Round up on the NAMA/Tughans/Robinson story…

So, what’s been happening on the Project Eagle story today then? So the DFP committee is to investigate the matter, but the chair of that committee thinks it may have to be referred to the Guards and the PSNI. Oh, and Mick Wallace doesn’t see the point. On the Robinson side of the story Gareth (not Gavin who also it seems has links at Tughans) and his PR firm are making themselves unavailable for comment. Next, the Irish News lead … Read more

“Run like a huckster’s shop” – Redux

[No change since June 2009, then? – Ed]  Have there been any consequences…?  A BBC report that the DUP and Sinn Féin have, belatedly, agreed the outcome of the semi-detached polit-bureau Northern Ireland Executive’s June budget monitoring round was met with understandable criticism from the other NI Executive parties. Justice Minister David Ford, who leads the Alliance Party, described the situation as “shambolic” while the Ulster Unionists and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) said they had been kept in the dark about … Read more

Timeline of an Assembly vacancy, part two: the correspondence trail

Catching up on a few emails, I realised that I’d neglected to post the second part of a post started in early September about the timeline for co-opting a replacement MLA (Conall McDevitt) and the sequencing of the process between the Speaker, EONI and the political party (SDLP in this case). While relatively mundane it does illustrate the various stages and worth putting into the public name to remind us of the process the next time an MLA needs to … Read more

Help us with drafting a FOI request on the MLA’s indemnity insurance claim…

This is an experiment in participation. I would like to get to the bottom of this business of MLAs insurance, and it seems to me that it’;s best done openly. So I’ve begun a draft Freedom of Information request which is open for Slugger readers to add to and redraft… Or simply to comment on the Google doc or below. I want to send it in on Monday. And I will post in to the Assembly via the WhatDoTheyKnow website. … Read more

Hiding your Publication Scheme defeats the purpose of having one … and raises your costs through needless FOIs

Publication Schemes are supposed to publicise what information a public body holds and regularly makes available. The Information Commissioners Office have a Model Publication Scheme for District Councils in Northern Ireland, listing the type of information that they must make available. You should publicise the fact that information is available to the public under the scheme. You should make sure the model scheme, guide to information, and schedule of fees are all available on your website, public notice board, or … Read more

OFMDFM’s sluggardly FOI performance under spotlight

This morning the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced four public bodies which will be monitored between January and March in 2013 “over concerns about the timeliness of their responses to Freedom of Information requests”. The four public bodies were selected from the thousands of public bodies across the UK that fall under the ICO’s remit for FOI: Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council; two Westminster departments, Department for Education, Department for Work and Pensions; and the Office of the First Minister and … Read more

“I think it is somewhat contemptuous.”

It’s difficult to argue with Jeffrey Dudgeon’s comments on the Office of the Northern Ireland First and Deputy First Minister last minute compliance with an FoI request – 320 days after the application was made, and one day before a judicial review hearing into the delay was due to begin.  From the BBC report Jeffrey Dudgeon had brought legal action over the delay. A judicial review hearing was due on 8 November but the outstanding material was sent to him on 7 … Read more

Stormont not so keen on transparency or the FOI Act…

I think the significance of this News Letter story is the Stormont administration’s attitude to transparency and openness, especially, but not solely, with regard to ‘awkward questions’ from the public. The information being sought was the details of Sinn Fein appointed ministerial drivers. But, for me, this is core of the issue: DFP claimed in a submission to the Information Commissioner that “it was important that cohesion was maintained in the enforced five-party coalition”. It also argued that “given the … Read more

Freedom of Information – when the minister has access to the information the public can’t see

laganside boundary

Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland rang into the Nolan show on Radio Ulster on Tuesday morning to respond to the debate around the cessation of the Laganside Events Grant scheme. He had figures – from across departments – at his finger tips to explain the public funding that was being granted to events. In particular, he was able to rattle off the different public funding streams for the Festival of Fools. My query into the DSD communications team seven … Read more

50:50 is back … for arts festivals

Nelson McCausland speaking about unionist culture the night before the main November 2010 DUP conference

Should arts festivals (that receive public funding) display a balance across their programming of musical tastes and political opinion? Nelson McCausland is in the news again. It’s a question that’s raised once more as the BBC lead their bulletins with the results of an FOI request to DCAL that has revealed the local minister’s directions to the Belfast Festival. This morning’s BBC report explains: The email is part of an exchange between the director of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, … Read more

Sinn Fein suffers another memory loss at the PAC?

