Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness argued that they should be allowed to block an FOI request on the the grounds that releasing it could cost the votes. The OFMDFM is one of only four UK institutions tabbed by the Information Commission because of its poor record in complying with the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner, the watchdog which enforces the open government law, said:
"The electoral prospects of individuals are not strictly a relevant factor when weighing the public interest in the disclosure of information."
The attempt to block the FOI procedure came after the News Letter made a response for the department’s ‘risk register’. The Information Commissioner dismissed the claim and ordered OFMDFM to provide the information by May 1 2014.
That 10-page document reveals that OFMDFM "argued specifically that disclosure of the requested information ‘... could prejudice ministers’ electoral prospects and would most certainly have a ‘chilling effect’ on the future development of corporate risk registers’.”
Naomi Long said:
As Vice Chair of the Committee, trying to get information from OFMdFM was like drawing blood from a stone. Perhaps this is an insight into why. I think transparency and accountability actually matter - shame that other parties don't agree.
Mr Nesbitt said:
"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."
Slugger O'Toole covered it here.
Henry Hill covered it on Conservative Home here.