“it is important to restore the public’s confidence in NIW…”

The NI Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee declined the offer to question directly the former chairman of Northern Ireland Water – who, along with the non-executive directors, disputes the circumstances of their dismissal in March.  Meanwhile, as the BBC notes, the NI Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, has appointed 4 new non-executive directors to the Board of NI Water by “an emergency process”.

The new directors are: Mairtin O’Muilleoir, a Belfast businessman and former Sinn Fein councillor; Peter Bunting, a senior trade unionist.

Lawson McDonald, a former senior civil servant and Kevin Steele an accountant and former director at NI Electricity.

And the ministerial statement tells us [added emphasis throughout]

  • The non-executive directors have been appointed by the Minister by an emergency process. Although the Department discussed the process with the Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland (CPANI) it is classified as an exception to the Code of Practice.
  • This will mean that there will be a total of five non-executive Directors on the NIW Board.
  • Each non-executive Director will be paid £18,000 per annum on the basis of 2 days attendance per month. An additional per diem allowance may be payable subject to an overall maximum of £21,000 per annum.
  • All appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process. However, in accordance with the original Nolan recommendations, there is a requirement for the political activity of appointees to be published.
  • Three of the Non-Executives have declared that they have not engaged in any political activity for the past five years. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir declared that he canvassed for Sinn Fein in Belfast constituencies, most recently for Gerry Adams in the May 2010 Westminster election.
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    • Drumlin Rock

      Is not just the NIW sewers that are smelling now.

    • Perhaps it might be interesting to reflect on the past successes and failures of the new non-executive directors. Have these been catalogued in the Slugger archives?

    • Drumlin Rock

      A wee bit of background on “non-political” Peter Bunting from AnPoblach in 2000.
      “Peter Bunting is a native of Andersonstown in West Belfast who once trained as a Christian Brother and came to Dublin in the early 1970s. He has a degree in politics and business from TCD… His involvement with the civil rights movement, along with his republican views, were widely publicised during the March/April NBRU strike this year, as was his fierce independence from the wider trade union fraternity. However, the 49-year-old has long been active as a trade unionist, since 1975 in fact. He became President of the NBRU in 1980 and General Secretary of the organisation in 1992. “

    • Drumlin Rock

      Some detail on Mr McDonald, from Amicus Captials website where he is listed as a Partner.
      “Lawson McDonald retired from the Northern Ireland civil service in July 2003. He had spent the last 20 years of his career working for IDB, latterly as Deputy Chief Executive responsible for relations with established industry. His remit was to encourage the development and growth of manufacturing and tradeable services businesses with existing operations in the region…. Previously he had worked closely with the Textiles & Clothing sector which then provided some 20% of manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland.

      Prior to joining IDB Lawson held a number of public sector posts including periods with the Comptroller & Auditor-General’s Department and the Local Government Auditors. He is an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.”

    • Peter – on Slugger June 25 – tore a few strips off Newt: “Comrade Newton is boasting about his own ignorance. I suggest that he get out more and read a little wider than his comfort bubble, lined by CBI press releases and the soothing thoughts of bank-employed economists and ambitious, but underpaid, business hacks”

    • DR, my researches indicate that Lawson retired officially on 17 July 2003 around the time that he was on an attachment to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. His name crops up in relation to the Giants Causeway and Bushmills Railway Company – in association with a name well known to long term Slugger readers, Seymour Sweeney.

    • Drumlin Rock

      I’m still trying to decide if 20 yr with the IDB is a asset or a liability on a C.V.

    • Cynic

      So running a utility with a billion pound capital programme we now have:

      1 a newspaper editor (and political associate of the Minister)
      2 on ex-Civil Servant who seems to have retired 7 years ago after working in the IDB
      3 an accountant
      4 a republican trade union member

      all appointed through an emergency procedure. This really inspires me that this was an open process and that the Board now has the skills to run one of NIs largest companies.