There’s much to be said about where the PAC’s investigation of NI Water leaves us all. As noted previously there is plenty of material to draw out from the final report. But there’s one wee detail worth noting in passing. Mitchel McLaughlin had this to say on Monday: It was revealed during Ministerial questions in the Assembly today that Mr. McGlone, an SDLP member of the Public Accounts Committee had submitted questions to the Committee investigation into NI Water procurement … Read more

NI Water: ICO launch ‘depth’ investigation of emails…

And, so according to the Daily Mirror today (attached), the saga continues. Weather permitting, the Information Commissioner’s Office is sending a very senior investigative team to Northern Ireland Water before Christmas to look at two sets of issues surrounding regarding FOI requests for specific email correspondence. One will examine an allegation that the text of one email was altered before being offered for public release. The other will look at a separate allegation that the existence of an email exchange … Read more

#picamp – FOI and Data

There was a good discussion this morning at PI Camp around the conjoined issues of FOI and open data. The room had practitioners from both sides of the FOI fence – civil servants, journalists and bloggers. The idea for the session came out of my belief that FOI is often a crude tool that can produce more heat than light, and tends to encourage institutional obfuscation rather than a spirit of openness and sharing. So how best to use FOI … Read more

NI Fahrenheit 45 101 – Fire Service seek to burn a blog

“I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it’ll make sense.” I didn’t expect to return to my costing 11th bonfires blog series until a final entry bringing together all the drains on the public purse. However I’m forced to revist the topic today as the first entry in the series attracted an unexpected response from the Freedom of Information Co-Ordinator [sic] at the NI Fire and Rescue Service. I  … Read more

Ask the right question! Dealing with the PSNI

Today the PSNI Chief Constable has been plastered across the media bemoaning costs associated to dealing with public disorder in the Ardoyne during July. He has been very forthcoming with the sums involved and what thay could have been spent on otherwise. However, I recently asked the PSNI several questions under FoI legisaltion in relation to 11th July bonfire incidents and they have refused to answer a single one on the basis the first question ‘ how many bonfire related … Read more

Photograph of the Day – Talking of FoIs

There’s an ongoing (but faltering) discussion as to the cost of Freedom of Information requests, so when i saw this disguarded bottle on Sunday morning i was reminded of this article. I did see an article recently (which i can’t seem to find to link to) that said there were around 100 or so Bucky related incidents here. I’ve never been a fan of the stuff myself, the last time i had any (bout 4 months ago)  i mixed it with … Read more

End this FOI game and give us everything (you reasonably can)!

Hugh Linehan in the Irish Times captures something essential about what Freedom of Information means for public institutions, and that in fact the kind of backwards and forwarding over the precise language of any request is missing the point. He mentions a fascinating paper written by Nat O’Connor for Tasc, in which he argues that democracy is not just about voting, which is actually the last link in the chain, it is also about tracking, criticising government in between elections … Read more

Does ‘FOI’ privilege the contingency of ‘now’ over a ‘complete record’ in the future?

There is a fascinating exchange (transcript below) on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme last night between the historian Anthony Beevor, and Open Democracy’s Anthony Barnett. It arose out Beevor’s rather feisty remarks at the Hay Festival in which he noted: …with journalists wanting to write history on the hoof there is a tremendous pressure on people wanting to protect themselves and their reputations for the future; and they are weeding out information before it gets to the archive, or … Read more