“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…

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  • wild turkey

    “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.”

    …does the News of the World have a Belfast office?

    In any case, the OFMDFM zipper licker who drafted the FoI response to Kennedy should be in line for a substantial performance bonus.

  • Where this secrecy has gone out of control is in relation to cross border bodies. Apparently they aren’t subject to FOI Acts north or south, a privileged position not enjoyed by the OFDMDFM. The Language Body comprising Foras na Gaeilge and the Boord o’Ulster Scotch haven’t issued annual reports for 2005-8 yet.

  • Concubhar, this excerpt from a 1994 Mayhew Hunter letter refers to the ‘confidential’ nature of inter-government exchanges. Presumably a similar explanation would be given re.Language Body.

    Unfortunately, Slugger lacks the resources to do this research.

  • Dave

    “Apparently they aren’t subject to FOI Acts north or south”

    That’s because sovereignty over the body that promotes the national language throughout the island is now shared between the British government and Irish government (via North/South Language Body via the NSMC via the British-Irish Agreement (a treaty ratified by plebiscite and by parliament) via the GFA). FOI legislation only covers sovereign bodies, not bodies where sovereignty is shared between two states.

    These bodies are touted as being “mutually beneficial co-operation” between two states but it is not necessary to transfer sovereignty to a foreign government in order to cooperate with it. Because you do not elect the members of the British government who now control the internal affairs of the Irish state via the NSMC, they are not democratically accountable to you for how they choose to order your affairs. In matters of Irish culture, the objective is to censor the Irish language under the guise of parity of esteem, so you have the Irish Language Agency having responsibility for the equal promotion of two languages (or rather, one language, and an invented dialect that anybody who speaks English with a lisp can speak): Foras na Gaeilge and Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch.

    In other areas, such as economic investment, these bodies are operating exactly as how the British government designed them to operate, i.e. as vehicles to undermine the sovereignty of the Irish state and to act as ciphers that transfer wealth and investment from it into the United Kingdom under the guise of promoting cross-border relations.

    If the board of Coca-Cola deemed it expedient to cooperate in areas of mutual interest with the board of Pepsi, I dare say they’d find a better way of doing it than granting joint control of the board of Coca-Cola to the board of Pepsi while Pepsi retains full control of the board of its company. Were they to do what the quislings in the Irish government did, they shouldn’t be too surprised if sales of Coca-Cola fall sharply and the organisation of its business is undermined, while sales of Pepsi increase and its business enjoys excellent internal organisational structures.

  • Dave

    A better analogy would be that the board of Coca-Cola elect the board of a subsidiary of Pepsi to jointly run the Coca-Cola Company, thereby allowing the opposition to undermine their business from within under the guies of co-operation while the board of Pepsi is not undermined but rather considerably advantaged by the arrangement.

  • Dave, surely Foras na Gaeilge is the Irish Language Agency; it’s one of NSMC Language Body’s two agencies.

  • A little more irony you may have missed, Pete:

    McGuinness challenges Orde on withholding of files

    “People should be under no illusion where the problem lies. Robinson and McGuinness have adopted a policy of concealment. They are deliberately and quite consciously denying the people their right to the truth by continuing to withhold information and thereby preventing government to proceed in an open and transparent manner,” said a Comical Marty clone.