      What exactly was the ’emergency procedure’ and It will be interesting to see what Felicity Houston says about all this?

      Also, why are the Directors of NI Water being paid £750 a day for this job when in most NI Departments it’s half that and even SIB only pay £450?

    • Pigeon Toes

      “What exactly was the ‘emergency procedure’ and It will be interesting to see what Felicity Houston says about all this?”

      Probably “Nothing to see here”

    • Cynic

      Fine …lets hear her say that then

    • Was this considered to be a ‘bad news’ story worthy of publication at the end of term?

    • D.Quinn

      for anyone who underestimates whats at stake here they must read The Confessions of an Economic Hitman. this book was writen by an economic hitman who’s job it was to loot countries for international banks and corperations by buying up their services such as water companies, while leaving countries overburdened with debt, a la Greece and all of latin America! These criminal board members were replaced by people who understand the dangers of losing a countries water supply to a private corperation! Unionist people need to realise this is what being part of the empire actualy entails. The sale of N.Ireland to international Cabal’s is the immediate danger facing the well being of us all and there isnt one positive reply to this story. Tut tut, Wake up, or we will all be ‘behind the wire’!

    • Officials braced for a tough grilling on NI Water fiasco

      But why isn’t the PAC prepared to let the sacked directors put their view of events and be questioned?

    • Didlee D O’Squat

      I applaud the appointment of Máirtín. I expect the great unwashed of the republican ghettos are cheering the onward march of the ‘peace process’.

      It reminds me of being in South Africa to buy some property down there. My driver pointed out an ANC official driving past in an S class Mercedes. The driver, his name is Lucky (I shit you not), told me that this showed the advances made by the black population, although he himself lived in the same one-room breezeblock shack in a township that he had been in since the days of apartheid.

      What is the Irish translation of ‘sold a pup’?

    • drumlins rock

      Mairtin O’Muilleoir ?

    • Didlee D O’Squat

      That’s the bod. £18k for 24 days work; that’s about £95 per hour, with per diems on top. If that is an average industrial wage I’m in the wrong line of work.

      It’s great to see the best traditions of Irish politics travelling north from Dublin to take up residence in our own Tammany Hall on the Hill.

    • Pigeon Toes

      The knives are out …


      Mr Priestly surely must have heard the expression about “people in glasshouses”….

      There has been jaws dropping at his seeming outrage

    • john doe

      After the mauling of Priestley/McKenzie and their cohorts at today,s PAC hearing, coupled with their squirming,evasive and cringe making performance in reply – does anyone believe that the sacking of the 4 Non Execs was anything other than in the words of John Dallat ” a show trial”?

      In hear from my sources their is a lot more to come out and if I were Priestley/McKenzie I’d be worried!

      By the way when do we get to hear why Don Price was the only Non Exec retained?

    • Pigeon Toes

      Questions are indeed being asked


      1. Miss M McIlveen (Strangford):

      To ask the Minister for Regional Development how many applications were received for the posts as interim members of the Board of NI Water.

      (AQW 8284/10)


      (AQW 8286/10)

      (AQW 8287/10)

      5. Mr G Savage (Upper Bann):

      To ask the Minister for Regional Development to outline the selection process used to identify interim members for the Board of NI Water.

      (AQW 8312/10)

      6. Mr G Savage (Upper Bann):

      To ask the Minister for Regional Development (i) where the posts for interim members on the Board of NI Water were advertised; (ii) to detail (a) the job specification; (b) the essential criteria; and (c) the desirable criteria requested; and to include a copy of the advertisement.

      (AQW 8313/10)

      7. Mr G Savage (Upper Bann):

      To ask the Minister for Regional Development whether any conflict of interest arose on behalf of the current NI Water staff or the Minister in relation to the (i) identification; (ii) selection; and (iii) appointment of interim members on the Board of NI Water.

    • Pigeon Toes


      “Mr Priestly told the hearing that the fifth non-executive board member – senior banker Don Price – was not dismissed as his attitude to the contract issues was different to the other directors”

      Apparently he didn’t have the same “attitude problem.

