Since its creation in 1999, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) has been one of the most problematic Stormont departments.
When asked about its repeated gaffes, those who have worked in Stormont Castle point to its unique situation with two equal ministers from opposing political viewpoints.
But while disagreement may explain delays in making a decision, they do not explain what the Ulster Aviation Society (UAS) and many others have experienced – bad manners.
Increasingly under Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness’s watch, OFMDFM has simply ignored requests – whether from the Assembly, members of the public via Freedom of Information requests or from journalists – when it cannot reach an agreement. The astonishingly self-defeating aspect of such an approach is that it undermines Messrs Robinson and McGuinness without their political opponents even getting involved. Whichever minister is responsible each time, both men are ultimately damaged.
After the extraordinary recent claim by OFMDFM that it should not have to release information if it might cost the ministers votes, the department is presenting itself as an arrogant and dysfunctional dual fiefdom where key decisions are based on internal power struggles, rather than the public interest. Neither Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness nor their advisers are stupid. Yet the way in which their department conducts itself often defies logical explanation.
When asked yesterday why OFMDFM had not even responded to the UAS, the department said: “There is no current agreement on the development of Maze Long Kesh.”
Yesterday the UAS said that it could have accepted being turned down, but it was the refusal to even respond which enraged it. Needlessly creating such resentment seems mindless.