“Surely it can only strengthen our democracy…”

The Guardian report on the UK government’s declared intent to extend Freedom of Information laws includes this quote from Hugh Orde.

The Acpo president, Sir Hugh Orde, welcomed the proposals.

He said: “Any organisation that operates as part of a key public service should be accountable and open to public scrutiny.

“The Association of Chief Police Officers has been asking to be included under the act and welcomes the extension of authorities that it offers.”

They also intend to enact legislation reducing the 30-year release rule on secret government records to 20 years.  But, even though the new time limit will be phased in over 10 years from 1 January 2013, there are exceptions.  As the Belfast Telegraph notes

But Ministry of Justice officials confirmed that while the reduced time-lock on records will be extended to other exempted areas such as court documents, an exception will be made for some cabinet documents concerning Northern Ireland.

The presumption will be to release all records but any document that can be shown to contain “information prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs in Northern Ireland or to the work of the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly” will be held back for 10 years longer. [added emphasis]

A Ministry of Justice official said: “It will have to be shown that the public interest in withholding it outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.”

Was that the result of the anticipated “further consultation between the UK government and OFMDFM” we were told about in August 2009?

Obviously the administration here remains [Forever? – Ed] a “delicate” fragile flower…

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  • Cynic2

    We couldn’t have OFMDFM or Executive documents disclosed after just 20 years. Our illusions might be shattered!

  • Pete Baker


    It’s Cabinet [UK Government] documents relating to discussions concerning Northern Ireland that we’re talking about.

    OFMDFM don’t keep any records of potentially sensitive discussions…

  • Cynic2

    Oh sorry. Even worse. All those sordid little deals might shock us to think that those we trust could have stooped so low

  • Brian Walker

    While this is a regrettable decision, a 20 year rule would not have led automatically to a corncucopia of release on NI. As we’ve seen even under the 30 year rule, cabinet documents can be withheld and cabinet docs do not tell the whole story anyway. MI5 and other security sources are in a quite different category.

    This being so, the decision to exempt NI cabinet papers is overcautious.

    Among the reasons for exemption may be that papers of 20-30 years ago may point to a security policy that the authorities may still wish to reserve as details may still influence prosecutions; or contain details of dealings with paramilitaries or matters about the Irish government that could be embarrassing or contradict the published record.

    But as so much as been published already about the peace process, its hard to see what damage could be done to relations today (like Jonathan Powell’s account, cleared by the Cabinet Office).

    For dealing with the past, all sides need to do better than this. It is unhelpful to accept passively a new 40 year rule for NI. More official disclosure should be accompanied by
    more open admissions from paramiliaries. But it will a long hard grind to get there.

    An obstacle in the way is the absence of an official amnesty or immunity from prosecutions. It would be far more honest to admit that such a policy is de facto in existence already. That admission would go part of the way towards unlocking more of the truth all round.

    As also would be a more ambitious release of official documents, freed of the incubus of potential use in the criminal courts.

  • What are you then to make of this farce …… http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/royal-family-granted-new-right-of-secrecy-2179148.html.

    Democracy is a political pantomime which is delivered daily in a third rate media soap.

    And as for the Modern Intelligence Services, well, …. when are we going to have some?

  • Greenflag

    Perhaps a look back at how they coped in the past might help to focus minds ?

    ‘By early 1939 there was concern that the next war would be a ‘war of nerves’ involving the civilian population, and that the government would need to go further than ever before with every means of publicity ‘utilised and co-ordinated’, as it fought against a well-funded and established Nazi machine. The Ministry was formed on 4 September 1939, the day after Britain’s declaration of war.
    Threatened by censorship, the press reacted negatively to the MOI, describing it as shambolic and disorganised[citation needed], and as a result it underwent many structural changes throughout the war, with four Ministers heading the MOI in quick succession: Lord Hugh Macmillan, Sir John Reith and Duff Cooper, before the Ministry settled down under Brendan Bracken in July 1941. Supported by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the press, Bracken remained in office until victory was obvious.’

    Brendan Bracken was the Minister of Information . Ironically he was a son of an IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood ) and GAA founder member from Tipperary . Bracken was exiled to Australia at the age of 15 and returned to the UK and somehow finagled his way into becoming Churchill’s 30 year political mentor and advisor . Reputedly his advice to Churchill was key to Winnie wining out over Lord Halifax after Chamberlain’s resignation .

    Bracken also hired Eric Blair (later George Orwell ) for the Ministry of Information and it’s believed that his war time experience at the Ministry provided inspiration for Orwell’s ‘1984’ .

    Sordid underhanded deals have always been part of government .Politics is after all a ‘dirty’ but necessary business and the wheels have to be kept running which is why these ‘state secrets’ have to be kept under wraps for a generation or so or longer in some cases .