FOI 09-21: Lighting Parliament Buildings to mark the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism
Information Standards Freedom of Information Response
Our Ref: FoI 09-21
13 May 2021
Freedom of Information Act 2000
I can confirm that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission (Assembly Commission) holds information relevant to your request of 05 March 2021. In your request you asked for the following information:
“Further to a request to light Parliament Buildings on 11 March to mark the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism, can you advise of the breakdown of support or otherwise for the request and also provide me with a copy of the Minutes of discussions or other exchanges in relation to this issue.”
The information that you have requested is attached at Appendices A & B below.
Please note that contact details of an Assembly Commission staff member have been redacted from the information provided as this information is personal data, as defined section 3(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018. Disclosure of this personal data would breach the first data protection principle. The first data protection principle requires that personal data is processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject (Article 5 UK General Data Protection Regulations). This information is therefore exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. No other information has been redacted.
If you feel that the information we have provided does not meet your request fully, please contact this office as soon as possible. You have the right to request a formal review by the Assembly Commission and if you wish to do so, please write to me at the above address.
If after such an internal review you are still unhappy with the response, you have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF who will undertake an independent review.
The Assembly Commission may publish details of your FOI request and our official response within the organisational disclosure log. The request will be completely anonymised and you will not be identified in any way. This is to meet the requirements as laid out by in the agreed publication scheme with the Information Commissioners’ Office.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above.
INFORMATION STANDARDS AND DATA PROTECTION OFFICER
Appendix A - Email Correspondence in relation to Commission consideration of the lighting of Parliament Buildings for European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism (11 March 2021)
Email from Advisor to the Speaker to Commission Members, 5 March 2021
From: Ramsey, Robin
Sent: 05 March 2021 11:31
To: Buchanan, Keith; O'Dowd, John; Kelly, Dolores; Butler, Robbie; Blair, John Cc: Hogg, Lesley; McGrath, Gareth; Burrowes, Simon;
Subject: FW: Decisions on Requests for special lighting of Parliament Buildings - RESPONSE REQUIRED BY 5PM THURSDAY 4 MARCH 2021
Dear Commission Members
[NAME REDACTED] forwarded three lighting requests to you on Wednesday morning.
You have all now replied and a summary of the responses is below:
Keith Buchanan MLA - Content to support all requests to light the building on all three occasions.
John Blair MLA - I’m content for these three applications to be approved.
Dolores Kelly MLA - Content to support the applications for lighting.
John O’Dowd MLA - As the Commission has not yet agreed an inclusive lighting policy we regret that we cannot agree to these requests.
Robbie Butler MLA - I am content for each of the applications to be permitted.
Therefore, there is no consensus, as required by the special lighting policy, to light the building for any of these requests and accordingly they are not accepted.
The applicants for each request will be notified by the public engagement team after 2.30pm today.
Members will anticipate media queries on these decisions, particularly on the European Day of Remembrance of Victims of Terrorism in particular given previous coverage. If queries are received, the Communications Office will use the line: “The Assembly Commission considered the request(s) and was unable to reach a consensus decision as required by the Commission’s special lighting policy”. We will also include a link to the special lighting policy but we intend making no further comment than that.
Adviser to the Speaker/ Head of Corporate Support
Office of the Speaker
Parliament Buildings Ballymiscaw Stormont Belfast BT4 3XX
Email to Commision Members regarding requests for special lighting of Parliament Buildings, 3 March 2021
From: +CCSU Public Email
Sent: 03 March 2021 09:04
To: Buchanan, Keith; O'Dowd; Kelly, Dolores; Butler, Robbie; Blair, John Cc: Speaker's Office; Hogg, Lesley; McGrath, Gareth; Ramsey, Robin; Burrowes, Simon
Subject: Requests for special lighting of Parliament Buildings - RESPONSE REQUIRED BY 5PM THURSDAY 4 MARCH 2021
Dear Commission Member
There are currently three requests to light Parliament Buildings which require the Commission’s decision. A copy of each request together with advice provided by the Head of Public Engagement, Simon Burrowes is attached for your consideration. In summary, the requests are:
1) 11 March to mark European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism - Officials ask that the Commission consider this request without recommendation;
2) - [REDACTED]
3) - [REDACTED]
I would be grateful if you would advise of your decision to approve or decline each of the requests by 5pm on Thursday 4 March 2021. Under the terms of the policy, the approval of any request to externally light the Building requires Commission consensus. It would therefore be helpful if you copy all Commission Members in to your response.
Appendix B - Request 1: European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism
Officials are of the view that the occasion is “an event of exceptional local, national or international significance” and does meet the requirements of paragraph 15.
That said, Public Engagement officials are also of the view that the request does NOT meet the requirements of paragraph 17 of the policy, which states:
“Other than those days scheduled under paragraphs 8 to 11, special lighting will not be approved to mark an event/occasion that occurs repeatedly, for example an annual Day or Week, unless it is a significant anniversary of that event/occasion. In addition, no event/occasion scheduled under paragraph 12 can be marked by special lighting more than once in any three-year period.”
Officials believe that, while the event/occasion is significant, it is not a “significant anniversary” of that event or occasion (2021 will be the 17th European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism). In addition, the Building was lit in 2019 to mark the same occasion and paragraph 17 of the policy precludes special lighting marking an event/occasion scheduled under paragraph 12 more than once in a three-year period. As such, officials are of the view that the request does NOT meet the requirements of paragraph 17 of the policy and, in normal circumstances, would recommend that it be declined. However, as noted above, officials are of the view that the request and any decision on it may be seen as contentious and politically sensitive and therefore the Commission may also wish to bear in mind certain other factors when considering and deciding on the request.
Those factors are:
- A letter of support for the application from Mr Allister MLA has been received. A copy is attached and is self-explanatory. As he notes in his letter, Mr Allister has been linked with an event to mark the Day for some years now, and of course it will not be possible to hold such an event this year. Mr Allister adds: “Therefore it is all the more important that the modest request from SEFF that the building be illuminated in red is agreed to by the Commission. This gesture would illustrate that people who have suffered so much have not been forgotten by the powers that be. Conversely, failure by the Commission to agree to the request will reflect badly on the Assembly. Having hosted the event for many years without a single complaint it is important that European Victims Day is acknowledged in 2021 at Stormont. I believe the Commission can best do this by agreeing to illuminate Parliament Buildings in red.”
- Some media criticism was attracted last year following the decision not to light the Building to mark the event in 2020 and the matter was also raised in oral and written questions. Indeed it was mentioned on the Floor of the House yesterday (Tuesday 2 March 2021) during the debate on the Commission’s budget.
- The European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism is one of the days suggested as an additional day for lighting Parliament Buildings in papers presented to the Commission’s meetings on 9 December and 17 February, albeit that no consensus has been reached on that paper.
In essence, this request meets the requirements of the policy other than that at paragraph 17, namely that “no event/occasion scheduled under paragraph 12 can be marked by special lighting more than once in any three-year period”, and officials would normally recommend that it be declined. However, it is also clear that the request and any decision on it may be seen as contentious and politically sensitive and therefore officials believe that they are unable to provide a recommendation to approve or decline. Rather, they believe that, having drawn the Commission’s attention to all relevant factors, this request is one upon which the Commission should reach its own conclusion.