Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Northern Ireland Audit Office Reports - Not User Friendly

The Northern Ireland Audit Office annual reports are available online in PDF format to read and to print out. However should a member of the public wish to copy a section of the report to use in, say, a blog conversation or as part of a query he/she will find that the customary ability to copy and paste has been blocked.
I’ve tried to do so using Adobe Reader and Foxit Reader but failed. Content copying is not permitted, according to the security setting, and the Text Viewer and Snapshot icons are immobilised on Foxit. The image above is a screenshot.

Surely it’s time this nonsense was stamped on in the interests of open and accountable government.
"The Consumer Council supports the availability and re-use of government information.  We are aware that its re-use is provided for by legislation ( and should be done under licence/copyright arrangements." [CCNI - 28 October 2011]
The NIAO approach would also appear to be at odds with Information Commissioner Office's Model Publication Scheme's direction that information should be 'easily identified and accessed by members of the public'.

Added 01 November 2011

I sent the following email to the Belfast Office of the Information Commissioner:

"Have you tried to highlight, copy and paste from this Audit Office report?

I’ve tried to do so using Adobe Reader and Foxit Reader but failed. Content copying is not permitted, according to the security setting, and the Text Viewer and Snapshot icons are immobilised on Foxit.

Surely it’s time this nonsense was stamped on in the interests of open and accountable government.

As the Assistant Information Commissioner, do you agree that this NIAO and similar governance documents should be in a format that is user friendly and extracts can be easily taken from them? Is the NIAO approach consistent with the ICO Model Publication Scheme's direction that information should be 'easily identified and accessed by members of the public'?"

Here is the ICO reply:

Thank you for your email below. At present the ICO is reviewing its guidance on publication schemes. However our model publication scheme sets out the classes of information that we expect public authorities to routinely publish or make available. The duty at section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act in relation to publication schemes is to ‘publish’ the information. Indeed some information on a publication scheme may only be accessed by visiting the authorities’ premises following directions in the publication scheme. Whilst it is good practice for public authorities to make the classes of information available in accessible formats (indeed there may be other equality legislation which requires public authorities to provide information in formats for those with disabilities e.g. Braille.) if they make the information available, following the definition documents set out in our model publication scheme it is likely they will have complied with the duty at section 19.  

However I would suggest that you contact the NIAO and ask them to supply you with the information in a format that you can utilise. Under the Freedom of Information Act an individual in making a Freedom of Information request can express a preference as to how they wish the information to be supplied and the public authority must give affect to that if it is reasonable to do so (s 11 FOIA). If the NIAO cannot supply the information in the format you prescribe you can complain to us and we can investigate if they are in breach of section 11. If you wish to make a complaint to us, you can download our complaints form at the following link:

I'm an advocate of open, accessible and accountable government. This ICO response struggles to answer my fairly simple questions. Why should a member of the public have to make a complaint before the ICO acts (IMO) in the public interest?

Added 2 November 2011

NIAO response:

"I believe, that in terms of communication, you have raised an interesting issue, which we need to address.

My understanding is that in “locking down”  the pdf reports in such a way that they cannot be copied, it further enhances the security of the document and prevents unauthorised access of our website. Nevertheless, this must be counter-balanced by the needs of the wider public, and specifically the taxpayer.

In light of your request, I will contact our IT Manager later this morning with a view to releasing the report in the format you have requested. Furthermore, in the longer term, we need to establish if it will be possible to place all our forthcoming reports in this format, while retaining an appropriate level of security.

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention."

Monday, 24 October 2011

Northern Ireland Civil Service - Selective Blocking of Blogs

Apart from occasional blogs here on NALIL, I'm a regular contributor to Northern Ireland's premier political blog, Slugger O'Toole, where I picked up the political blogger of the year award in 2008.

Imagine my surprise when I found out today that Northern Ireland civil servants could access Slugger O'Toole without limitation; I'd known for some time that NALIL was blocked. Slugger has a comment zone where participants could easily spend hours at a time whereas NALIL deliberately has no comment arrangement and most viewers are unlikely to spend more than a few minutes.

