How the politics of secrecy has underminded our politics…

Much of the damage being down to the two main political parties in Northern Ireland, shares its roots in one thing above all else: a culture of secrecy. It is not, of course, uncommon for politicians to resort to law to trim a journalist’s output to make it less damaging. But the extent to which lawyers have been all over both these stories in the last few weeks has been extraordinary. In particular, Mr Robinson finds himself in a position made much more difficult by his press office’s assumption that journalists can be punished for impudence, by being given virtually no access to party spokesmen (Robinson himself refused to give a full interview to the BBC for 18 months). He will find that whatever the contrition of today, those journalists he kept out now have much more contact with his party across its spectrum of opinion than ever before. There can be no back sliding, since his party has de facto become more open as a result of the crisis.

Attempts to micro manage any future crises, will require great deal more than a lock down at the Press Office. Nothing less than full engagement with critics both inside and outside the party will suffice to get him through. As for Sinn Fein, even before today’s Tribune story, we were being given an ongoing textbook lesson in how not to manage bad news.

All of these techniques worked at a time when both comment and the opportunity to publish it was scarce… Neither is true any more… If politicians want to be heard above the din they need to be both engaging and truthful… Something that neither of the two party leaders in question can, hand on heart, honestly claim about their various outputs over the last few weeks…

The rising generation of politicians will need to acquire new skills and re-learn the art of open political conversation… Surely hey need no further lessons in just how destructive the old closed oligarchy can be…

  • Mick, the lawyers have been active on such material for a very long time and the media have at times been more fearful of, say, developers than of politicians.

    Also, Northern Ireland is such a small place that the judiciary are often likely to be rubbing shoulders with people of clout.

    However, the ability of such people to bury stories has now been radically reduced by the new communications media. It’s up to the MSM to show some more guts.

  • Point taken re. relations with the press. But how about learning lessons in not behaving in ways which may be perceived as being corrupt or hypocritical. Not to mention avoiding covering up for alleged criminal activity?

  • point 2. was directed at N.I. politicos by the way.

  • and what does it say about N.I politicos if they need the scrutiny from the press or elsewhere to keep them honest?

  • Mick Fealty

    BOO, that’s the heart of developing and driving an open project… You can and will be questioned on past actions…

  • Mick, can you ‘drive’ an open project or does it have to be led?

  • Stephen Blacker

    The arrogance of the DUP comes from the idea that we have a possible 36 people to get information from. They will withdraw all cooperation from any member of the press that says or does anything that they dont like, in effect, controlling the press.

    There is another story in one of the Sunday papers about an alleged property deal by the Robinsons of a piece of land and a building for £5. People i know find it very hard to understand that there is no fire where this smoke is.

    Of course there is a denial and it was a mistake by the Land Registry. This may well be true but it does nothing to allay the impression of Joe Public that politicians are a very doggy bunch of legal/illegal crooks.

    The very least that should be done is the politician in question should let the public know who there solicitor was so others do not use this person who is clearly not competent.

  • @ Mick , And that´s good, there can´t be enough scrutiny (or ridicule IMHO), but we know and knew of many of their unpleasant past actions and it didn’t deter them, nor us from voting for them. They just wet on railing against Dublin or London and still they got their votes every few years. On the mainland if Labour screw up, they know that they can be kicked out. In the current N.I. system, the worst that can happen is that there´s just a couple less ministerial cars.

  • a list of legal movements would be good

  • percy

    why don’t you bastards report on the hand-shake today?
    are you obsessed with the dark arts?
    or is it just peter?

  • Mrazik

    There is another story in one of the Sunday papers about an alleged property deal by the Robinsons of a piece of land and a building for £5. People i know find it very hard to understand that there is no fire where this smoke is.

    Of course there is a denial and it was a mistake by the Land Registry. This may well be true but it does nothing to allay the impression of Joe Public that politicians are a very doggy bunch of legal/illegal crooks.

    Posted by Stephen Blacker on Jan 17, 2010 @ 01:40 PM

    Stephen: do you have a link to the article?