      The other odd thing is that Declan Gormley was appointed in 2008. We learned that these problems had been identified in August 09, and had been ongoing for three years.

      So er why was Gormley sacked, as he had only been in post for a year?

      And yes I believe that Dallat, Mc Glone and Purvis are not having the wool pulled over their eyes on this occasion.

    • Pete, can you shed any additional light on the selection process that produced these new NEDs?

      Do you have the names of those who carried out the ‘independent’ investigation that led to the for sackings following what John Dallat has labelled a ‘show trial’?

    • “it is important to restore the public’s confidence in NIW…”

      Can the public have any confidence in the public procurement process, not least that conducted by the Department for Regional Development in association with the Central Procurement Directorate?

    • Pigeon Toes

      “The membership of the review team is:
      • Peter Dixon, Group Chief Executive, Phoenix Energy Holdings Ltd;
      • Jackie Henry, Public Sector Partner, Deloitte; and
      • Glenn Thompson, Business Consultant and former Senior Civil Servant and
      Accounting Officer”


    • Pigeon Toes

      It’s quite clear from the Terms Of Reference that the axe was to fall on a few of the Board Members.
      ” The terms of reference for the independent review are defined as follows, to:
      • analyse how the governance failures detailed within the Contracts Approval Internal
      Audit report occurred;
      • recommend any further action necessary to address the governance issues
      surrounding procurement;
      • recommend any additional governance arrangements to be introduced by NIW;
      • make recommendations in relation to the position of NIW Board members (executive
      and non-executive) and other senior managers involved in these issues;
      • provide an analysis of any failures by DRD as Shareholder and any necessary
      recommendations; and
      • make any other recommendations the review team believe to be relevant and
      necessary under the circumstances.”

    • Pigeon Toes
      Reminds me of another investigations “terms of reference” into the award of a contract

      1. To ensure that the DRD did not act inappropriately in awarding the contract…

      Surely an “independent” investigation into an alleged wrong doing in a government contract should not be looking to exonerate the department it is investigating????

    • drumlins rock

      going by those Terms of Reference the “independant review” basically was a forgone conclusion, so who wrote the ToR?

    • Pigeon Toes

      Probably Mr Priestly , I have a fine example of another “independent investigation” that he commissioned where the “investigators” were to “provide assurance that: aall tenderers received equal treatment and there was no discrimination;
      bthere was transparency about the decision-making process; and
      there was no manifest error in the award of the contract. ”

      And it was indeed another foregone conclusion, but one that’s still creating ongoing legal challenges.

      Oh that’s right the taxpayer will be paying for their defence as well….

    • Pigeon Toes

      Quite true Splog, and that particular investigationie thingy cost a cool £55,0000.

      Now had the TOR of *that* investigation reflected those of the NIW review then the outcome may have been very different.

      Yet DRD have compounded their further errors and decided that public funds are best placed in defending a departmental position on a number of matters, despite legal action, at present only being considered against one particular civil servant personally.

    • My recall of Jim Shannon’s reaction to the PAC v witnesses encounter, “If this had been a boxing match it would have been a knock-out in the first round”.

    • Pigeon Toes

      Body language experts would have had a field day 🙂


      “Nose Touch: When a person’s hand makes contact with his or her nose during conversation, it usually indicates that the person is hiding something. The person performing the action is usually unaware of the gesture and to all outward appearances, he or she seems calm. But inside, the person is actually in turmoil. Psychologists believe that touching the nose is an involuntary move to cover the mouth — and to hide the lie. But the hand shifts to the nose instead to disguise the meaning.”

    • Some body language from the PAC meeting on July 1, 2010

    • Deloitte had been in receipt of £6 million of Government largesse prior to the selection of the 3-person review panel [about 59 min in]. Conflict of interest?

