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Brexit: OFMDFM Paper

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 17th October 2016.

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Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker 2:15 pm, 17th October 2016

5. Mr McGlone asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister when Executive Ministers and their special advisers became aware of the report entitled 'Preliminary Analysis on the Impact of a UK Referendum on its Membership of the European Union'. (AQO 465/16-21)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

This analysis paper was not sent to Ministers or their special advisers. Following a freedom of information request to the Department we became aware of this work. The document was released on two occasions following freedom of information requests.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

Which Minister or junior Minister, or indeed special adviser, was involved in authorising or instructing the civil servants that they carry out the report?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I do not know that that question is even remotely relevant to the first question.

Photo of Harold McKee Harold McKee UUP

Why did the deputy First Minister indicate he had sight of the paper, when the First Minister claimed to have only become aware of the paper when the freedom of information request was received by the Department?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I do not think I ever claimed that I had sight of the paper. It was quite obvious in the answers that have been given since that neither the First Minister and myself were involved in seeing the outcome. The report was compiled by the European policy and co-ordination unit. Officials prepare a range of papers on a regular basis, many of which are working papers and do not form submissions sent to Ministers. Of course, in the absence of an agreed position, the report could not have been disclosed to the Executive, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister or the Assembly.

The important point is that it was not something that was rigidly adhered to in the context of the last Administration, which was a five-party coalition, because in that coalition there were countless occasions when at least two out of the three parties that did not take up seats in this Executive were leaking right, left and centre. That is not the way we do business. If a report is put forward for our consideration and if we get into a scenario where we are leaking against one another because the outcome of that report advantages one particular political party, then all confidence is lost within the Administration.

This was a paper that was not even completed, for the simple reason that a number of Departments that had been requested to contribute their analysis to the paper had not actually done so. We are not talking about a completed document. We are talking about a document that was initially put forward by the head of the Civil Service. There is an awful lot of misinformation being propagated about this document.

Photo of Sydney Anderson Sydney Anderson DUP

The deputy First Minister has referred to the preliminary analysis report not being completed. Why was the report not completed?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

It was not completed because, as I said, a number of Departments that had been requested to contribute to it did not respond to the request. Therefore, because they did not respond, the document was not considered by the head of the Civil Service to be complete.

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

The deputy First Minister may have partially answered my supplementary question, but can he elaborate on why the report was not seen by Ministers?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

Simply because, as I have said, the report was commissioned by the head of the Civil Service and was being compiled by the European policy and co-ordination unit, but it was never completed. Officials prepare a range of papers on a regular basis, many of which are working papers and do not form submissions sent to Ministers, and certainly never before they are completed.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I call Mr Ford for a very quick question and a quick response.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

A very quick question: is the deputy First Minister aware of the timescales for answering freedom of information requests, and why was there such a delay in answering these particular requests?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 17th October 2016

I think I referred to that earlier when it was addressed by Stephen Farry. With the new Administration, that has been in place since May of this year, there is a duty and a responsibility to respond as quickly as possible. You should not read anything into the fact that the paper was produced as a result of the freedom of information request after the referendum date, because the key point is —

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

The key point, as the Member well knows, is this: we had a situation in the run-in to the referendum whereby the two Executive parties were on different sides of the debate. The Member can shake his head all he likes, but that is the reality. Even if the document had been completed and offered up to the First Minister and me, if there was no agreement about the publication of that document, I was not going to leak it because it was to my advantage, even though it would have been to our advantage. That is the way we work, and I understand there are other parties here that have seized on this issue, that were part of the Administration and that, when they were part of the Administration, were leaking right, left and centre.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

Members, that ends the period for listed questions. We now move to 15 minutes of topical questions.