Here's a comment from a senior civil servant that a friend received:

I'm afraid our IT security prevents Civil Service staff from accessing blogs at work, but I'll forward this home and have a look at it this evening.

This senior civil servant seems to have been unaware that access to NALIL was available at work by raising a work request to IT Assist. A spokesman for IT Assist told me that clearance can be given in anything from two hours to two days and a civil servant in a Minister's office said that IT Assist's contact number is prominently displayed. At a time of declining budgets you might think that civil servants would take advantage of expertise that is available for free.

I also discovered that political constituency offices use the NICS computer network too and they can access NALIL as well as social networks such as Facebook.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Whooper Swans Beside the Bush Water

Recent Arrivals

Open all hours diner just north of Bushmills

Making the most of the wet conditions

After a long flight from Iceland, a bite to eat,
a quick preen and a welcome snooze

A twitcher writes: "Please do not disturb these wonderful birds - it's an offence to do so anyway - as their wintering sites have been reduced over the years. The grey birds are this years young. Families stay together for years."

Churnalism vs Journalism

"What a load of old tosh!"

That was the reaction by a Facebook friend to a recent local story that appeared in a newspaper.

And there's more:
Anyone who didn't know better could be fooled into thinking, on reading this article, that X actually did something for the benefit of the Ypeople!
I needn't go into the details as the malaise, otherwise known as churnalism, appears to be quite common.

From Wikipedia:

  • Churnalism is a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking.

  • In his book Flat Earth News, the British journalist Nick Davies reported a study at Cardiff University by Professor Justin Lewis and a team of researchers which found that 80% of the stories in Britain's quality press were not original and that only 12% of stories were generated by reporters. The result is a reduction of quality and accuracy as the articles are open to manipulation and distortion.

Those who are familiar with the facts will have no difficulty identifying a piece of churnalism; those who are not may well be taken in and so react inappropriately.

Switch on your critical faculties before you switch on your radio and tv and before you pick up a newspaper; what you hear, see or read may owe more to public relations than to journalism. Serious errors of fact should be passed to the relevant editor so that corrections can be published prominently and promptly.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Moyle District Council - Enforcement Officer?

Another Fine Mess

Click images to enlarge

A councillor at the bi-monthly meeting of Moyle District Council on Monday (Oct 10) drew a council official's attention to the presence of a ramp of soil and rock on the shore of the small bay just west of Roarke's cottages at Ballintoy Harbour. Was this a left-over from a Game of Thrones set?

A digger, tractor and trailer were used on Tuesday to shift the material but, for some inexplicable reason, one of the loads was tipped back onto the foreshore beside the cottages - as indicated by the yellow arrow in the top photo and in the one above.

We do have a Northern Ireland Environment Agency and a Planning Service but neither can be relied upon when it comes to the protection of the environment, not even in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or in Areas of Special Scientific Interest. Perhaps the Minister for the Environment should insist that his officials carry out their tasks on a fair and equitable basis - or else cull those departments that serve no useful purpose or facilitate the agents of powerful interests to work their way around the regulations. Perhaps he and his ministerial colleagues should shut down the Thursday Club too.

A quote for councillors:

It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do. .. Edmund Burke

Here are two photos taken between the departure of the film crew and the arrival of the digger.

 Why does officialdom focus its attention on the small problems and avert its gaze from the big ones? Moyle District Council will (sometimes) pursue you through the courts if you fail to pay a fine for dropping a cigarette butt and a councillor told me that the NIEA will (sometimes) prosecute you if someone dumps asbestos in, say, your skip. On the other hand, the Planning Service will (sometimes) let you build what you want wherever you want. It's a crazy bureaucratic world.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Parish Letter from Loughguile - 1801



Rev. J, O'Laverty P.P.M.R.I.A.

