I don’t see any particular smoking gun in the Belfast Telegraph’s David Gordon’s report on the continuing lobbying by the Environment Minister, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, on various planning applications to a department within his brief, but there is evidence of unease within the civil service about that lobbying.
From the Belfast Telegraph report
Departmental chiefs have firmly backed the Minister’s right to continue lobbying in his capacity as an MP and MLA.
But civil service union Nipsa has voiced concerns about officials being placed in an “invidious position” being pressed on cases by a politician who is also their Minister.
Documents released to the Belfast Telegraph under freedom of information include internal emails from within DoE Planning Service.
In an email in August to Planning Service director Anne Garvey, an official stated that her office had received 12 requests on constituency cases since Mr Wilson’s appointment as Minister.
“His correspondence cases have not differed in any way since he became Minister,” the email added.
The following day, Ms Garvey sent an email to Planning Service Chief Executive Cynthia Smith, referring to “previous discussions about correspondence from the Minister”.
The message said in one case officials were dealing simultaneously with a letter from Mr Wilson supporting an applicant, and a request from the applicant to meet the Minister.
In her reply, Ms Smith signalled that the minister’s representations would be raised with the DoE’s top official, permanent secretary Stephen Peover.
The Planning Service boss further stated that concerns had also been raised by the head of another DoE section, Northern Ireland Environment Agency chief Roy Ramsay.
Ms Smith’s email said: “I have raised this with Stephen and I am aware that Roy Ramsay has similar type concerns from his agency’s perspective. When Stephen returns from leave we will discuss (again) with the minister.”
Ms Garvey was asked about the situation again in an email in mid-September from a Ballymena-based official.
It stated: “I was just wondering had there been any progress on this issue since the last emails from yourself and Cynthia on 18/19 August at which Cynthia indicates that Stephen Peover will discuss this with the minister when he returns from leave.”
The following week, Ms Garvey emailed officials setting out the official line on how planning staff should deal with the minister’s constituency representations.
It stated: “Correspondence directly from S Wilson in his role as councillor, MLA or MP should be handled in the normal way, similar to other political representatives and a copy of all the correspondence and the reply retained on the application file, as is the norm.”