Alliance MLA David Ford has called on the DUP and Sinn Féin to clarify they will record all Departmental meetings in any future Executive, after the Head of the Civil Service said meetings with the parties’ Ministers were not minuted to prevent embarrassment of the parties.
David Sterling told the RHI Inquiry the meetings were not documented in case they were later subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act as it may have shown “things that might have been unpopular being considered”.
Mr Ford, a former Executive Minister, said it was not standard practice for Ministers.
“There was an understanding when any meetings happened, particularly when policies were decided upon, the Freedom of Information Act applied and any discussions were discoverable. It appears that was not the case in these instances.
“If there was a policy by the two biggest parties to not have matters record, there was a duty on the Civil Service to say that is not how the Civil Service operates and things must be recorded. Informal discussions can happen but meetings when policy is being decided should be on the record. Potential embarrassment on behalf of the Minister or party cannot be used as a reason to not record something or subsequently release it if requested.
“There needs to be an agreed record of the decision taken and the basis on which it was done so. That’s the way things have been done in my experience and that’s the way they should be done across every Department. But it appears it was not the case in Departments under the control of the DUP and Sinn Féin – where things were decided and nothing recorded as to why. Those two parties need to clarify whether any reformed Executive would be subject to the same draconian approach by Ministers more interested in saving their own skin than being transparent to the public.”