OFMDFM: “It is becoming increasingly obvious this trust is in danger of being eroded…”

Yesterday’s Irish News carried an interesting report of the most recent proceedings of the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

It seems that the NI First Minister, the DUP’s Peter Robinson, and the then-acting deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd, are/were not happy.  And they’ve written to the Assembly Speaker, William Hay, to tell him so.

First, some background.

Back in July 2010, OFMDFM published their “motherhood and apple pie” proposals for the long-awaited Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration.  There was to be a public consultation, ending on 29 October 2010.

The intial reaction, from a range of organisations and individuals, was less than complementary.

In May this year, having been safely returned to office, the NI deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, told the Assembly Committee

We carried out an extensive consultation exercise on the programme for cohesion, sharing and integration last year. The responses have been analysed independently and a report provided. The five main political parties have agreed to appoint representatives to a working group that will seek consensus on issues that will enable the publication of a cohesion, sharing and integration strategy. That group will consider the consultation responses, and all Departments will be asked for their input. All consultation responses will be shared with the working group as well as the Committee. A road map that sets out the steps and timetable for the strategy and a robust action plan will be brought forward. It is anticipated that the strategy and action plan will be ready for the autumn and December respectively.

But by September, that “working group” had failed to meet.  And there was no sign of the consultation responses or the report.

However, the Irish News reported on 19 October that the responses revealed in the report had “castigated their plans to tackle sectarianism.” 

The report itself was the subject of a meeting of the Assembly’s OFMDFM Committee meeting on the same day.  As the Belfast Telegraph reported

Joanne Wallace, of Wallace Consulting, which conducted the analysis, said there had been a feeling in the consultation that it did not matter what people were going to say, the strategy was already written.

Chairman of the committee, Tom Elliott, suggested the responses overall were “very damning”, and “a lot more negative than positive” and asked whether the CSI document almost needs re-written.

“I think it would need significant surgery,” Ms Wallace answered.

But a clarion call for strong leadership from Stormont in dealing with community relations and sectarianism was also contained in the responses from business organisations, voluntary groups, churches, educationalists and |others.

Ms Wallace said there was a clear demand for ‘good relations’ to permeate all decisions made across Government and down to district council level.

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said members should be questioning the value for money of the first ministers’ office — where the responses, and analysis, have sat for 10 months — and asked why it had taken so long for them to reach the committee.  [added emphasis]

Senior first ministers’ office official Linsey Farrell said a political hiatus had kicked in ahead of the Assembly election but now the new all-party group was getting the work “up and running”.

Since then the responses to the public consultation, the analysis of those responses by Wallace Consulting, and, interestingly, the response from OFMDFM, have all appeared on the CSI Consultation webpage webpage. 

They all appear to have been added on 25 October.  Not that anyone was informed…

The Wallace Consulting Consultation Analysis Report [pdf file] is dated “January 2011”.  The OFMDFM response [pdf file] is dated 5 July 2011 [5/7/11].

And so to yesterday’s Irish News report.  At the meeting of the Assembly Committee for OFMDFM the discussion was of a letter from the NI First and deputy First Ministers to the Speaker, William Hay, written on 19 October, the same day the Irish News revealed the contents of that CSI Consultation analysis report – and the same day the Committee met to be briefed on the report.  From yesterday’s Irish News

In the letter the two ministers said they were concerned about the “continued leaking of classified documents into the public domain and particularly to representatives of the media”.

It pointed to The Irish News story as “the most recent example” of a leak and warned that future leaks could jeopardise the “climate of trust” between assembly committees and the department.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious this trust is in danger of being eroded through the actions of individuals who, for whatever motives, are pursuing a selfish and negative agenda and are certainly not assisting committees in fulfilling their statutory duty of advising and assisting ministers in the development of their policy,” the letter said. [added emphasis]

“It would be our concern that this important relationship which is central to the integrity of the political institutions here may break down to such an extent that it will be difficult to repair for some time.”

The letter asked the speaker to “outline what steps the assembly authorities have taken or propose to take” and warned the “situation cannot continue”.

In his response, Mr Hay rebutted the claims and said that there were “robust systems in place to protect classified or sensitive documents and these systems work”. [added emphasis]

I’m all in favour of proper procedures being followed, but the complaints by OFMDFM in this case are somewhat undermined by the fact that they’ve sat on this report for 10 months, until well after the elections had concluded.  There’s also the fact that the 19 October Committee meeting, when MLAs were first briefed on and discussed the analysis of the responses, was in public – as the Belfast Telegraph report evidences.

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  • iluvni

    Tend to agree with this response…


    Thats the biggie they all shy away from addressing, isnt it?

  • We need an incentive for Ministers and civil servants to not delay awkward reports.

    For example, for every month they delay, a month is taken off the pension record for both the Minister and the Permanent Secretary.

  • DC

    Dave you fecking legend. Brilliant idea.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I’m going to be very blunt, and risk Goodwin’s law, but they are getting more and more fascist every month, thankfully Willie Hay has some scruples, I wonder will Francie Molloy resist the pressure too.

