I have my reply. You’ll be as shocked as I am that they refused.
Some extracts are below the fold as it’s not on line yet (quite right too). But I have some observations.
First, section 36(2)(a)(ii) probably isn’t a valid excuse to withhold the information. That refers to the work of the Executive, Policing and Justice (and I am still on the assumption that this is what is being withheld) is not the work of the Executive, it is not a devolved matter. Withholding on s.36(2)(c) will cover it though. I also still contend that there is a paradox at play here. Why withhold information on the fear of contaminating the political atmosphere on devolution of P&J, but not the Causeway? Can it be argued that disclosure of the Hanson letter didn’t contaminate the political atmosphere? Surely not. So was that a mistake? Was that letter considered for a section 36 exemption? I might write again and ask.
The reasons for witholding the information remain valid. This information formed part of the deliberative process between the St Andrews Agreement and the point if restoration. The content of the paragraph, were it released, could unnecessarily undermine trust amongst partners within the Executive and could in turn make it more difficult to achieve the completion of devolution.
In favour of non-disclosure The material in question deals with issues that are still subject to discussion with the Northern Ireland parties concerned. In the context of negotiations of this nature, there is a public interest in maintaining a private space for discussion away from public scrutiny to enable discussions to take place in an atmosphere in which confidence and trust can be established and maintained. Ministers and the parties involved need to be able to discuss difficult issues with candour and the premature release of details of those discussions would inhibit that. If Government and the parties with which it is dealing were to feel inhibited from being frank and candid with one another because of the possibility of disclosure of exchanges, the quality of dialogue lying behind the negotiation process would be diminished, ultimately resulting in undermined trust between the parties, making further dialogue more difficult, both in the context of moves towards the completion of devolution and within the context of the current power-sharing Executive.
Any typos can be taken as mine and not the NIOs.
I used to write and get paid, now I read and don’t.
Former UUP staffer, currently living in London. @mjshilliday