More FOI haze

Returning to that hidden paragraph, Jim Allister’s office have been kind enough to pass me their correspondance with the NIO over this. Jim’s letter requesting an internal review is below the fold, the NIOs refusal letter is here (PDF). What now interests me is this section of Jim’s analysis:

I note you have disclosed only letters largely common to both the DUP and Sinn Fein, thus driving me to the conclusion that there exist letters unique and specific to the DUP and Sinn Fein

That’s not an unfair assessment in the slightest. If he’s right, and I must confess that I believe that he might be, it raises a question under s1(1)a of the Freedom of Information Act which states:

(1) Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled—
(a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds information of the description specified in the request

The Information Commissioner’s Office has a helpful pamphlet on the duty to confirm or deny here (PDF). Reading it, I cannot find any plausable reason why the NIO should not confirm or deny that they did write seperatly to Paisley and Adams on the devolution of policing and justice. If they didn’t, theres no problem. If they did, they could find themselves in hot water.Dear Sir,

Having had time to more fully consider the response to my FOI request, I write to request a formal review in regard to those documents withheld.

The failure to even identify the nature, subject matter or quantity of the withheld documents disadvantages me in terms of articulating the case for disclosure. I am expected to make my case in the dark. I note the withheld documents includes correspondence between “Ministers” and DUP/Sinn Fein leaders, both at and following the St Andrews summit. Total refusal, rather than even redaction, suggests an imbalanced approach to a matter of obvious high public interest.

It seems to me that the public interest has been swamped by political considerations. I find it difficult to accept that this correspondence could prejudice the effective conduct of the Northern Ireland Executive. I note you have disclosed only letters largely common to both the DUP and Sinn Fein, thus driving me to the conclusion that there exist letters unique and specific to the DUP and Sinn Fein, raising the public interest question of whether what has been said to each party is compatible or consistent. Might this be the “threat” to the effective conduct of the executive? I do not find it credible to say documentation pertaining to “issues that are still subject to discussion with the NI parties” (eg policing and justice), has the capacity to so threaten the effective conduct of the Executive as to overwhelm the public interest in disclosure.

Thus, I request a review of the decision to withhold material which patently is in the public interest.

  • Jo

    What has his interest in these matters to do with his (short-term) role representing NI as a MEP in Brussels?

  • Michael Shilliday

    By which logic – whats your interest? You don’t represent anyone.

  • Any member of the public can make an FoI request. Most will also expect to get bluffed off like Allister seems think he has been in this case.

    The process by which you apply, wait, get refused, apply for review, wait some more, get refused, apply for an external review is quite frustrating. From my experience and anecdotal evidence the wait always seems to be very close, if not exceeding, the maximum time allowed under the legislation. I’d imagine, where I an Information Holder hoping not to have to release some information I’d wait as long as I possibly could too in the hope that the pesky citizen will decide it’s not worth the effort.

  • percy

    ouch mr.shilliday a bit nasty there your 2:20.
    Its a little early in the thread to start wriggling don’t you think?

  • Beano, I was surprised that personal details such as home addresses and phone numbers aren’t always blanked out by officials.

  • The Watchman

    Just because you don’t want these questions asked, Jo, doesn’t mean that Allister shouldn’t ask them. Worried that all manner of things may be found when the stone gets lifted up and Evil Jim be proved right?

  • Gregory

    FOI applications are a labor of tedium, they are as likely to be dishonored as responded to positively.

    Several of the Education Directors in Britain resorted to them to find out what kind of characters were floating about classrooms.

    (an indicator that they hadn’t a clue)

    Which in itself suggests that 400 million dollars spent not banning sex offenders from schools has left a haze of its own.

    About 97 percent of FOI applications (to schools), even when whacked in by a lawyer, will be ignored. Ms Ruane has (BTW) encouraged that trend over here.

    SF have also apparently stopped replying to some of their former Holy Cross allies.

    They don’t need yanks in Philly, Chicago or Pittsburgh these days do they? So FOI, a bit of a hurdle and a haze.

  • truth and justice

    If Jim is right he forgets he was in the DUP at the time and was one of their senior negoiators he knew all that was going on so the double standards coming from him is not suprising.

  • If Jim is right he forgets he was in the DUP at the time and was one of their senior negoiators he knew all that was going on …”

    Moloney’s biography of Paisley suggests otherwise. Even the Punt was often kept in the dark whilst Papa went for his one-to-one chats with Phoney Tony. When Jonathan Powell got cross at being at the wrong end of JHA’s cross-examination, he successfully demanded that the DUP keep Allister out of their delegations.

    As an apologist for the DUPers, truth and justice, you’d know far more about double standards and sell-outs than most.

  • Jo

    Jim is, for the time being, a MEP and his job is to represent NI in Europe. Were he a man of any “principle” (the lack of which forms the basis of his castigating his former party), he would resign and recontest the seat.

    Were he to do that of course, he’d have no mandate whatsoever and his FoI enquiries have exactly the same status as anyone else’s. The only reason why they get the status they do is because he holds an office to which he is not entitled and which he will shortly vacate by virtue of electoral rejection.

    The latter experience is something which first materialised ten years ago, was endorsed at elections last year and is something which will continue to be the life experience of those who would refuse representation in government to people voting for parties they don’t like.

  • darth rumsfeld

    you post the shallow arguments always trotted out when the big questions can’t be answered.

    Allister’s response is unanswerable- noone in the DUP suggested Foster or Donaldson resign their seats when they jumped ship. Churchill was a serial defector, and of course spoke for a minority at one time, but he was still politically relevant. Of course they now have a mandate for their new party, and I wouldn’t dream of guessing how the Unionist electorate will vote in the next European election, but if they plump for the DUP touted candidates Plug Poots or Junior then they clearly have little self worth

    It’s accepted fact that Allister was sidelined during much of St Andrews, but even if he wasn’t why would you not want to know what was being negotiated there? Or is “jo” a contraction of “junior”?

  • Gregory

    The resign stuff doesn’t happen and hasn’t for ages. No one else does, so why should an MEP? If you change parties you just walk across the floor or move your happy icon to a different group, I presume the EU is hi-tech, it would have to be with all that expenses fraud.