    Of course, the Land Registry has been known to make mistakes:–is-now–in-his-name-13504326.html

  • Stephen Blacker

    Sorry Mrazik,

    I dont know how to make a link to the story but it is in the Sunday Mirror – page 11. It is not the most reliable of sources but it was just to highlight that stories will continue and the confidence of the voters has/is shaken.

  • Driftwood

    Is this linked?

    I doubt if anyone involved was daft enough to leave a paper trail that’s easy to follow.

  • Secret Squirrel

    Number 13 is fine.

    but as God/Admin has provided….
    To hyperlink use:

    [a href=””] whatYouWantYourLinkToShowAs

    then change the [ ] brackets to <>.

    (change the square brackets to pointy ones – if pointy ones were used here to illustrate the method, the html formatting would kick in and you wouldn’t be able to see some stuff.)
    Don’t forget to enclose your hyperlink thing in quotation marks.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Have dealt with land registry, to be blunt dont rely on any information from there, it is so slow a system everything would grind to a hault if you waited for them to finalise things.

  • Stephen Blacker

    Mrazik / Driftwood,

    Part of the article reads;

    “Land Registry documents show a piece of land and a house owned by developer Fred Frazer was transferred to the couple (Robinsons) in April 2005.
    But a DUP spokesman last nite claimed the official document was WRONG – and in fact the couple were given a “sliver” of land by Frazer for £5.”

    The article went on to say David Alderdice (Alliance) believes this should be looked into in one of the other inquiries.

    It then finished with;

    “Frazer’s firm Frazer Houses (NI) Ltd transferred land and a house to Iris & Peter Robinson near the couples current home in the Castlereagh Hills in East Belfast back in April 2005, according to official documents in the Land Registry.
    A Dup spokesman said: “The transfer to which you refer relates to a sliver of ground which includes part of the curtilage of a garden to a dwelling but not the dwelling itself. The consideration was £5 and the property was subsequently sold for the same amount.”
    Despite the clear content in the document showing the transfer, the DUP spokesman claimed last night: “The memorial at Land Registry is not correct in that no dwelling was transferred but rather a sliver of ground which ran along one boundary of the site of a dwelling.”

  • Stephen Blacker

    Secret Squirrel,

    Thank you for the advice on how to hyperlink. It also gives that information at the bottom of the page but i still do not know how to carry out this function.

    Its back to school for me.

  • Mrazik

    For anyone interested, follow this link to Castlereagh BC’s recent response to the reform of the local planning system:

    It would be interesting to know what representations might have been made by local councillors (and Castlereagh BC for that matter) to the Planning Service/Planning Appeals Commission on the various aspects and zonings of the draft Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015 in North Down, Castlereagh and Ards? Any intrepid reporter willing to sift through?

    It’s a shame that the Irish Independent article suggests that the council were responsible for zonings/re-zonings when since the 1970s this has been a responsibility of central government. Lobbying (and wee words), however, is a different matter…

  • Mrazik
  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Fealty,
    Your idea that there are lawyers out there who are “all over” both these stories” is an interesting one.
    Obviously libel laws differ from State to State but I feel it is right and proper that lawyers should seek to protect the rights of their clients within the existing law.
    I also believe that journos like Suzanne Breen have a right to consult a lawyer about their rights under the law.
    But I would have more sympathy with Belfasts journos if they did not have such a cosy relationship with the very politicians they are meant to be monitoring.
    This cosiness….and of course the need to have “sources” within parties leaking stories, spinning stories means that Journos have a vested interest in keeping our scandals quiet as much as the Parties do.
    The shameful fact is that the best stories broken about Norn Iron have often been the work of jounos from outside…when presumably the local press pack were just as familia with them but chose to stay silent……not thru fear of lawyers.

  • joeCanuck

    Asked before but unanswered:
    Is it possible for a gag order to be issued to SOT, e.g. and also a second gag order to be issued to everyone else forbidding them from making public knowledge of the first order?

  • Secret Squirrel

    Stephen Blacker : Secret Squirrel, Thank you….

    You’re welcome. :o)