  • wild turkey

    … before i wake up junior turkey for his first CEA transfer test this morning. a few quick observations

    iluvni: the link you posted is definite nail on head material and gets to the crux of the issue. the 2 parties in ofmdfm have zero incentive to implement a robust policy; be it shared future, csi, mom and apple pie, that would effectively address real world manifestations of “apartheid”. the raison d’etre of both, uh, partners, in oftendumb, is to perpetuate apartheid and thereby maintain their electoral base

    dave: a great idea, but do you honestly believe that the chickenshits on an ego trip at the top of the food chain would be motivated by any incentives. these people can, and do, act with arrogance and impunity. evidence? the ongoing Priestly saga, the Bruce Robinson designed “internal” recruitment of a new head of NICS, Euro fines for agricultural grants, etc. etc. as i see it, the only solution i see with these fuckers is some combination of direct action/ performance art. why not have some with these provincial mandarins. personally, i’d piss down their throats…. but they’d probably enjoy it.

    DR: If the leadership is getting more and more fascist, lets not loose sight of the fact that they are facilitated in this by ofmdfm army of zipper lickers. in my limited experience of and exposure to senior and mid-level ofmdfm staff they are often what in another age were called “good germans”; embodiments of the peter principal, polite, well mannered provincial volk, following orders and covering their sweet little grammar school asses…. and they speak (often with adrmirable elocution) in a rare language with combines disingenuity and powerpoint speak.

    is this a great wee country or what?

  • Cynic2

    Nice to see that FM and DFM both agree on something at list. Pity its about the public actually getting to see documents that show their total utter incompetence

    The assembly needs to tell them both to get stuffed. Its there to hold them to account and its amazing that the Head of the DUP (Masters of the shocking leaked document) and the Head of SF (remember all those stolen Government documents in Stormontgate) have the brass neck to complain about leaks.

    As for ‘the erosion of trust’ – what trust? We don’t trust either of them

  • Drumlins Rock

    There have been several comments, putting it mildly, that question the purpose and continued existance for the SDLP & UUP, actions like this show the increasing need for them both, they are the only real alternative in town, espically with Alliance having become spineless stooges of the big two. Both parties are shadows of their former roles, but will be the only realistic alternative for the forseeable future, possibly in a realistic form of opposition.

  • Leadership in Stormont not fit for future virtual governance purpose springs to mind and is very true.

    One can fully expect to read of head office communications that highlight and support that premise with hard incontrovertible evidence.

    Watch this space for further information and future developments.

  • FuturePhysicist

    I agree Drumlin’s Rock, with but with a much smaller Assembly the UUP and SDLP could make some inroads back in terms of transfers. The problem of governance however has not been a lack of capacity on the DUP or Sinn Féin, I would argue that there is a loss of cohesion.

    The problem isn’t that there is a lack of opposition, or that no one is standing up to Sinn Féin and the DUP, on the contary … there are oppositions within Sinn Féin and DUP to their elites looking for more progress beyond the tribal civil war jibes against the SDLP and UUP respectively.

    Plenty of members within Sinn Féin are not on John O’Dowd’s side with his decisions on educational reform. Plenty of members within the DUP are not on Edwin Poots side when it comes to Health Care Cuts.

    The fact that these parties cannot defend their actions in the plenary session is clear that they are jockying for position knowing they can’t overuse the whips. Where are the backbenchers of these parties when these decisions are being made?

  • Cynic2

    “Where are the backbenchers of these parties when these decisions are being made?”

    …at the trough

  • FuturePhysicist

    I think Billy Leonard’s last acts as an MLA with regard to the budget showed he regretted leaving the SDLP.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Penned up sectarian turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. They are going nowhere and doing little, apart from producing a cacophony of sectarian guldering, in anticipation of the next sectarian election.

    The peace loving ‘Peter and I’ and the mannerly ‘Martin and I’ behaviour is reserved for Dublin, London and New York. But back in Stormont, Castlereag and Mid Ulster it’s back to guldering and display of puffed up wattles – for the obeisance of the smaller turkeys.

  • sonofstrongbow

    I’m not sure that these types of reports are “sat on” at Stormont. I think it is much simpler than that. When you have two groups that are so opposed in outlook any material that lands on desks that is in anyway challenging is going to be picked over to make it so bland as to be meaningless and unsustainable.

    It’s a game of something like political jenga. SF and the DUP take turns to pick out things they don’t like leaving a spindly edifice or more often than not a pile of rubble. The rubble can be tidied away for a time using the further public consultation brush but it’s going to come back on the desk at some time for the process to start again.

    It’s no wonder the players get peeved when the nonsense pops up outside the game pit and explains why they also get shirty with that TUVee character.

  • ThomasMourne

    Where would our political parties be without sectarianism?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Whilst I thought the CSI was just absent of any vision, when you read over the report on the consultation exercise, its very frustrating reading comments from all these lobbyists.

    The victims sector, the survivors sector, the disabled sector, the women’s sector. This Quango, that Quango. It’s amazing how many people waste their time in these groups.

    Why dont they either put themselves up for election or find a party a work on the inside? Its all so narrow.

    In the end, whilst the CSI was rubbish, I’m not sure how it would improve with most of these contributions