Agriculture chiefs ordered to release language policy document
A STORMONT department which claimed to have a draft ‘single language policy' has apologised over its failure to confirm when it was created.
The development came after the Information Commissioner ordered officials at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to provide a copy of its policy to the Committee on the Administration of Justice.
The Freedom of Information request came after former DUP minister Michelle McIlveen controversially ordered the name of a fisheries protection vessel to be changed from the Irish ‘Banríon Uladh' to its English language version ‘Queen of Ulster' in 2016.
She was later asked to explain the move in an assembly question saying that “DAERA is a new department with a fresh identity and logo and adopts a single language policy….”.
When later asked for a copy of the policy by the CAJ the department initially did not respond.
It subsequently issued a refusal notice after the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) intervened, claiming it was entitled to apply an exemption.
The department later confirmed to the ICO that it held a “draft DAERA language policy”.
In a letter to the CAJ the commission reveals that while its request for information was made on September 2016, withheld information subsequently provided to the ICO was dated November 2016.
Asked to confirm if it held a draft version of any of the documents at the date of request, the department said the information provided was the only infomration it held relevant to the request.
The department then apologised to the ICO saying “that it was unable to state with certainty when the information was created, but confirmed that it was first saved to its electronic records management system in November 2016”.
The commission went to say: “In this case the commissioner cannot be certain whether or not the requested information was in fact held at the time of the request of 30 September”.
The commissioner suggested that CAJ resubmit its freedom of information request.
The ICO has also said that “in the absence of a minister to approve or amend the policy, it remains in draft form”.
Deputy director of the CAJ Daniel Holder said: "It is strange that the department doesn't know when it started to draft the policy and the only records it has are after the minister's statement and our request."
"An English-only language policy was never going to be compatible with human rights obligations and the department should not have withheld the documents, we welcome the decision by the Information commissioner that they should now be released,” he said.
A spokesperson said: “The Department is considering the ICO ruling.”