Feb 16, 2010
NIO told: explain secrecy over ‘deal on hunger strike’
By Adrian Rutherford
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
The Northern Ireland Office has been set a 35-day deadline to explain why it has refused to disclose secret papers on an alleged deal which could have saved the lives of six hunger strikers.
It follows a ruling yesterday from the Information Commissioner’s Office upholding a complaint about the NIO’s failure to respond to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
The request asked for correspondence about a deal reportedly offered by the Government during the 1981 hunger strikes, in which 10 people died.
It has been claimed that Margaret Thatcher offered a compromise deal that would have ended the hunger strike early and saved six of the prisoners who died.
Eventually the prisoners did accept, but only after six more of their comrades starved to death.
Those claims also surfaced in a book written by Richard O’Rawe, the IRA spokesman in the Maze prison during the hunger strike.
The NIO had been asked to disclose any documents referring to any offer from the Government.
The NIO now has 35 days to either release the material or explain why it is being withheld.
Under The Freedom of Information Act an applicant is entitled to be informed in writing as to whether the information is held and to have the information released, or provided with an explanation why this is not being done.
However, in this case the NIO delayed outlining what exemptions they were applying to the requested material.
In his ruling Assistant Commissioner Steve Wood said: “The public authority failed to inform the complainant that all the requested information was subject to an exemption within 20 working days.”
NIO faces hunger strike file deadline
The Irish News
16 February 2010
The Northern Ireland Office must decide if releasing information about the 1981 hunger strike is in the public interest following a ruling from the information commissioner.
An information request was made in May last year asking for all information about the hunger strike to be released.
The NIO replied that an assessment would have to be carried out to see if disclosure of the files was in the public interest.
However, the information commissioner intervened after the person who made the request complained that the assessment was taking too long.
In a decision published earlier this month, the commissioner criticised the NIO for not telling the complainant that, because of the nature of the information, a reply did not have to be issued within the 20-working-day time limit.
The commissioner also found that delays in carrying out the public-interest test were in breach of the Freedom of Information Act.
The NIO now must decide by next month if the files should be disclosed.
If it agrees to disclose the papers, the NIO should also provide copies to the complainant.