“if the First and deputy First Ministers have sound arguments for their case..”

UUP MLA Danny Kennedy had promised to pursue the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers for more details of their complaints about and to the media after a “very unsatisfactory reply” to his written question on the matter. Today’s Belfast Telegraph reports that, in response to Danny Kennedy’s Freedom of Information request for “all correspondence by the joint FMs and Junior Ministers with editors, journalists or proprietors of news outlets”, OFMDFM said only one document was relevant to his request “and that they refused to disclose it to [him]”. From the Belfast Telegraph report

“They told me that this refusal was based on the section of the Freedom of Information Act which says that disclosure would inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation,” [Danny Kennedy] said. “They clarified this further by saying that Ministers required a private space in which to counter media coverage which does not accurately reflect the significant measures being undertaken to address the economic situation.”

The Newry and Armagh MLA said he was “deeply unhappy” about this refusal.

“It confirms that there was a letter sent to the media and that OFMDFM will not let me or the public see it. I have to say that if the First and deputy First Ministers have sound arguments for their case, they should be able to state these publicly to counter anything which they disagree with in the press,” he said.

“If their arguments are robust enough and hold water then they will stand press scrutiny. Why should they seek to control the press and inhibit their role of free and fearless public enquiry?”

Mr Kennedy went on: “This culture of secrecy and press control pervades the relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein and here it is evidenced once again in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. It is the same culture of secrecy which sees business decided between the DUP and Sinn Fein ministers before Executive meetings, with the ministers from the UUP and SDLP being sidelined.

“It is the same culture of secrecy which saw the DUP and Sinn Fein act on this matter in the first place without the other Executive parties. We will have to deconstruct this culture of secrecy and press control. It is out of tune with the times which demand openness and transparency.”

But if “only one document was relevant” and that document, a letter to Sir Anthony O’Reilly, then Chief Executive Officer and largest shareholder of Independent News & Media PLC, is already in the public domain…