Health chiefs have refused to reveal their plans for a “no-deal Brexit” to a regional daily – claiming to do so would “alarm” the public.
Belfast Health Trust has been criticised by the Belfast Telegraph after rejecting the newspaper’s Freedom of Information request asking it to release a copy of its business impact analysis on the effects of a no-deal Brexit and associated contingency arrangements.
In a refusal notice, the trust said releasing the information was not in the public interest.
But the response has prompted the Bel Tel to accuse the trust, and other public bodies, of “growing arrogance” in their attitude to the public’s right to know.
In its refusal notice, the trust said: “With the potential to impact service delivery and the potential to cause unnecessary confusion and alarm if our planning documents were released, the trust has concluded that on balance the public interest in favour of withholding the information requested outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this time.”
In a story about the request being rejected, the Bel Tel said it was not the first time that government departments in Northern Ireland have refused to release details about plans to mitigate the effects of a no-deal Brexit following FoI requests.
In a follow-up comment piece, editor Gail Walker wrote called the response “patronising.”
Gail, pictured, added: “By saying that revealing the plans would only cause alarm among the public must rate as one of the most feeble excuses by any public body for declining a legitimate request for information.
“As virtually everyone who has responded to this newspaper’s story on the Belfast Health Trust’s attitude has said, that reply is more likely to cause alarm than anything else.
“In recent months, we have had more than a fair share of alarming stories about the potential effect of a no-deal Brexit, but these have largely been economic or business related. When it comes to something as vital as health services, the public is entitled to know what the experts believe could happen. Then members of the public can make their own informed judgement and act accordingly.
“There is a growing arrogance among public bodies which makes them feel entitled to decide what is good for the public to know and what is not. They forget the fundamental basis of how they operate – as public service bodies, serving the people who ultimately pay their wages through taxation.”
Last year HTFP reported how Birmingham City Council had refused two requests by local democracy reporter Carl Jackson to make its report on the impact of the UK’s EU departure on the city public.