he clearly isnt a ‘big gun’ as such. Jim seems to be on a real anti-DUP agenda and i honestly think he has lost a lot of credibility of late.

  • Big Lad

    Is it not the case that for many people Jim Allister was a ‘Who Allister’ prior to his election to Europe on the coat tails of the Papa Doc?? Maybe he should start doing more work and less FoI’s if he wants to hang around after the next euro poll!

  • CS Parnell

    Hey, Mark, aren’t the Paisleyites (and Allister) your pals in the “down with dirty foreigners” campaign?

    (Along with the fash, the commies, the provies and the sticks)

    Just asking

  • [aside]BBC discloses controller’s salary – and it seems Nolan wasn’t the biggest BBC earner in the country!!

  • Danny O’Connor

    Is this more than a government minister earns