DRD and NI Water officials told not to co-operate with UTV…

Slugger understands that UTV have been taking a very close interest in the NI Water story about the sacked non executives, possibly for a documentary programme in the late summer, and before the next scheduled meeting of the PAC. Now it seems that officials in DRD, headed up by Conor Murphy’s Permanent Secretary, Paul Priestly and NI Water, headed up by CEO Laurence McKenzie (‘They tell me I’m being autocratic – I say – get used to it”), have been told not to co-operate with the programme makers.

Hmmm… their lack of candour with the PAC hasn’t exactly done either organisation a lot of good so far… And it is sending out – along with Peter Dixon’s intemperate attack on an important function of our democratic institution at Stormont – a pretty poor message… Particularly when there are important matters of public interest at stake here…

My suspicion is that if UTV get to some of the material we’re hearing about, it will raise quite a few more questions than we’ve been able to share publicly…

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  • Jo

    Interesting.

  • Pigeon Toes

    In fairness not surprising, unless they arbitrarily withholding FOI information.

    Departments often use the reason that FOI only entitles the requester to information rather than documents.

  • jon the raver

    public owned companies can not be allowed to ‘spin’ themselves out of trouble the way a politician is allowed to

    WE own you – you will answer either the questions of the PAC or those of the Press.

    We are a democracy and public bodies must be accountable

  • Pigeon Toes

    Oh but they do, and at taxpayer expense.

    I understand that they are termed an “independent review/ investigation”

  • Drumlins Rock

    do I detect a hint of sarcasm there Pigeon dear?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Just a tad 🙂

    I hate to say it, but

  • Pigeon Toes

    Some years ago certain civil servant in DRD pointed out to me that *he* paid Mr P.T”s salary.

    When I asked if it was him personally, he replied that he was “in charge of the contract.”

    He didn’t seem to like it much when I responded “Well if you bring that argument to it’s logical conclusion, I pay your wages”

  • Pigeon Toes

    “WE own you – you will answer either the questions of the PAC or those of the Press.

    We are a democracy and public bodies must be accountable”

    Do you think?

  • Cynic

    Tethered Goats Banned from Bleating

  • funny old world

    The apparent lack of candour shown by DRD/NIW officials at the PAC last week was unlikely to be the only attempt to avoid direct questioning on this issue.Bad enough to be humiliated at the PAC- but to happen on prime time TV?

    It was reported in the press that Chris Mellor (former Chairman of NIW) wrote to the PAC to ask if he could give his version of events.His offer was declined.

    I understand Declan Gormley(former Non Exec) wrote to the RDC (twice) to ask if he could give his version of events. His offer was declined!

    It strikes me as a matter of some concern that 4 people (of previous impeccable reputation and integrity) are fired by Minister Murphy (with no right of appeal) and our elected representatives aren’t concerned to hear their version of events.

    Why Not?!

    Am I the only person who would be very interested in hearing Mr Mellor and Gormley give their version of events?

  • joeCanuck

    Some people still believe in the efficacy of a cover-up. Perhaps they might get an injunction.

  • The Raven

    I find the PAC to be – in the main – a joke. A platform for those who like to grandstand. Another demonstration of the weakness of those for whom the minority vote.

  • Mick Fealty

    In the main – and you can see this from the quality of the questions going in from those MLAs who seemed less well prepared, let’s say – that’s probably not too wide of the mark.

    I would say there are two things necessary: one, MLAs need to understand they are in many cases our only line of defence against overbearing senior civil servants and their decisions over the day to day running of the public purse; two, they need to put a great deal more effort into coming to their own questions (if not conclusions) independently of the civil servants who advise their ministerial colleagues.

    This last is more difficult to achieve than may at first be obvious. Last week RIchard Needham argued that even in his time, NI Civil Servants were a breed apart in their sense of their own autonomy. At least he was a professional politician in a party with long experience of government and much greater resources than any of our local boys can pull from.

    You get the sense that the deference to senior civil servants is crippling some, and leading others into evasion tactics rather than facing them head on (Caitriona’s 10/11 days at the office in one comes to mind)…

    But I do think that for once in this case, the committee seems to have grasped a rather nasty bull by the horns here.

  • Mick Fealty

    I would have thought that unlikely Joe.

    Surely that would have to be sought by the Minister, and in this case I am not sure Conor Murphy would really want to be associated with what we already know, never mind being seen to block further legitimate inquiry?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Mr Murphy was happy to take the glory for acting “decisively” when those NEDS were sacked, and indeed initially praise was being heaped upon him for getting to the heart of the matter so quickly and protecting public funds etc.

