OFMDFM: “open and transparent…” – redux

Via The Irish News.  As UUP leader Mike Nesbitt says, “We’re not North Korea…”  [Thankfully… – Ed]  ANYhoo…  The UUP leader has welcomed a recent (27 March) decision by the Information Commissioner (not yet online) that the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers were wrong to refuse to release the results of market research, that they had commissioned, into the proposed Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre (PbCRC) at the site of the old Maze Prison.  From the UUP press release [added emphasis throughout]

The Ulster Unionist Party had asked OFMDFM on 24 January 2013 to release the results of market research the Department had commissioned into the proposed PbCRC, but the request had been refused on the grounds Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness were still discussing policy development. The Information Commissioner’s Office has dismissed this defence, describing some of the information currently being kept secret as “innocuous”.

Speaking on the eve of his Party’s Spring Conference, Mr Nesbitt said:

The most telling comment from the Information Commissioner is that OFMDFM failed to make any detailed argument for withholding this information from the public, but rather relied on the argument that they were still in policy development mode as a ‘blanket exemption’. To me, this is simply further proof of a systemic lack of openness and transparency.

The ruling also makes clear the Commissioner does not accept OFMDFM’s contention that the public would misunderstand the withheld information. That was a very patronising argument from Messrs Robinson and McGuinness.

Clearly, in the Commissioner’s words, OFMDFM failed to ‘provide specific and robust arguments’ nor an explanation as to why publication ‘would have an adverse impact on the safe space needed for policy development’.

OFMDFM’s shabby record in information disclosure is well known. I consider this ruling a significant victory for the public, who deserve openness and transparency at the heart of government.

“Happily, the Information Commissioner agrees. We’re not North Korea, we’re Northern Ireland. I urge Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to publish this research immediately and not kick it into the long grass beyond the elections.”

As the Irish News report added

…the commissioner ruled on Thursday that disclosing the information was in the public interest.

Open and transparent“, did you say?  [As possible… – Ed]

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  • Politico68

    Sinn Fein surge in Red C Poll today

  • Peter,
    Arms control talks historian Strobe Talbott in his biography of Paul Nitze tells the story of President Eisenhower commissioning a study on the state of readiness of the American military for a sneak Russian attack. When he received the results he refused to make them public so as not to panic the public. He argued that he had paid for the study out of his budget and wasn’t legally obligated to make the results public.

    Incidentally, when you wrote out OFMDFM you did not capitalize deputy. Was that just an oversight on your part or is it, in fact, how it is normally written? If so, why?

  • Rapunsell
  • “Incidentally, when you wrote out OFMDFM you did not capitalize deputy. Was that just an oversight on your part or is it, in fact, how it is normally written?”

    Key decisions requiring cross-community support will be designated in advance, including election of the Chair of the Assembly, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister .. 1998 Agreement

    morphed to

    1.4 Section 8 – First Minister, deputy First Minister and Northern Ireland Ministers .. 2006 Northern Ireland Act

    Perhaps OJFM would be more apt: Office of the Joint First Ministers …

  • There is a Taoist proverb that says “Life and death are the same thing”.

    That the FM and DFM were united in blocking the release of market research is another example that, when it comes to values and behaviour, the DUP and Sinn Fein are the same thing. They both put party interests way above the general wellbeing, rejecting Francis Hutcheson’s foundation idea – “That action is best that procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers”

  • From the FoI Act 2000:

    35 Formulation of government policy, etc.

    (1)Information held by a government department or by [F1the Welsh Assembly Government] is exempt information if it relates to—
    (a)the formulation or development of government policy,
    (b)Ministerial communications,
    (c)the provision of advice by any of the Law Officers or any request for the provision of such advice, or
    (d)the operation of any Ministerial private office.
    (2)Once a decision as to government policy has been taken, any statistical information used to provide an informed background to the taking of the decision is not to be regarded—
    (a)for the purposes of subsection (1)(a), as relating to the formulation or development of government policy, or
    (b)for the purposes of subsection (1)(b), as relating to Ministerial communications.
    (3)The duty to confirm or deny does not arise in relation to information which is (or if it were held by the public authority would be) exempt information by virtue of subsection (1).
    (4)In making any determination required by section 2(1)(b) or (2)(b) in relation to information which is exempt information by virtue of subsection (1)(a), regard shall be had to the particular public interest in the disclosure of factual information which has been used, or is intended to be used, to provide an informed background to decision-taking.
    (5)In this section—
    “government policy” includes the policy of the Executive Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the policy of [F2the Welsh Assembly Government];

  • @Nevin,
    Thanks. That still begs the question of why it isn’t capitalized in the latter instance as it is part of the person’s title. Is this another instance of the DUP attempting to slight Sinn Fein at the expense of grammar (not that grammar probably is of any importance to the latter).

  • Pete Baker

    Focus, gentlemen…

  • tmitch57, here’s the background to the capitalisation saga.

    “Focus, gentlemen…”

    Focus will be a little easier when the ICO report is made available online. In the meantime, here’s a link to the ICO public interest test.