Regular readers will know that I sent and FOI request to the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs [now the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht] looking for files on the Clones Sheugh (aka the Ulster Canal). One of the grounds on which I was refused access was that certain files related to “the costing, assessment or consideration or any proposal of a political party carried out for or on behalf of that party”.
While my appeal against that refusal continues on its course, I thought I might as well ask the political parties directly for the information that might be in those files — in the process, of course, establishing which of them had Clones Sheugh proposals in mind.
As far as I can see, the parties that contested, or were eligible to contest, the 2011 general election were:
Christian Solidarity Party
People before Profit
South Kerry Independent
Workers and Unemployed Action Group [WUAG]
Accordingly, I decided to email them all, enquiring whether they had asked the [then] Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs for information “relating to the costing, assessment or consideration of the restoration of some or all of the abandoned Ulster Canal”. I added that, if they had done so, I would be grateful for a copy of the query they put to the department and of the response they received. I told them that I was sending my query to all political parties that contested the 2011 general election (or at least to all those for which I could find an email address).
That was not quite true: I omitted the South Kerry Independent Alliance, on the grounds that its interest in the Clones Sheugh was likely to be limited (I am of course open to correction on this). Furthermore, I was unable to find any website or email address for WUAG so I did not send my request to them.
Fianna Fáil logic
All of the other parties had websites and email addresses — except one: Fianna Fáil. Now, strictly speaking it falls outside the range of parties in which I might have been interested: not just for the obvious reasons but because it was in government at the time and would automatically have had full access to the civil service costings (such as they were). But I was interested to note that Fianna Fáil did not provide an email address on its website: interested enough to ring it and ask for an email address for its press office. The polite receptionist asked someone and told me that the address to be used was email@example.com.
So I sent my query to that address. And I got back an autoresponse saying
This email is not monitored. For urgent queries you can contact the FF Press Office on 087 955 5600.
Well I never. What was the point of that?
Anyway, the results so far put Labour in the lead: I got an almost immediate informal response from Dermot Lacey, saying that he didn’t think Labour had contacted the department; I also got a more formal response next day, from Mags Murphy, Director of Councillor Services and Training, saying:
Labour did not include a specific commitment to the development of the Ulster Canal in our manifesto in the 2011 Election.
However, Labour is keen that all practical possibilities for cooperation, reconciliation and mutual benefit, including maximising tourism potential from a development of the Ulster Canal would be considered seriously as part of our deep commitment to the Good Friday agreement.
To this end, the Labour members of the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement committee visited the Ulster Canal, Enniskillen and Clones with their cross-party colleagues for a range of meetings on 27 September 2012 with Waterways Ireland officials, local councillors and community groups.
Oh dear. Still, brownie points for responding.
What is the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement committee?
Where are the others?
I am still awaiting responses from the other political parties.
Declaration of non-interest
I did not vote for any of those parties.