    Will he distance himself now?

  • Pigeon Toes
  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.veoh.com/browse/videos/category/comedy/watch/v19334082m44dgXby

    THE GREASY POLE

    “It is only totalitarian governments that suppress facts. In this country we simply take a democratic decision not to publish them.”

    “How to discredit an unwelcome report:

    Stage One: Refuse to publish in the public interest saying
    1. There are security considerations.
    2. The findings could be misinterpreted.
    3. You are waiting for the results of a wider and more detailed report which is still in preparation. (If there isn’t one, commission it; this gives you even more time).

    Stage Two: Discredit the evidence you are not publishing, saying
    1. It leaves important questions unanswered.
    2. Much of the evidence is inconclusive.
    3. The figures are open to other interpretations.
    4. Certain findings are contradictory.
    5. Some of the main conclusions have been questioned. (If they haven’t, question them yourself; then they have).

    Stage Three: Undermine the recommendations. Suggested phrases:
    1. ‘Not really a basis for long term decisions’.
    2. ‘Not sufficient information on which to base a valid assessment’.
    3. ‘No reason for any fundamental rethink of existing policy’.
    4. ‘Broadly speaking, it endorses current practice’.

    Stage Four: Discredit the person who produced the report. Explain (off the record) that
    1. He is harbouring a grudge against the Department.
    2. He is a publicity seeker.
    3. He is trying to get a Knighthood/Chair/Vice Chancellorship.
    4. He used to be a consultant to a multinational.
    5. He wants to be a consultant to a multinational.”

    “To suppress an internal government report, rewrite it as official advice to the Minister. Then it is against the rules to publish it, so you can leak the bits you want to friendly journalists.”

    “Going from Commons to the Lords is like being moved the animals to the vegetables.”

  • Mick, Conor Murphy is inextricably linked with this process; he’s at the very heart of the governance of NI Water. Would someone from another party have to take the PAC chair if PAC members collectively have the guts to grill the Minister?

    I wonder what the chances are of some of the former NEDs taking an action against the Minister, Paul Priestly and Laurence MacKenzie.

  • Cynic

    How come the Department didn’t know what was going on for three years? Where were the PAS and the Auditors? One assumes the accounts were unqualified?

    Any bets on the professional lifespan of the PUS when the dust settles? The Minister will need someone to blame

  • Mick, following on from my/our exploration of the Rathlin ferry saga it’s been very interesting to see a little heat finally being applied by a committee to senior civil servants. I’ve also noted an unfortunate deference to Ministers too. When I asked Fred Cobain, chair of the Committee for Regional Development, in the summer of 2009 when CRD would be looking at that December 2008 report the best that Fred could respond with was, “We’re waiting for the Minister”. Fred’s patience is greater than mine 🙂

  • Mick, I had a ringside seat when someone we both know ground a council chief executive in the mill. Now that was a master class and no one in PAC came near. Neither Murphy, Priestly nor MacKenzie would relish facing such an adversary – but it would make great TV.

  • And while we’re on about the former directors – DRD have been giving me the run around over the appointment of the 4 new directors which include SF Minister Conor Murphy’s former Colleague Mairtin O’Muilleoir !!

  • William Markfelt

    ‘In the main – and you can see this from the quality of the questions going in from those MLAs who seemed less well prepared, let’s say – that’s probably not too wide of the mark.

    I would say there are two things necessary: one, MLAs need to understand they are in many cases our only line of defence against overbearing senior civil servants and their decisions over the day to day running of the public purse; two, they need to put a great deal more effort into coming to their own questions (if not conclusions) independently of the civil servants who advise their ministerial colleagues.’

    Having watched PAC’s ‘performance’ on this matter on ‘Democracy Live’, I think it’s safe to say that the MLAs, with one or two flashbulb moments going on over their heads, did a piss-poor job. But we continue to elect piss-poor, largely inarticulate and generally dumb MLAs on a sectarian headcount, so we aren’t entirely blameless on that front.

    As for your comment, Mick, that they’re our ‘only line of defence’, I think we’re basically f****d, then.

    PAC, and its members, are rubbish, ‘umming’ and ‘umming’ some more through toothless performances, before coming to the inevitable conclusion that they walk hand in hand, gazing lovingly into each others’ eyes prior to indulging in a bit of political horizontal tango with one another.

