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Executive Confidentiality

Office Of The First Minister And Deputy First Minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 9th November 2009.

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Photo of George Savage George Savage UUP 2:30 pm, 9th November 2009

3. asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister what is the definition of ‘Executive confidentiality’.            (AQO 320/10)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

We are committed to openness and transparency and to facilitating questions and freedom of information requests as far as practicable. However, it is essential that the Executive be allowed to conduct their work in an environment in which individual Ministers can be confident that the content of their papers and their views are protected. Therefore, at their meeting on 13 September 2007, the Executive unanimously agreed a protocol on confidentiality. The purpose of that protocol is to establish a number of principles to which Ministers should adhere. The principles apply to the handling of information that they obtain as members of the Executive and to making public statements on any matter that has been, or may be, the subject of Executive consideration. For that reason, we do not normally release information concerning details of Executive business, although we may, on occasion, consider it appropriate to provide information on the Executive’s work on a particular issue.

We hope that the Assembly will acknowledge and understand our position. We note, however, that the Member has requested a range of historical information on Executive business under the Freedom of Information Act, and his request is now being considered.

Photo of George Savage George Savage UUP

Is it not a curious position that, under Executive confidentiality, the deputy First Minister withholds information that will become public through implementation anyway? What is the deputy First Minister hiding, and why is he hiding it? Will he confirm that items on the agenda will become public information when the date for a meeting is agreed?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 9th November 2009

The confidentiality protocol covers the detail and content of Executive papers, minutes, records, discussions and deliberations. It protects the space for expression of views while facilitating the reaching of an agreed position. The confidentially protocol exists only to ensure that the appropriate conditions prevail whereby all opinions and viewpoints can be freely voiced and considered in the formulation of a final Executive position.

In reference to the Member’s last comment, it is important to remember that the work of the Executive, be that consultation documents, Bills or new policies, emerge into public view through the relevant Departments.

The fact that Ministers, including the two Ministers from the Member’s party, unanimously supported the protocol at the meeting in September 2007 is a very clear indication that people understand the value of Executive business being confidential.

Photo of Paul Butler Paul Butler Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. The deputy First Minister answered the question by clarifying the need for the confidentiality protocol. He also pointed out that the two Ulster Unionist Ministers agreed to that protocol during the meeting at which it was discussed.