Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

On the Hill: No end in sight over press office revamp

Peter Robinson speaking at the DUP conference last week

Not for the first time Peter Robinson shot the messenger when addressing his party conference last weekend.

The DUP leader regularly lambasts newspapers and broadcasters for accentuating the negative and helping to foment disdain for the Executive and Assembly.

But whatever happened to the supposed root-and-branch review of the Executive Information Service (EIS) – made up of press officers who carry ministers' messages to the media?

On the Hill understands it is coming up on a year since the results of a customer satisfaction survey into EIS were finalised.

"The results are still being analysed and have yet to be assessed at senior management level," one official said at the time.

And, since then, silence – apart from rumours that First Minister Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness could not agree how to proceed. At the time the word was that Robinson and McGuinness envisaged a major shake-up in the not far future with the question whether the EIS would improve. It is not unusual for On the Hill – or other journalists – to send inquiries into OFMDFM which can take several weeks to answer.

Which is not much use when your deadline is a few hours away.

But it can sometimes mean that reports get printed without a full response, which may fuel Robinson's perception of bias. So why has he not sorted the operation from his end?

Sometimes journalists' questions and emails not only receive no reply but do not even get an acknowledgement.

During the year several senior officials have been shifted – mostly part of the usual to and fro – but senior sources told On the Hill that some others were not being offered a move.

And much of the makeover is also amicable, as with one senior figure who left OFMDFM to go to the North South Ministerial Council in Armagh.

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