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.

I used to write and get paid, now I read and don’t.

Former UUP staffer, currently living in London. @mjshilliday