    I think we need to lay to rest the ridiculous notion that PAC (or any other committee) in the context of the NIA, are on ‘our’ side. Ultimately, they’re self-serving rubber-stampers.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘I understand Declan Gormley(former Non Exec) wrote to the RDC (twice) to ask if he could give his version of events. His offer was declined!’

    FOW,

    That would appear to be policy by Stormont. They now have a lengthy record of declining offers for an alternate version of events to be presented.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Am I the only person who would be very interested in hearing Mr Mellor and Gormley give their version of events?’

    Not at all.

    I’d be extremely interested to hear just how much their testimony might differ from the only version offered so far.

    And why shouldn’t we hear it? Why shouldn’t Mick offer them a platform to express their version of events?

    I’d be thrilled to read to hear whatever little inaccuracies relating to ‘the truth’ might emerge.

  • Mick Fealty

    Nevin,

    We do often rely on people like yourself to keep a weather eye open for those things the rest of us often take for granted. But sometimes you are given to guessing at what you don’t know and then coming up with an answer you actually have no evidence for. It’s one of the reasons that privately I’ve been pushing back on the Ferry story (even though there clearly is a story to tell there, it’s not necessarily the one you want it to be).

    I’ve not seen anything or even heard of anything that puts the Minister in the hot seat in terms of direct blame regarding misdirected process, other than he might be out of his depth in dealing with his senior civil servants.

    But of course if the evidence changes, I will also change my mind on that.

    For now I am more concerned at defining the precise behaviour of the CEO and the Perm Sec and why a number of serious issues that the Board had no oversight of led to the dismissal of four out of five non execs. And why the executives the department is investigating have less provenance in this area than some others who seem to be rather conspicuously escaping Mr Priestly’s attention.

    If something is not right in the workings of the Department, we ought to focus on where it is going wrong first, and then, when there is enough incontrovertable evidence in the public domain, we will be freer to make our decisions about apportioning blame.

    And not a moment before!!!

  • Mick, I don’t have the full background to the various ferry stories but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to pose questions based on the evidence that I and others have collected, collated and presented. If you don’t mind I’ll ‘push back’ – a phrase apparently fancied by Paul Priestly too – on the ‘given to guessing’ 🙂

    As for my reference to ministerial responsibilities those are taken from the Hillyard report number 2. It should be perfectly obvious that I’m not apportioning blame.

  • Mick Fealty

    William, there is nothing inevitable about progress towards the future. It can be grasped by the audacity of individuals. IMHO, Aristotle understood more about the world than his master Plato.

  • William Markfelt

    While that is true, Mick, I would still be of the opinion that we can rely on the Platonic to value themselves, their opinions and their world-view higher than the Aristotilean.

    What do they fear from the Aristotilean? Is the assumption the public are too dim to grasp the philosophical questions posed by the likes of Chris Mellor?

    But I’m grateful for a forum such as this where we can chip, chip away at ‘their’ wall, in the hope that, at some point, the whole damned thing collapses under the weight of its own failures. Maybe, just maybe, we can all help to keep the pressure on until it falls.

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturenews/7863036/Plato-ancient-Greek-philosophers-secret-music-code-cracked-by-British-scientists.html

    Seems there was more to Plato, and that has only recently been “cracked” as well!
    “In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes but this was rejected by modern scholars”

  • William Markfelt

    ‘many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning ‘

    I assume we’re working on the basis that ‘Dixon doesn’t grasp any of this’ to mean, really, once you crack the code, that ‘Dixon is a top man and how my words could be construed as meaning anything else is ridiculous’?

    Or, once you crack the code, ‘I met him three times’ to mean, really, ‘I met him three times last week and managed to beat him 4 in 3 on two of those occasions’.

    This is all just marvellous, knockabout stuff.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I was actually thinking, that it has taken some almost three years to crack the code of
    “All is not well in DRD, they are riding roughshod over due process”.

    But perhaps some of those modern scholars just aren’t as bright as they thought…

  • William Markfelt

    Let me just bounce this thread (six weeks old and seems like a lifetime)

    I invite you to re-read Cynic’s comment of 9 July 2010 at 12:56 pm

    And Mick’s lead-in, given what we now know, and the approach taken by both Priestly and McKenzie regarding the UTV documentary.

    I’m just wondering if, as is likely, NIW employees probably don’t have a ‘don’t talk to the media’ clause in their contracts, just how much weight an autocratic demand (and self-evident attempt to be less than open and transparent) actually carries?

    And just what is the state of play regarding Ms. Holmes legal proceedings? As the focus (temporarily) swings away from Paul Priestly, are we about to see the spotlight come to rest on McKenzie?