VOL. 4

"At a meeting of the Roman Catholic congregation of the parish of Loughgeel [Loughguile], in the County of Antrim, held at their Chapel on the 16th day of August, 1801. The following expression of their sentiments was unanimously agreed upon : —
When we have beheld with the most serious concern the many endeavours that have been made to disunite his Majesty's subjects by creating doubts of the loyalty of the Roman Catholics, and circulating the most cruel and unfounded rumours to prejudice the public mind — amongst which that of Wednesday, the 12th instant, causing the Protestant inhabitants of the village of Connor to abandon their houses at midnight, to prevent their murder by the Catholics, has given us the deepest affliction. Under such circumstance we consider silence becomes criminal, and if on appeal the facts be received in our favour, we entreat the public at large to reflect upon the conduct of the Roman Catholics of the County of Antrim, and in particular of this part of it during the disturbances of 1798. Then it will be found that their conduct was peaceable and loyal, when many of their calumniators were in the front ranks of rebellion; then did we, where now we stand, pledge ourselves to James Stuart, Esq., of Grace Hill, a gentleman whose regard and protection we are proud to have merited, to persevere in such conduct and have this day renewed that pledge in the most solemn manner. To that part of our Protestant brethren, who have so solemnly excluded us from their fraternity, we only entreat that should the hour of danger ever arrive we may be allowed to unite our efforts in defence of our king and country. To all who hope from the rejection of Catholic claims to see discontents prevail amongst us we tell them to their disappointment that we know the value of what we have received and are truly grateful for the same; and as soon as those who have poisoned the royal ear against our humble claims are removed, we look up with confidence to our beloved Sovereign for a further extension of these liberties, that our other fellow-subjects of every religious persuasion enjoy in this country. Finally we wish to bring to the recollection and impress on the heart and mind of every Roman Catholic, that all the benefits, favours, and indulgences, which they have received from the era of the Revolution down to the present day, they have received in the reign of our gracious sovereign George the Third, whom God long preserve.

"Signed by order of the Meeting,

Monday, 3 October 2011

Carry On Up Torr 3

Carry On Up Torr 3
Carry On Up Torr

Carry On Up Torr 2

Serious questions have to be asked of the Planning Service and of the NIEA's Ancient Monuments branch in their handling of the problems associated with this development. Why were single applications accepted for a multiple development? Why was a rendered finished accepted for one of the new builds when the Planning Service specified a natural stone finish? The developer transformed old buildings across the road into Bluestone Cottage. Why didn't Planning Service insist on a similar style and scale for the replacement dwellings opposite? 

Mound marker stone

Ancient Monuments branch was informed about the initial destruction of what has been claimed to be an ancient monument at the end of July but failed to direct the developer to desist from the further destruction. The detailed report by Daniel McGill, with supporting photographs, was submitted to AM via an email attachment on July 31. An AM senior inspector stated on August 3 that we lost the majority of our archaeologists a few months ago, due to cuts, leaving only a few of us to try and hold the fort, and this is inevitably leading to delays but later on in August when further destruction took place it would appear that  a senior inspector went to the wrong location because said inspector apparently hadn't looked at the McGill report in the AM files but may have looked at the incorrect August 10 up-date of AM records [pdf file] . And then there's this: I'll attempt to identify the site owner and inform  them about the mound. If you happen to know the owner's details this would be very helpful. It was part of an email sent on August 26. Talk about shutting the stable door after the horse has gone!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Antrim Arms, Bushmills - now the Bushmills Inn

The Antrim Arms Hotel in Lower Main Street, Bushmills, is now known as the Bushmills Inn. Jennifer Carson Turner, who sent me this photo, is a descendant of William Glass of W Glass Cycle Works and the Antrim Arms Hotel.

The 1910 Ulster Towns Directory lists William Glass as a cycle manufacturer and Mrs Everett as the proprietor of the Antrim Arms.

Ballycastle Seafront Project - Information Panels

Local historian Danny McGill posing beside one of the new information panels on Ballycastle seafront.

Danny acted as a consultant to this project and contributed images and text though he didn't have editorial control.