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.

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