Ulster Unionist Leader, Mike Nesbitt MLA, has welcomed the decision of the Information Commissioner that the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister is wrong to try to withhold from the public, information about the so-called Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre (PbCRC) at the site of the old Maze Prison.
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."