    • funnyoldworld.osborne069

      Don’t know about the psychology of those being questioned but It’s interesting looking at that of Committee -Dawn Purvis (recently resigned PUP Leader),Patsy McGlone (Deputy Leader SDLP) John Dallat(SDLP -and a former arch critic of N.I.W) sitting together on side of room and demonstrating that party politics/ political divide/or previous position will actually stop people of integrity stepping up to the mark when they able to see through the machinations and machivellian plotting of those involved, in what John Dallat so aptly called “a show trial”.

      Was it pre planned (unlikely bed fellows methinks!) or simply coincidence that they ended up sitting opposite another group of politicians who seemed incapable of anything other than reading the questions pre prepared for them by the audit office!

      Surely they weren’t cowed by the media coverage of the previous day?.And if they were it’s a sad day that the media is now determining how far politicians will put their head above the parapet!

      I,d be interested to get some further analysis from Pigeon Toes on this point.

      Thankfully not all of our politicians were so easily cowed.Perhaps Northern Ireland isn’t devoid of real political courage/leadership after all!

    • Is it possible that some PAC members were in receipt of information from aggrieved parties? We already know that PAC can pass the buck when it comes to issues pertaining to the Rathlin ferry contract and operation. The MSM also shows a lack of determination to deal consistently with malpractice.

    • PT, those questions are down for answer on Monday, July 19.

      Here are some earlier ones:

      July 6: To ask the Minister for Regional Development to outline the process and criteria used to appoint non-executive members to the Board of NI Water.[priority]

      July 14: To ask the Minister for Regional Development what steps NI Water has taken to ensure that it adheres to the Transfer Of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations entitlement for staff employed under the CO 71 contract. [Ah, yes, TUPE – Ministerial solidarity with the workers?]

      and later ones:

      July 20: To ask the Minister for Regional Development (i) why NI Water extended the CO71 contract for 6 months, on two successive occasions, without the contract going out to tender; (ii) to provide a breakdown of the costs incurred by extending this contract on both occasions; (iii) whether legal advice was sought before the contract was extended; and (iv) if NI Water has any plans to extent the contract for a third time.

      July 20: To ask the Minister for Regional Development to outline the criteria used by NI Water to transfer staff under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.

    • Perhaps the PAC could pre-empt some expenditure by Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. If it was informed in advance ….

    • funny old world

      It,s possible of course, but it’s a unusual in the sense, that it is cross community!

      What is MSM?

      I think this issue is gaining pace and it seems to me that there are going to more questions about how 4 Non Execs
      carry the can for issues which are clearly far removed from their role as Board Members.

      By the way did I hear correctly that McKenzie(C.E.O) withdrew his resignation when he knew he had the support of the DRD! What does that mean? What kind of support?What was he promised to make him withdraw his resignation.More importantly who at DRD promised it?

      This whole thing just feels wrong, and I suspect more people are starting to realise it.

    • MSM=Mainstream media, funny old world.

      The removal of the former NEDs and the curious appointment of the new NEDs will continue to attract questions. However, the MLAs seem to lack the ability or the resources to land a knock-out punch.

      It’s not clear what role Minister Murphy has played in this debacle. Paul Priestly, the Permanent Secretary, put up a very poor performance.

    • Splog, NI Water is a Centre of Procurement Expertise!!

    • I like this Dallatt-MacKenzie exchange from a PAC meeting on June 24:

      Mr Dallat:
      That probably suggests that it should not be possible to put a carpet or cuddly toy in the sewer in the first place.

      Mr MacKenzie:
      People lift manhole covers and put those things down.

      Mr Dallat:
      That is disgusting.

    • Pigeon Toes

      Splog the TOR in that particular case did not mention “ensure”, but rather “provide assurance that: a all tenderers received equal treatment and there was no discrimination;
      b there was transparency about the decision-making process; and
      there was no manifest error in the award of the contract. ”

      Two *very* different things…One requires investigation and the other could be described as a departmental whitewash or cover up. Think they “shot the messenger” in order to provide that “assurance”