At the end of January this year, The Detail asked OFMDFM’s press office for a copy of the second review report of the office of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), which had been completed in November 2010 but not publicly released at this point.
The First and Deputy First Minister’s press office said that the report would be put up on OFMDFM’s website on January 25th – but a last minute decision was taken not to do this.
The Detail asked for a comment on why the report was not being released, but there was no response.
On January 26th, we submitted a Freedom of Information request for the document. The report was eventually released to us on February 18th – a week after the News Letter ran a report based on a leaked copy of the 119-page review paper.
On January 31st, we submitted an additional FOI request asking for information on why the report had been withheld. We also asked for documentation relating to a “negotiated termination settlement” of £30,000 paid to a former member of staff at the Children’s Commissioner’s Office.
We have yet to receive a response to this request.
On February 7th, a NICCY spokesman confirmed to The Detail that former SDLP Assembly member Patricia Lewsley had been reappointed as commissioner for a further four years.
He added: “Ms Lewsley looks forward to continuing the good working relationship she has had with the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister and departmental ministers in the future.”
After we sent at least four emails to OFMDFM asking about the request, we were told on March 23rd that the relevant papers had been identified and a draft response had been submitted to the Private Offices and was still awaiting clearance.
On March 24th, we submitted a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office as the request was now well outside the 20 day deadline given to public authorities to respond to FOI requests.
On April 7th, an ICO caseworker wrote to OFMDFM to remind the office of its responsibilities and asking it to respond to our request within 10 working days. The letter directed that the department should either provide the information we requested or issue a refusal notice.
On April 21st, OFMDFM wrote to The Detail and copied this letter to the Information Commissioner’s Office. It stated that the request was still under consideration and the department was “not in a position to respond at this time”.
The email did not provide any information or estimate as to when it would be able to respond to the request.
A copy of this letter was also sent to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
On May 4th, we wrote again to the Information Commissioner’s Office asking for it to urgently consider OFMDFM’s handling of our request.
At this point it was decided to issue a formal decision notice. This document, dated May 24th, was sent to OFMDFM and copied to The Detail. It found in The Detail’s favour and requires OFMDFM to respond to our request within 35 days.