Mr Hain’s cavalier approach

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As this Belfast Telegraph opinion piece says, “nobody should be in any doubt that the fundamental problem is Mr Hain’s cavalier approach to the appointments procedure”. Now that Don MacKay has acknowledged that he may have been “a wee bit politically naive”, it’s worth looking back at what the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland has said as this particular mess unravelled – especially when he claims that he “made all of the appointments to the Parades Commission in good faith and to introduce fresh thinking.”As the Belfast Telegraph notes

Now the cat is out of the bag and major questions are being asked about the NIO’s vetting procedures – or lack of them. The buck, in this case, must stop with the Secretary of State who has presided over the whole sorry situation.

Peter Hain says he made all the appointments in good faith and in a bid to introduce fresh thinking, but these procedural blunders have undermined the credibility of a new Parades Commission which was beginning to find its feet.

Surely the fact that Mr Mackay, a DUP member, had nominated Dolores Kelly from the SDLP as a referee should have raised questions at Stormont Castle. It beggars belief that nobody at the NIO thought to lift the phone and run a check with Mrs Kelly.

To begin with there is his statement when the Parades Commission appointees were announced

“These appointments bring a completely new dynamic to the Parades Commission. The membership represents the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. They come from a variety of backgrounds, with a broad skills mix and, for the first time, a gender balance.

“I am particularly pleased that two people with personal understanding and experience of the Orange Order and the cultural importance of parades have been appointed to the Commission.”

When the issue of the references which were not references was first raised, the NIO, on the Secretary of State’s behalf, issued a brief statement

“Appointments were made on the basis of the candidates successfully displaying competence across a range of areas.

References were not sought for any of the candidates.[emphasis added]

“The appointments process was regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and an OCPA representative was involved in every stage.”

And on February 28th the details of Peter Hain’s personal response to the references issue was made public, from a letter to the SDLP’s Dolores Kelly –

“As you know, all appointments to the Parades Commission were made by me, taking into account the range of skills and experience that each member would bring to the commission.

“You asked specifically about Mr MacKay’s appointment and I understand that he has now written to you to explain his personal position in including you as a referee.

“I hope that this has now provided you with clarification.”

At this point Peter Hain would have been completely aware of the problem with the references, and as I said at the time [remember, this was over 2 months ago] –

Those facts should, at the very least call into question the judgement of the Don MacKay, and should also call into question the procedures for appointments to such public bodies. Additionally, given the latest statements from Peter Hain, the facts that we’re aware of should also call into question the judgement of the Secretary of State.. who now appears to believe it’s a matter bewteen the two individuals concerned and nothing more than that.

That was Peter Hain’s position when the only reference being questioned belonged to the SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly. But it was when the reference from the DUP MP David Simpson was publicly challenged that the situation changed. Because without the, at least implicit, support from the DUP, Don MacKay was completely isolated. It goes some way to explaining Peter Hain’s reference to the appointments being made in good faith

“I made all of the appointments to the Parades Commission in good faith and to introduce fresh thinking.”

But the “in good faith” can only be interpreted as implying that he accepted both references as valid to begin with.. which the public statements contradict – in fact, the earlier claim is that they were neither specifically asked for, nor checked, because they were not part of the considerations for the appointments.

And, if it took the denial of the reference from the DUP MP to force the resignation, the whole mess says a lot about how the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland views the SDLP.. as well as the Parades Commission itself.

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  • Harry

    This country is in danger of disappearing into its own pea-brained insularity.

    The population of n. ireland is destined to sublimate its pitched battles into death by a thousand bureaucratic strokes. And the odd riot.

  • Lurker

    Hain presumably must now go back to the shortlist of applicants and ask if there is anyone on it with a genuine reference he can check.
    I wonder if any references for NIO appointments are ever checked. Policing Board?

  • missfitz

    Pete
    I have not changed my view in any way that this has not been handled properly at all.

    McKay is being made a scape goat, and the reality of this story is that all of the appointments are now suspect and the entire Commission should be disbanded and re-appointed.

    It is neither right nor fair that Don McKay had to walk the plank on this issue without a declaration from each single appointee that they had all informed their referees in advance of putting them on the application.

    If there is a box that allows you to talk to your referee prior to them being contacted, that should allow you the space to only contact them if required.

    Personally, I never ask before I put down a name, but would always make sure I would ask if I got to a further stage.

    What really worries me is what all this is really about. I have quite a lot of sympathy for the view that people bitched about the Orange men not engaging for so many years, now they;re bitching when they are engagaing,

    There;s nowt like folk, thats for sure, but this reeks of a bigger conspiracy

  • missfitz

    I meant to add that he was on Hearts and Minds this evening, and came across pretty well. It was a good show, with some interesting exchange between Gregory Campbell and Alan McFarland. Well worth watching if the link works

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/heartsandminds/

  • Pete Baker

    missfitz

    I understand the point you’re making.. but I have to also point out what was said in that interview [I'm relying on memory here] – that is on his application form, Don MacKay wrote – “My references show how I have been able to reach across the political divide”[there will, naturally, be some paraphrasing involved, but that's the gist of it].

    This is not, as I’ve tried to indicate, an issue about Don MacKay personally, although Peter Hain, Don MacKay, and others, seem to want to make it so..

    It is, as I’ve tried to focus this post on, an issue about Peter Hain’s cavalier [and recklessly political] approach to the appointments he makes.

  • missfitz

    Pete
    We can agree on that point 100%. I’ve maintained through all of this that the approach by NIO and Hain have been quite appalling.

    It seems to have always been someone elses fault, including the SDLP for making the complaint among others.

    I hold that the process has been at fault, and as such Hain holds ultimate responsibility for what is happening in his patch.

    Not once, to my knowledge has anyone said that practices are going to change, or an internal examination is going to happen at the NIO. The blame and fault has consistently been reflected out from NIO and placed on anyone else passing by.

    Perhaps a key ingredient of permatan is teflon?