A couple of quick points to note from the Renewal Heat Inquiry today, where senior civil servant Andrew McCormick has been giving evidence about the lack of minute taking within Northern Ireland Executive departments. From the BBC report
On Thursday, the inquiry was told that a key meeting in August 2015, where a decision was taken to delay cost controls to the RHI scheme, had not been formally minuted.
Mr McCormick said that was not unusual, as part of the concern from Stormont civil servants was that there was an “extremely leaky system” with confidential government information.
“Part of the culture was, ‘if you write something down, it’ll probably appear in the newspapers’,” he said.
He claimed rules were ignored so often that ministers “tweeting (information) from the executive room” was common, and there was no way of censuring them.
“The ministerial code says all kinds of things about what should happen,” he said.
“But the realpolitik is that they are almost impossible to enforce and therefore they are not enforced, and hadn’t been enforced.”
He said he believed not taking minutes was “quite prevalent” in Northern Ireland, and the culture had grown across Stormont departments.
The senior civil servant recalled that some meetings when he was the health department’s permanent secretary were recorded, but “by no means specifically”.
He said Stormont’s institutions were “very young”, and that it was a particular problem in the devolved administration because the “tensions are multi-dimensional in the nature of enforced coalition”.
The issue needed to be discussed frankly and fully when devolution returns, he added.
Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin said he was shocked by Mr McCormick’s claim, adding that there could not be a “positive public perception” of the political process when it was clear regulations were not being followed.
“You either have rules, or you don’t,” he said.
Mr McCormick said he could not disagree with that.
The inquiry has already heard evidence from the head of the civil service, David Sterling, that some meetings were not minuted in order to frustrate Freedom of Information requests.
Mr McCormick said he believed the view towards FOI requests varied across departments.
On Tuesday, the inquiry heard it took more than six months for the minutes of one meeting in Stormont’s enterprise department to get signed off.
Mr McCormick said that Stormont parties would sometimes not want the reasons behind their decision to be open to the public, and so to prevent a leak they were not recorded.
Inquiry panellist Dame Una O’Brien said the consequence of that was that people charged with implementing decisions were left to try and figure out the reasons for them.
That was a “major issue” that got in the way of policy being done in a “cost-effective and organised way”, she added.
[Is it still “a fragile flower”? – Ed] Apparently so…