Jim Allister, no doubt one of the prime political beneficiaries of this crisis, has just issued this challenge to Robinson’s claim that the departmental solicitor was sufficiently independent to carry out the investigation… He lays out his case against that assumption, below the fold:From Jim Allister:
As Peter Robinson struggles to save his political career he has proclaimed he will be subjecting himself to an independent investigation. The reality seems to be very different: rather, he is to seek, apparently at the taxpayers expense, the opinion of an unnamed barrister.
Obtaining counsels opinion comes no where close to independent investigation, yet, strangely, no media correspondent seems to have challenged this audacious claim.
Obtaining counsels opinion works like this the differences with independent investigation are obvious:
1. The instructions of the client (in this case is it Mr Robinson, Mr Robinson as First Minister or the joint office of OFMDFM?) are conveyed, almost inevitably in writing. Will those instructions and any accompanying documentation be published?
2. The barrister frequently raises issues for clarification, either through correspondence or via consultation with the client. Will all such correspondence and consultation notes be published? Likewise if documentation is requested will it be identified and published?
3. The barrister in due course presents his opinion, normally in writing. Will that Opinion be published in full?
4. Will the identity of the barrister be made known, or will that remain secret?
5. Sometimes the client nominates the barrister he wishes the solicitor to instruct. Will such be done in this case?
6. The barrister is paid for his Opinion by the client. Will the public be told how much?
To spin this process as independent investigation is inapt.
Yes, independent and public investigation with proper and adequate terms of reference would be appropriate, but seeking to pass off obtaining counsels opinion as such is misleading. Being economical with the truth has been tried by the DUP in the infamous deflection by Ian Paisley Junior that he knew of Seymour Sweeney. Now is a time for transparency and candour.
Then, there is the important issue of on whose behalf this opinion is being sought. OFMDFM is a joint office. McGuinness has a veto on every action of Peter Robinson as First Minister. Has McGuinness assented to counsels opinion being sought? If not, how can the Accounting Officer of OFMDFM approve and such expenditure?