My Department and its public authorities that are listed in schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 have adopted the Information Commissioner’s model publication scheme and are publishing the minutes of their board management committee meetings. Although NI Screen is not listed as a public authority, it is required to comply with the Act. It is currently redesigning its website and hopes to commence publishing its minutes shortly.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Will the Minister explain why his Department was slow to implement the scheme with a number of its arm’s-length bodies, including NI Screen? As I understand it, NI Screen is one of the most recent adopters of the scheme. Maybe he will explain why it has taken so long for that to happen.
The Member will appreciate that there are more arm’s-length bodies associated with this Department than with any other. Sometimes, there can be a slowness in implementing all that I want to see implemented. For example, I have for some time been asking that the minutes of Foras na Gaeilge, one of my cross-border bodies, be provided on the website in English as well as in Irish so that the rest of us can read them. However, that has been slow in coming, even though the request dates to the time of my predecessor.
I use that as an example to show how bodies do not always move as quickly as may be expected. However, we are moving on with these things, every effort is being made, and I think that we are now at the point where we are compliant.
In the interests of clarity and openness, does the Minister require that all his arm’s-length bodies publish the names of their board members and senior managers on the Department’s websites?
All my arm’s-length bodies maintain registers of interests in respect of their board members and senior management. Declarations in respect of the register are required at board meetings, and confirmation of those declarations is sought through review of the board minutes and accountability meetings. I recently asked my officials to write to the Department’s arm’s-length bodies asking that they consider publishing those registers of interests on their websites, so that that information is not simply something within the body but is publicly accessible.
I welcome the Minister’s commitment to greater openness and transparency with regard to arm’s-length bodies in his Department. However, does he appreciate that sometimes those bodies have to deal with delicate and difficult matters? Take, for example, the Minister’s recent letter to the museums board about creationism and the Orange Order. Does the Minister really think that it is fair to board members to have their response to that kind of correspondence put in the public domain?
I am glad that the Member raised that point, because it was quite clear that some malign individual decided to leak copies of a letter to the press. That matter will have to be dealt with and investigated by the institution concerned. That individual leaked not only a copy of a letter but the museum’s copy of minutes of a meeting, which apparently appeared in the ‘Sunday World’ even though those minutes have not yet been verified by anyone. It is true to say that that shows a lack of respect by that individual for the trustees of the museum and for the institution itself. I am sure, therefore, that the Member will join me in condemning such behaviour.