Stormont’s lack of openness

Posted By: September 28, 2016

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Wednesday, September 28, 2016

As we know, the referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union was one of the most important and far-reaching political issues of our times.

The run-up to this vote on June 23 was marked by intense debate over the likely impact of a Brexit vote on Britain, where the focus was on immigration, and in Northern Ireland, where economic concerns and the implications for the border with the Republic were very much to the fore.

What was crucial during this period was that people were given as much relevant information as possible to allow them to make an informed decision.

It now transpires that in 2015, Stormont civil servants drew up a report detailing more than 20 ways an exit from the EU could hit the Northern Ireland economy.

However, the 15-page report, setting out the risks for business and trade, jobs and foreign investment, was not made public and only came to light this week following a Freedom of Information request by news website The Detail.

Not only were voters kept in the dark about the potential damage that could be caused by Brexit – as assessed by officials in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister – but it seems some members of the executive were also not informed about this document.

Martin McGuinness, whose party campaigned for Remain, said both the DUP and Sinn Féin needed to sign off on the paper before it could be released, which suggests the blockage was on one side only.

The Leave-supporting DUP has insisted, it was not common practice to publish internal scenario planning documents, which sounds fairly feeble given the magnitude of the decision before the electorate.

It is yet another example of the lack of openness at the heart of the Stormont administration, which is a massive problem and will fuel public suspicion that political leaders don’t trust the public or they have something to hide.